When in Doubt, Take a Break

You’re in the middle of a weird coding issue that is jamming up the launch of a client’s new site when your phone rings.

It’s one of your other clients, Jane, who always seems to have “unique” problems.

Against your better judgement you answer.

She’s calling to complain about your most recent invoice. She doesn’t think it should have taken you half as long as it did and as a “loyal client” she wants you to give her a discount.

What should you do? Answer: Nothing.

Paia, Maui

Paia, Maui

At least not now.

You aren’t in a good place to pay attention to this negotiation or have a productive conversation with Jane so she understands that her additional requests lead to the higher than normal bill.

“Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Jane. Let me look over the invoice and the work we did and give you a call back tomorrow.”

Take a break from the negotiation until you can focus on what you’re doing. Don’t force a negotiation to “get it over with.” If you do, I practically guarnatee you’ll end up agreeing to something you don’t actually want to do.

When I talk to freelancers about taking a break during a negotiation they tend to agree that it sounds like a good idea, but, they tell me, it’s not that easy. Sometimes you can’t just put a client on hold.

So this week, while I’m taking a break from my normal day-to-day, I thought I’d go over some of the ways you can tactfully take time out from a negotiation without feeling like you’re being unprofessional.

“Let me think about that and get back to you.”
You don’t have to make a big production about pausing a negotiation. All you have to say is the truth: in order to respond effectively, you’ll need to consider their request. As soon as you’ve had the chance to think about it, you’ll get back to them.

Thinking about a request is good for both of you and you can tell them that if you like.

By considering what they’ve requested you’ll be able to come back with a potential solution that will actually work for both of you. If you shoot a “yes” or “no” from the hip you may inadvertently compound the problem by promising something that can’t be delivered.

“I’m a bit distracted right now and want to give you my full attention, are you available tomorrow at 10?”
If, like Jane’s call, your client strikes up a negotiation while you’re in the middle of something else, be honest.


Maui, Hawii

You’re thinking about something else right now, but think the points they’ve raised are important; plan to talk later when you can focus on them.

Some people discourage freelancers from telling their clients about other client work. I get that. But letting your clients think they are your one an only isn’t a great idea either.

You don’t have to go into great detail, but there is nothing wrong with saying you’re busy at the moment and you’d like to chat when you can focus on their request/problem/idea/question.You are saying you want to pay attention to them, and there isn’t anything negative about that.

By suggesting the time for your next chat, you let them know you’re serious about continuing the conversation while retaining control over when the negotiation happens.

“Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom.”
But what happens when you’re meeting face to face and you can’t seem to put them off? Excuse yourself to the bathroom. Really.

Removing yourself from a conversation, even for a few minutes can give you a chance to reflect and consider what’s going on.

You can take a couple of deep breaths and come back saying, “You know, I think that might be something we could do but I need to double check a few things first. I don’t want to promise something I can’t do. I’ll give you a call later this afternoon once I’ve had the chance to talk to my designer/project manager/attorney.”


Honu swimming in Kehei, Maui

Taking a break from a negotiation gives you time to thoughtfully consider what’s happening and can save you from agreeing to something you don’t want to do. There’s no rush and if someone is trying to make you feel like there is, it’s even more important that you hit the brakes.

How do you excuse yourself from a conversation when you need to take a break?

Categories: Dealing with People


Tags: , , , , ,

« Contract Hacks: Getting Paid When Things Go Kerflooey

Contract Hacks: Reduce Your Risk »

3 responses to “When in Doubt, Take a Break”

  1. Bridget says:

    Awesome reminder that we don’t have to jump whenever someone else expects us to. In this world of “instant gratification expected NOW” it’s great to read tips like these.

  2. I agree, this is a great article to remind freelancers that everyone is human! It’s perfectly expectably to tell a client something will have to wait until tomorrow or later or some agreed time. That of course is assuming you’ve not been putting the discussion off already and the client is chasing you. Taking a break, even at your busiest moment, is often the best thing to do in order to compose yourself and return to your tasks with a clear mind.

    I think the other point to note is that everyone has a few demanding clients that demand immediate attention, a lot of the time I find with these types of clients that keeping then ‘in the loop’ is what keeps them happy even if you can’t solve their problem right now. The worst thing you can do is to ignore it and wait for them to chase you up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

RSS Feed

From the Blog

Copyright and Conflict in Collaborative Projects

One of the great things about making art is the opportunity to collaborate with other creators. You get to borrow each other’s brains, see stories through one another’s eyes, and create things together that neither of you could have created on your own. There’s just one little thing: it can be


Subscribe to the Work Made For Hire Blog

Twitter Updates

Email Subscription

Want Katie's tips via email?

Sign up here: