Client Communication: Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?

Client communication can be a tricky business. It's all in how deftly ­and honestly you choose to play the game. 

Most freelance creative professionals go through a similar process when wooing clients. We deliver a carefully crafted sales pitch; we listen to the prospective client's wants and needs; and if they give us a shot, we begin working toward delivering the best work possible. Throughout this process we're trying to build a relationship based on knowledge, trust and honesty ­– and that's where it can get dicey.

Several weeks ago, I had a client say, "Karen, don't hold back, tell me what you really think." I truly appreciate this client because we can be completely honest with each other about the work. The freedom to communicate so openly makes me a better designer and enables him to receive more successful solutions. 

But this led me to ask the question, "Why is it so darn difficult to be completely honest with other clients?"

After more than 25 years as an independent creative director and designer, I've learned there are both risks and rewards of sharing your opinions with clients. Here are a few client communication tips to consider:

The Rewards of Honesty

  • Honesty clarifies the mutual understanding of project guidelines and expectations.
  • An honest conversation breaks down barriers and builds trust.
  • You learn more about your client's core values, which can foster a closer, more personal relationship.
  • You can gain loyalty and respect by being forthright when you encounter a difficult or awkward situation.
  • Being honest helps you maintain your integrity and credibility in the business relationship.
  • You don't have to settle for the status quo or deliver subpar work that's not in the best interest of the customer or client.

The Risks of Honesty

  • Your "truth" may not be the client's truth.
  • While honesty can be a catalyst for positive change, many people are uncomfortable with change of any kind.
  • Speaking honestly can force clients to look at themselves, their ideas or a particular situation in a deeper way than they were prepared for, which can create discomfort.

I believe in treating clients, partners and collaborators the way I want them to treat me. My goal is to always create an environment of trust and support that will hopefully evolve into a long-term relationship. I'm tactful yet direct.

I opt to be honest and take the risk. I choose to work with people who hire me for my expertise, experience and point of view. I have learned to value integrity over settling for the status quo. Believe me, as I've recently learned, you don't always "win" the game ­– but you do maintain your self-respect, which I consider to be a win in and of itself. Honesty is indeed the best policy.

Karen_LarsonGuest blogger Karen Larson leads the LMstudio creative team in developing integrated marketing/design communications that make an impact. Larson has more than 25 years of experience in marketing and design. Her clients include Compuware Corporation, Ford Motor Company, University of Michigan, Pyramid Solutions and many others. 

Related post: 5 Lessons in Client Management from 'Mad Men'