Much of client work happens virtually, increases the chances of miscommunication due to a lack of verbal cues, delays in communicating, differences in communication styles, and more. Consider these tactics for avoiding miscommunication when working with clients.
Missing information, assuming understanding, and differences in connotation are just some of the ways misunderstandings can occur when working with clients. Asking clarifying questions is an important method of avoiding these pitfalls.
Never guess at what your client wants if the original project proposal or material is unclear. Clients may not have a full picture of what they want out of a project or what type of editing they might need. In order to fill in any gaps, ask specific questions about anything you feel is unclear. Moving forward on faulty assumptions leads to rewrites/redos and delays.
With a book cover design project, you may need to discuss the tone and genre and what current trends are to flesh out what the client wants. With editing, discuss what the client feels are the main weaknesses or what they need the most help with. If character development of improving storytelling is needed, that is more of a developmental edit while cleaning up typos and misplaced commas is more in line with a proofread.
If information is missing from a project plan, politely ask for clarification or for the client to provide the information that is lacking. If the information is missing because the client is unsure of the answer, discuss elements of the missing information by asking specific questions, such as where a book might be located in a physical bookstore if the genre or subgenre is unclear.
If a client wants you to fill in any gaps on your own, first suggest ideas or propose a specific path before moving forward. A client may be unsure of what they want, but they are often quite sure of what they don’t want when it is presented.
Paraphrase and Summarize
After a clarifying discussion, it is important to paraphrase and summarize the information discussed in order to make sure both parties understand what was discussed and what the conclusions are.
If you discussed project details or story elements, take a moment at the end of the conversation to summarize the topics discussed and what decisions were made in your own words. This makes sure you and the client are on the same page about what was discussed and how you will move forward.
Summarizing and paraphrasing the information helps prevent communication errors due to lack of nonverbal language, misunderstood humor, differences in connotations, etc. This tactic also shows the client that you were making a solid effort to understand what he or she wants and that you are truly listening. Making a client feel heard and understood helps build a stronger relationship.
Miscommunication can also arise from lack of timely follow up. Not hearing back from a provider can cause a client to doubt that he or she understood the plan and create a sense of anxiety and overthinking or frustration.
Do not leave clients waiting for a response or a follow up on decisions made. Respond quickly with a thorough response or an update on your progress. Of course, delays do happen at times, but it is still important to communicate any delays to the client. If you are unable to fully respond in the moment, acknowledge that you received their message or email and give a specific time when you will be able to follow up.
When a client asks questions, be sure to answer each one fully. Answering some questions but not others or only partially answering a question makes a client feel they are not valued and creates confusion. If there are multiple questions to respond to, it can be helpful to reply by copy/pasting the questions into your reply and addressing them one by one.
After answering all questions, ask the client if everything is clear and invite him or her to follow up with any additional questions or clarification on any of the answers. Including the client in the process of clarification not only improves communication, but also shows that you value their input and insights, improving the overall relationship.