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My job deals with freelance writers for PR; I edit/oversee the content that they provide and often give feedback to them. I always try to keep a positive tone and thank them even if the main purpose of the email is to address a mistake. This kind of feedback is company policy and I have been instructed by my manager/senior colleagues to send it, especially to freelancers who are new to us.

We have a new experienced freelancer who I thought was very receptive to these emails, so I made an effort to contact him fairly regularly with feedback (mostly positive). Recently, I sent him an email regarding minor changes made in accordance with the end-client's preferences as I have done in the past, and received a very odd response that seemed to imply that this person was offended with the changes made.

I do not want to inadvertently damage my firm's relationship with this person, or other freelance workers, by making them feel undervalued or over-criticized. But at the same time, I do occasionally need to send them feedback or inform them of changes. Ideally I would be able to inform them of this prior to end-client delivery so they could have more input, but this is not possible as deadlines are often very tight.

Is there a better way to maintain positive relationships with freelance workers, particularly senior/experienced ones, without offending them over feedback?

(I found this answer How can I give feedback without hurting the other person? but I don't think it is relevant in this case as it largely refers to personal comments.)

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    As a freelancer with experience, this individual really should understand that constructive criticism is going to be given. Clients change and as a freelancer he should understand that. I don't feel you're in the wrong with this unless you were very blunt and harsh. Just how odd was his reply? Are you sure you aren't misinterpreting the response? – Dandy Aug 24 '16 at 8:39
  • He has previously seemed to understand that feedback is necessary, so I was also quite confused and it is possible that I'm misinterpreting it. His response said thank you, but was followed by a long paragraph that seemed to imply he disagreed with the changes. However, there are other freelancers who are considerably less responsive/friendly than this person, so my question still stands even if his reply was just meant as an odd tangent. – Jasmine Aug 24 '16 at 8:46
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    Freelancers are often (though not always) subject matter experts and perhaps rather than having offended him, he is clarifying that the client definitely wants the changes? As a software developer, I will feedback regarding instructions that I feel may not be in the client's best interests - this may be his equivalent of "are you sure you want to do that?". – toadflakz Aug 24 '16 at 9:19
  • @toadflakz Yes, I think he was disapproving of the client's preference, but in this case it relates to the client's own style guide/glossary, so it is better to stick to these unless strictly necessary. – Jasmine Aug 24 '16 at 13:46
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This sounds like a one-off incident (and not as large as your question title suggests). Your primary goal should be to 'repair' it so that nothing is left between the two of you.

Phone him up and ask what happened. Take responsibility for your part of the conversation (email): Did I write something that came across badly? Add the essential parts of what you are after in the relationship (you wrote those in your question). Then listen - just 'get' what he says. (Or maybe do these two things in reverse order).

You may want to adjust your way of communication after that if that does not interfere with your goals (or your usual way of being), so that it works better for him.

Things like these very often are just based on incorrect interpretations, or you pushed on one of his sensitivities (BTW don't say those things; you don't want to sound superior). Just listening and taking responsibility for your half of the conversation can resolve a lot.

  • Thank you for your advice. Although this may be an isolated issue, I am new to corresponding with freelancers so was hoping to avoid this kind of response happening again, hence the broader question. I don't think I will address it directly in this case as it may be a misinterpretation on my side but I will review my tone etc. in future correspondence. – Jasmine Aug 24 '16 at 13:23
  • Which means you're changing your actions based on assumptions, not knowledge? – Jan Doggen Aug 24 '16 at 13:41
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I deal with a lot of freelancers. My policy is to give feedback rarely during projects unless is there is an issue and save my praise until the end. Excessive praise can be annoying to some and seems unprofessional/fawning (to me). This can be cultural, some cultures expect that, others don't.

Your method is just as good in it's own way. Every individual is different, you just got one who isn't terribly professional. So carry on as you are.

  • Thank you! I'm wondering if it could be that they perceived it to be an excessive frequency of emails (although only about once every 2-3 weeks), and that it wasn't necessarily the actual content that led to this response, so it could be a good idea to send slightly less often/only for more serious issues. – Jasmine Aug 24 '16 at 13:35

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