How to Handle Client Conflict Like a Pro

“Conflict is information”

Ellen Eastwood
3 min readJun 1, 2021


Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

“I certainly didn’t expect you’d do it that way. I wouldn’t have agreed to it if I’d known,” said my client, her disappointment evident.

One of the toughest things about being a freelancer is when your client is disappointed or upset. Even if you take the time to really understand a client’s needs and properly set expectations, conflict will occasionally arise.

The first instinct is to go into blame mode and get defensive. You’ve tried hard. You’ve done everything you could. It’s clearly not your fault.

Or, is it?

Why Conflict Is Good

Adar Cohen, a conflict resolution expert, says: “conflict is information. And handled well, conflict is opportunity.”

The reality is that a client who gives you negative feedback (constructively) is invested in working with you.

Think about it — very few people like giving negative feedback. If someone is willing to do it, it’s because they want this relationship to work.

I’m a freelancer, but I also hire freelancers. So, I’ve been on both sides of this situation. There are occasions when I stopped working with a provider because the work was subpar. I wasn’t invested enough to address it with them, so I just moved on.

When I value a provider, I’m willing to have the tough conversations.

Conflict certainly isn’t enjoyable, but it’s a sign that a relationship is worth salvaging.

The “Best Self” Approach

In difficult situations, I ask myself “what would the best version of me do right now?” This question takes me out of my ego and into a more intellectual place. It also helps me to see all the defense mechanisms I’ve built up.

In short, this is how I channel the most emotionally intelligent version of myself.

Handling this situation well means opening ourselves up to the idea that, no matter how well-intentioned we were, we had a hand in creating it. Whether it’s something we did or didn’t do, something we failed to communicate or an expectation we didn’t set, there is learning here.



Ellen Eastwood

Culture and lifestyle writer | Generalist | Curious | Witty on a good day | Contact: