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I work as a freelance web developer. There is one important client that I'm currently doing a large project for. Most of the time he is easy going and friendly, but there have been many times he suggestively accused me of taking advantage of him.

Few examples:

  • During a call, he asked if I had seen a specific email he sent, while browsing my emails I said "I can't seem to find it..." immediately he responded with "Oh, that's very strange" in a tone that implied I was lying about it for some reason.
  • He called to ask for a status update, I told him project A was done and I was deploying it, and after that I would work on project B. He responded that he got the impression I have not been doing any work, and I was just telling him this so I could quickly do the work. He added "I'm not saying that's the case, but it certainly looks like it"
  • One time I tried to call him but I couldn't get through. The next day I called him again and also mentioned I wasn't able to reach him the day before. He claimed he didn't see any missed calls, so it was 'very strange'. (again, in a tone of voice like I was obviously lying)
  • After finishing a project, he came across a bug. He immediately claimed that I hadn't tested my work at all. This wasn't true, it was just some edge case that I hadn't noticed and was easy to fix.

I feel these accusations are very disrespectful, especially because I have a loyal character and would never take advantage of him, so having to deal with this feels abusive and narcissistic and makes me uncomfortable and anxious. So far I haven't confronted him about it in order to not escalate matters. What's the best way to make it clear that this behavior is inappropriate without making the relationship worse? Or would it be better to stop doing business with him altogether?

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    Assuming you aren't being oversensitive (which is possible for some of the quotes, though not all), and you can't just say "If you aren't satisfied with my work, you're welcome to go elsewhere and see if you can do better", I tend to agree with @JoeStrazzere. I, at least, am motivated as much by appreciation as by money, maybe more so; if my efforts aren't respected I can find something more satisfying to do.
    – keshlam
    Jul 14, 2023 at 22:28
  • @keshlam thanks for the feedback, maybe I'm too sensitive, but at the same time, if you spend many hours trying to create the best possible product, and then basically being called a fraud or liar is not very motivating. At the same time, maybe it's normal in certain subcultures to talk like that and I shouldn't make a big deal out of it.
    – Dennis82
    Jul 14, 2023 at 22:39
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    Can't vouch for subcultures, but some folks look for an excuse to argue for a lowered price, some just need to vent their frustration, some don't understand that "if it was easy, you wouldn't need to hire me to do it"... Up to you to decide how much of that you can tolerate/ignore, at what pay rates, for how long. "The customer is not always right. The customer is, however, the one with the money. Sometimes the choice is between being right and being paid."
    – keshlam
    Jul 14, 2023 at 22:45
  • @keshlam hehe interesting phrase... I also have this variation I like to say: "The customer is always right... however, the customer does not always know what they want... and if they know what they want, chances are it's not what they need"
    – DarkCygnus
    Jul 15, 2023 at 0:25
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    There is a particular category of customers, that want to pay like beggars but be served like kings. They are usually not worth your effort, but it's hard to recognize them before signing a contract. Hopefully your contract doesn't have any clauses that will haunt you for years, like unlimited guarantee on bugs. Jul 15, 2023 at 13:16

2 Answers 2

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When freelancing you can expect all sorts of clients. None of them should impact on your morale or professionalism.

Finish your project and stop working for them if it worries you. I've worked for much worse and still continued taking their jobs because I don't care. The only difference is what I call 'panadol money', this means I charge them more because they're a headache to work with.

If you have thin skin and a sensitive ego, then freelancing might not be your best option.

This isn't something to get in conflict over. Late or non payment of your bill is the only thing that is a reason to get in conflict over.

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  • It's not so easy. If your contract specifies that you are responsible to fix all bugs detected within 10 years, you're quite messed up if you have karen-like customer. Unfortunately, with little experience, it's easy to sign very bad deal. Jul 15, 2023 at 13:19
  • OP doesn't say anything about a bad contract. But having a contract and enforcing it are two different things anyway.
    – Kilisi
    Jul 15, 2023 at 13:42
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    Yes, and even in some circumstances, sometimes it best to break a contract and pay whatever penalties would be imposed. Jul 15, 2023 at 15:53
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Regarding the "tone" on the responses:

he responded with "Oh, that's very strange" in a tone that implied I was lying about it for some reason.

and

He claimed he didn't see any missed calls, so it was 'very strange'. (again, in a tone of voice like I was obviously lying)

I fear that you are imposing or assuming a "meaning" to "that tone" this person used. I know that the tone is important when having verbal communication, as it does convey intent and some meaning, but be careful not to tag it as "rude" or as "he's saying I'm lying".

Perhaps you have some predisposition with this person (due to the non-verbal interactions and the "accusations" you gave as examples) and thus why you are assigning such "meaning" to this person's tone of voice. Be careful not to ass-u-me and try not to take it personal (keep it professional).

To be fair with you, I understand how some tones can "sound rude" or passive-aggressive. Something like "oh reaaaalyyy?... hmmm. hooooww strangeeeee" could suggest that the person is being sarcastic or implying a message in the way they phrase their sentence.

Still, the keep it professional suggestion holds, and try to avoid giving any meaning/reason to the tone people use (similar to when people say that "this text sounds rude"... how can a text, which is mute, have a sound?... again a case of imposing a meaning to something that not necessarily has that meaning).


Now, regarding the other two situations.

He immediately claimed that I hadn't tested my work at all. This wasn't true, it was just some edge case that I hadn't noticed and was easy to fix.

A professional response to this is to calmly assure them that you did test the work, and even show them the tests done or some evidence of that (that will shush any accusation attempts and show that you did in fact do the tests).

You then proceed to tell them that the fix is easy, and it can be done in X time. You also can indicate that this edge-case and very specific scenario will be kept in mind for all future tests.

He called to ask for a status update, I told him project A was done and I was deploying it, after that I would work at project B. He responded that he got the impression I have not been doing any work, and I was just telling him this so I could quickly do the work. He added "I'm not saying that's the case, but it certainly looks like it"

Hmm... I can see how this can bother you, as it does read like they are incriminating you in a passive-aggressive way (red flag?).

Anyways, let's focus on a solution. The fact that this scenario happened tells me that you don't have proper follow-ups or tools to make this person aware of what work you've done (only until this person called you is that they got an update). Something as simple as an Asana project with tasks to be done and tasks done will greatly help this person (and you) to keep track of the progress of the work (each time you finish something, you check it and all interested parties are notified).

Alternatively, this scenario suggests that perhaps you want to increase the frequency of follow-ups you give to this person, as an extended period of "radio silence" is definitely making them wonder if you are working.

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