top of page

How language can unlock a better working relationship with your freelancer

A freelancer working with their client

* You can see the original post on the PeoplePerHour website from 14 December 2016, or read it below.

You’ve found an amazing freelancer to work with. They ‘get’ your business and understand what you are trying to achieve. But a few weeks into the relationship (and five rounds of amends later), you’re confused because the work they are producing just isn’t hitting the nail on the head. Each version seems to move every-so-slightly away from what you envisaged and things you’ve asked for aren’t being sent through.

Firstly, check that you've written a thorough brief - this blog outlines essential items to include. Then, before your frustration levels rise any further, and you consider cutting your freelancer loose, take a look inwards at the language you are using to communicate with them – whether that's via phone, Skype or email.

Top language tips for communicating with your freelancer

1. Understand the difference between active and passive language. Your requests are crystal clear in your mind. However, out of politeness, habit or a desire not to offend or inhibit your freelancer’s creativity, you’ve worded your email or speech so that you don’t entirely say what you really mean.

Although this often happens unconsciously, and your intentions are good, sadly your freelancer hasn’t a hope of knowing exactly what you are asking for. This time the old saying is reversed: it is what you said, not the way you said it.

The key to improving how you communicate is to understand the difference between indirect (or passive) and direct (or active) language. Take the two examples below:

A: I’m not sure that such a bright colour palette works.

B: I like the combination of colours but they are too bright against the logo. Could you please try muting the tones by 30%?

Example A is beautifully tactful but only indirectly addresses the client’s concern, offering the freelancer no clear course of action. This would leave the freelancer frustrated as they spend valuable time deciphering the message to understand exactly what is wrong and how they can fix it. Example B is direct: it sets parameters on the feedback and asks for a specific change to be made.

2. Frame your feedback in terms of what you like: As per the example above, indicating what you did like about the work is a great way to lead into how things can be changed. It allows you to be honest in a positive, safe way. This also helps the freelancer to understand what is working so that they can then concentrate on what has to be done next.

3. Use ‘what – why – how’ to be specific: No-one likes being confused, and as a freelancer, the last thing you want to say is: “But I thought that’s what you wanted!”. The most effective way to be specific is to order your thoughts: explain what isn’t working (politely!), why it doesn’t work, and how you would like it changed. Don’t be afraid to get into the nitty-gritty – you aren’t telling the freelancer how to do their job, just giving them clarity.

4. Provide examples: If you are struggling to articulate your ideas send links to websites, blogs, Pinterest, Instagram that inspire you and are close to what you had in mind. This is particularly important if the brief is quite loose and you are asking for a creative concept.

5. Spell it out: This is particularly vital if you both have tasks to complete. Use lists to outline what you require of the freelancer and when. When speaking about tasks that you will complete, ensure you start a new sentence with: ‘In the meantime, I will…’.

6. Avoid the ‘royal we’ when making a request: 'We' has a nasty habit of coming across as condescending instead of polite. Freelancers know that when you say ‘Could we try…’ it is a request for them. But, you’ll build greater trust and respect by addressing them directly e.g. ‘Could you please…’

7. Phrase questions and requests separately: So often freelancers receive requests masked as questions e.g. “Would it look/sound/read better if….?”. We aren’t sure if you are asking us a question or asking us to amend something. A good rule of thumb is to always start questions with ‘would’ and requests with ‘could’.

8. Remember your manners: This sounds obvious, but ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I appreciate’ are essential.

Having worked on both the client and freelancer sides of the equation, in my experience, it’s communication, not ability or skill, that has led to relationship breakdowns and dissatisfaction on both sides. Here's how I approach my working relationships now.

If you've been conditioned to be polite, you are probably worried that by using more direct language you’ll accidentally come across as blunt, rude or difficult. Fear not! As long as you keep the tone warm and friendly, your freelancer will be grateful for your honesty and will work hard to ensure the next version they send you is perfect.

bottom of page