How One Word Can Change a Relationship

How many times have you started a phrase with, “The client wants …” ?

This phrase is often followed by a request that causes occupational discomfort. Maybe your client has asked you to revamp a story idea, call in a new source or rework a design concept. Whatever the request, it can mean that you’ll have to change direction mid-course or even start all over. Sometimes it means they’ve asked you to do something that you believe is not in the magazine, story or marketing piece’s best interests.

Client requests are an important part of the process, and the creative tension between clients and writers, editors and publishers can be beneficial if handled with diplomacy. So, before you plan your response, replace “the client” with “my client” and see what happens to your perception of the request.

Consider the two following sentences:

  1. “The client wants to change this graphic.”
  2. “My client would like to change this graphic.”

Option 1 sounds like a command originating from a demanding source. Option 2 sounds much more genial. Yet, the request hasn’t changed.

That’s because using the phrase “the client” puts impersonal distance between you and the entity for which you’re producing. It also promotes an adversarial relationship by aiding you in regarding your client as someone far, far away with no intimate connection to your mutual product.

In contrast, when you begin to see your client as “yours,” you take ownership over the relationship that puts both of you on course toward achieving quality product you both want to produce. You can accept or argue requests more diplomatically simply because you’ve made your client out to be someone you enjoy collaborating with, rather than someone you have to answer to.

Rephrasing client requests reminds you that your clients have a passion for their product or service, just as you have a passion for yours. They’ve entrusted you with the job of translating their message. Employ this understanding and watch how it influences the way in which you edit your writers, develop your content and plan your photography. Watch how it changes a potentially adversarial talk into a collaborative effort.

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