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How to Deal with Negative Client Feedback

What to do when your client gets back to you with negative, soul-crushing feedback that makes you question whether or not you really have what it takes as a writer.

It’s the response no copywriter ever wants to get from a client.

It’s okay, but what we’re really looking for

This, after we’ve combed through client testimonials and tussled with taglines. We drafted copydecks, created some distance between us and the writing, then came back to polish things up. Finally, at some wee hour of the morning, we shared off the Google Doc and—

It’s a good start, but this isn’t quite it … 

Our eyes start to water as we read on. The client has pulled out headlamp and scalpel. Multiple stakeholders have descended on the document like ravenous blood hounds. Subject matter experts, marketing operations, THE CMO—they gnash it all up, sentence by bloody sentence.

The sting! The horror!

All we can do is sit, frozen, gasping as the cabin loses pressure and the ego enters a terrible flat spin. In an instant, a once promising career in professional writing is careening toward the cold, unforgiving flames of imposter syndrome. The clock has struck amateur hour. The cursor blinks back cynically.

Now what?

Though it might seem otherwise, this bite is hardly venomous. The first impulse will be to react—to disagree, contend, and combat. Sidestep this impulse! The first step should instead be to step away.

Take a deep breath or two. Go for a walk. Jog to the breakwater and back.

Given time, the sting will wear off. In its place will sprout acknowledgement and acceptance—all the stages that eventually follow the failures and f***ups in life.

More importantly, in its place will return your level head, quickly regrowing like a severed gecko’s tail. And a level head is exactly what the battered writer needs.

Because negative client feedback is not a death knell. It’s a natural part of an iterative writing process. It’s the writer’s opportunity to make a good faith effort to meet the client’s expectations and see the project through—to deliver a quality deliverable that supports larger business objectives.

This gymnastic paroxysm is easier said than done, of course. First of all, some clients are easier to please than others. Some will nickel and dime you until the cows come in, all while asking the world. And others treat an imperfect first go as a poisoned well that cannot be corrected. They might even cut a writer loose on the spot.

No matter!

As long as the writer communicates clearly, articulates the reasoning behind their choices (where tenable), and makes every effort to address the client’s concerns, the project will move forward, one way or another. The professional writing life, too, will go on.

Will we receive negative feedback again?

Quite probably, though this curious melodrama will happen less often as one grows and improves as a professional. And there is always room to grow and improve. In fact, one might argue that no writer is even supposed to get it right the first time.

An iterative process, writing is. Healthy and natural, as is both positive and negative feedback. The difference is how the writer handles the situation. Professionally, or as hurt, petulant child?

The choice is always ours.

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