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It's not unusual for independent contractors to suffer backlash from the full-time employees at their client site. You're sometimes seen as a know-it-all who's coming in to take their work. That means, that when there's feedback to give and change to recommend, you're likely to see some sort of resistance.
Delivering this sort of news is common for independent contractors, and many have mastered the art. For others, it's still an uncomfortable situation or you always find it blowing up in your face. Here are a few simple pointers you can keep in mind next time you need to move a project in a different direction.
Don't Assume They're Wrong
It's important to remain humble and accept that there may be more than just one way (your way) to do something. There are many variables involved in any decision, and whichever choice you disagree with may have also had some factors associated with it. Ensure you understand the full picture, including all of the client's goals, resources and limitations, to better understand why they're going in the direction they selected. If you still think they're on the wrong track, then this exercise may help you uncover the root of the problem or develop a better fitting solution.
Prepare an Effective Feedback Strategy
Before you start explaining how you disagree, ensure that you've set up an environment and scenario where your feedback will be understood and compelling. For example, is it something that needs to be said to only one person in private, or do you need to call a meeting to discuss it with an entire team? You also need to consider timing. Providing the feedback immediately will keep the project from continuing in the current direction, but casually mentioning it in the lobby won't allow for optimal communication. Finally, especially if your comments have potential to start a heated disagreement, refrain from email at all costs; the tone will never come across as you desired.
It's All in the Delivery
How you say it is more important than what you're saying. As already noted, it's important to choose your timing. If your meeting is impromptu, then don't surprise your client and team members. Open up by asking if you can give some feedback. When you start, be brief, factual, direct and calm. It's also important that you choose your words wisely. Avoid negative words like "can't" or "but" and be inclusive with "we could try this" rather than "you need to do that." Finally, depending on how technical your audience is, you may need to refrain from too much jargon, to make sure they accurately understand the situation.
Get the Most Buy-In
You'll know you succeeded at telling your client and the employees they're wrong when they buy into it, rather than being left in an angry state. To achieve this, start to demonstrate your expertise the moment you come onto the site. We're not recommending you always show them up by flaunting your knowledge, but instead, show your professionalism in simple ways like dressing properly and being punctual for meetings. Build a relationship of trust by mentoring full-time employees so they can learn with you, rather than feeling inferior. When you do give your feedback, come prepared with suggestions that match the overall project goals and backed up with facts and past experiences. Above all, when possible, work with the client and team to develop a solution together.
Feedback on a project is never easy to give, especially when it's to people who may not be open to it or are dedicated to the current method. Following the tips above should help but above all, remember to pick your battles. Make recommendations in your areas of expertise (what you were called in to do) or it may come off as telling others how to do their work. In addition, be prepared for rejection. The changes you recommend may not happen and that's ok. If you want to keep working on the contract, you will need to suck it up so you can move a project forward to success.