Do you engage in reflective practice? By reflective practice, I mean thinking about what you do, how you do it, how well it’s working, how it feels to do it, how it’s landing, how it’s feeling for other people.
Reflective practice is essential to your wellbeing, as well as that of your business and your clients, but to effectively manage your clients’ expectations, and set them – and you – up for success, it needs to be integrated into every aspect of your work, rather than added on as an afterthought.
No Need to be Nervous
An important aspect of managing your clients’ expectations is reassuring them that they are in the right place, and this is only possible if you are confident in your niche and strong in your belief that what you provide is what they need. This confidence evolves when you invest time in thinking about what your clients expect from you and what you expect from them.
You can then use that experience to put the appropriate wording into place in your marketing, in your terms and conditions, in your contracts, and in your discovery calls, to help potential clients overcome their nerves and anxiety about working with you, and actually upskill them into being your ideal clients. At the same time, you can set up filters which prompt the people who are not a good fit for you to self-select themselves out and go elsewhere, so they don’t waste their time, or yours.
Incorporating reflective practice into the management of client expectations can benefit every aspect of your business, not just your legal documents and sales pages. For example, it can help ensure that the choices you make about your branding, your copywriting, and all your social media posts are consistent and authentic. This contributes to that reassurance effect, where the clients that you are meant to work with come into your space and breathe a great big sigh of relief knowing that they have found the right person for them. At the same time, those who are likely to be problematic because they have expectations that you can’t meet tend to go elsewhere of their own accord.
Look at my business, for example. My rainbow castle logo, images of unicorns & dragons, and fairy land backdrop are not generally what anyone would expect to see from a law firm, and yet it works for me. This is because I am constantly reflecting on the kind of lawyer I want to be, the kind of clients I want to work with, and how to walk that fine line between whimsical connection and authoritative guidance. My DIY Packs emerged from reflecting on the deeper purpose of contracts as a sacred container holding space for relationships, rather than just a legal record of a commercial transaction.
All of this combines to attract my ideal clients and reassure them that I am the lawyer they are looking for, because we share a common perception of what is important as a business owner. It also discourages those who might be looking for a more litigious lawyer, or someone wearing a suit in a city office. They go somewhere else and never darken my doorway, because they can instantly recognise that our values and vision are not aligned. I appreciate this, because my reflective practice:
- allows me to recognise that clients who are not a good fit are a common source of conflict,
- gives me the confidence to choose to only want to work with clients whose company I enjoy, and
- prompts me to honestly admit the limits to my competence so I can easily recognise matters outside my scope of practice and refer them elsewhere.
I can’t count the number of times someone has come to me with a client dispute, such as a client who is threatening legal action, or who is really trampling all of their boundaries and pushing their buttons, and they say “I knew six months ago that this person was going to be a problem, but I just kept ignoring it because I figured eventually, I could just do the work and be done with the relationship.” Instead, the conflict in the relationship has snowballed.
Over time, ongoing reflection on your ability to meet the needs of your clients trains you to identify clients who are not a good fit before they become a problem, so you can encourage them to go elsewhere, refer them to a different practitioner, or refuse to work with them, because you have fine-tuned your intuition, increasing your awareness of which clients are likely to be a problem, and redirecting them at an earlier stage.
Developing a reflective awareness, a curiosity about how well the relationship is going, as an active element of your client service encourages you to observe what is not working sooner, so you can cut those clients free and send them to someone who is better suited to serve them than you are. This not only makes them happy, meaning they are more likely to refer you to someone who IS a good fit, it minimises your exposure to conflict situations.
From your client’s perspective, reflecting on the experience you want to provide them and how best to prepare them to get the most out of working with you helps you communicate important information about your processes. This allows them to come into your sessions feeling relaxed about what to expect, with all of their resources ready. This can include small, practical details that increase client comfort. For example, if you’re the kind of coach whose clients commonly burst into tears because of the deep work you’re doing, tell them in advance to have a glass of water and a box of tissues and a journal close at hand because it’s likely they will need them. Give them the information they need so that can come into working with you feeling like they’ve got this, they know what to do. Set them up for success by ensuring they know what’s going to happen, and they know how to get the most out of it.
Prioritise Informed Consent
Another important way in which your commitment to reflective practice can reduce conflict is by prioritising informed consent. This begins with reflecting on what informed consent means to you and to your clients in the context of your work. It may require you to give clients the information that they need so that they can proactively manage any risks that are inherent in the work that you’re doing together.
