Post Client Stress Disorder

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“Doesn’t he know that he’s getting paid?” 

This is a real sentence a client said within earshot of one my friends a few weeks ago. My friend was hired to be the director a video, I was there produce it. The client felt threatened by my friend’s confidence and vision. So they lashed out. It was ugly, but it revealed a deeper insight into their main motivation on set: 

Control. 

Some clients choose control over creativity. They choose authority over authenticity. Which is no fun. It’s easy to interpret these domineering, diminishing actions as idiotic. Why would a client hire a talented artist and then constrict their creativity? When we break down the logic, it’s clear there is none. 

Which means there’s something deeper going on. 

Clients are always telling themselves stories. The reason people become bad clients is because it’s more important for them to feel like they have a big creative role than it is for them to actually make a good product. It’s not because they like stomping creativity, it’s not because they’re insane, and it’s not because they love confrontation any more than the next person. It’s simply because the narrative they’re following keeps them from releasing control. They can’t–their identity is in their role. 

If you’ve had a bad client like this then you know the feeling of “post-client-stress-disorder”–the fear, the distrust, the wariness. When these monster clients get their way, I become skittish. I tense my body at the thought of them, as if a bully were about to punch me in the hallway. 

This “post-client-stress-disorder” (PCSD) is a bummer, because it’s unfair to good clients who have a right to feedback, collaboration, and great service. 

We can’t allow PCSD ruin our relationships with good clients. I think this is why so many freelancers become tired and complain about their industries. Many freelancers jump to jaded conclusions about the industry instead of seeing bad clients as an isolated events.

That’s not the way. 

Here’s my advice: Get through it. Do what you must to deliver a satisfactory product. Push back and let your bad client know do things. They’re dangling the money, and it’s ok to dance with them to get it–just don’t let them take your dignity along the way. Next, it’s our responsibility to communicate clearly about boundaries so they can treat their next freelancer a little better. 

Most importantly, don’t jump to any conclusions based on your bad clients’ actions. 

Don’t lose confidence in your work, and don’t let these bad interactions rattle around in your head. Understand that bad clients will still ask for changes even if you deliver the best work in history. Because they’re telling themselves a story about their role in the process that they won’t let go of. Finish the project, fire that client, and put extra energy into your good clients. 

Finally, please don’t become jaded toward the industry. Serve your good clients and go the extra mile for them, because they’re the ones who make this fun. 

All the best!

Joshua Reese