This is particularly important for allied health practitioners, but it is very rare for me to work with any business owner who can’t find some element of risk in their work that their clients need to be aware of. Clients deserve to be told about potential areas of uncertainty that may have consequences for them, and to understand the risk factors so they can make fully informed choices about what is right in their specific situation.
Reflecting on the risks and uncertainties that arise in your work also makes you more likely to emphasise client autonomy. You don’t want clients who hand their power to you and expect you to do the work and make decisions for them. They need to know that you respect their right to choose and that you expect them to take responsibility for their choices. This is easier when you are constantly reflecting on your practice and remembering that the advice or information you provide is only ever giving your clients options for their consideration, and that the actions they take as a result of that information or advice you’ve provided is at their own discretion.
You are also more likely to identify and take the opportunity to clarify misunderstandings by being clear about common assumptions around your work. This might include distinguishing your business from similar types of business that it might be mistaken for. For example, a naturopath is not a medical doctor, or a coach who talks about budgeting is not a financial advisor. Reflecting on potential conflict can also help you clearly communicate any limitations around the content you provide, such as that the general information you write in a blog is not a substitute for specialist advice tailored to a client’s own specific circumstances.
These kinds of disclaimers, which put clear limitations around the scope of your services, again help to manage client expectations. Clients who feel that you have communicated with them clearly are more likely to feel empowered in the relationship, to make conscious choices about what is right for them, and to take ownership of those choices, reducing the potential for conflict.
Plan for Problems
As business owners, we are often resistant to reflecting on unhappy clients and things going wrong. We want to put problems behind us as fast as possible and move on to more pleasant things. When things are going well, we don’t want to tempt fate by imagining that changing. However, thinking about conflict resolution and how to deal with client complaints does not attract that kind of energy into your space. Instead, preparing realistically for foreseeable problems actually does the opposite of attracting unhappy clients to you.
Having a clear process for conflict resolution gives you the confidence of knowing that if there is a problem, you know what to do. You will be able to respond calmly, instead of reacting from a space of hurt emotion and panic. You can choose to put compassionate processes in place and prioritise good faith negotiation and win-win thinking. This confidence is reassuring to your clients and increases their trust in your business when it is communicated through your T&Cs and client agreements.
One of the major causes of conflict is disappointed expectations. Prioritising reflective practice means you want to know more about how your clients are feeling about the process of working with you, so you are more likely to put processes, policies and communications in place which encourage honest feedback, because you want to know when they’re not happy.
No business owner wants unhappy clients to go away and whisper to all of their friends about what a terrible experience it was to work with you. You want them to be honest and open, to feel comfortable saying to you, “That wasn’t what I expected. That didn’t meet my needs.” Reflecting on what is important to you in your client relationships helps you to hear this kind of feedback without feeling attacked, so you can be compassionate, caring, and try to negotiate a win-win solution after working through the issues.
When you make reflective practice a habit, you can learn to see criticism as an incentive to improve your practice. This enables you to send that unhappy client away with the glowing feeling that their needs were met and their concerns were listened to. You can transform them from a source of potential defamation into one of your biggest advocates, spreading the word that you’re an amazing person to work with, rather than stomping away, upset and angry.
Of course, there is also the proviso that some clients just can’t be pleased no matter what you do. Hopefully, you’ll have already weeded them out by reflecting on your niche, your client attraction process, your client relationships and how you deal with complaints – all of those elements that set your clients and your business up for success. If someone makes it through all those filters, and on reflection you just KNOW it is time to let them go, it is important to have a process in place that allows you to do so easily and graciously. One of the most powerful tools you can set up in your problem-solving toolkit is a refund buffer account. This is where you save up and set aside the amount of your most expensive product or service. Then, if you do get one of those clients who’s just an absolute pain in the proverbial, and you really wish they would just disappear, it’s easy for you to say, “here’s your money back, goodbye” without having to panic about the fact that that money’s already been allocated to pay the electricity bill and register the car.
Keeping money in your refund buffer gives you the confidence to graciously release a client who is truly unhappy and who wasn’t meant to work with you, while having a strong and regular reflective practice improves your client relationships, reduces the likelihood that you will have to deal with this kind of conflict, and ensures that if a problem does arise, you recognise it and are ready to deal with it before it escalates.
How I can help
November is our month for Contemplative Calm in the Serenity Connective – when we focus on what reflective practice means to us as business owners. We tidy our contemplative toolboxes and focus on integrating reflective practice into the core of what we do and how we relate to clients.
Each month has its own special mission prompting us to rumble with vulnerability, explore ways to reduce our risk of conflict and prioritise best practice. Come and join us.