How to Survive in a Subjective Job

What do musicians, training and development specialists, graphic designers, and marketing professionals all have in common? They all work in subjective industries! These people, as well as many others, work in fields where a final product is loved by some and hated by others. If you work in one of these fields, here are some tips to help you have more success with your clients:

1.) Encourage stakeholders to provide clear expectations- Before you begin a new project, it is imperative that all parties involved agree upon the client’s definition of success. What I view as unabashed creativity, the client might see as a piece of garbage. Before a stroke of color is added or content is written, a person in a subjective field must understand the full expectation of the client and how they define success.

2.) Know the client’s limitations even if they do not- Ladies and gentlemen, the customer is not always right! If you work in a subjective field, sometimes it is up to you to make sure the client understands that what they want, at the price they want, in the time frame they want, is simply impossible. Coach them using your own past experience and knowledge to help find alternative solutions, or encourage them to change their expectations.

3.) Avoid creating for yourself- It is easy for employees, especially in creative fields, to want to add their own personal preferences to projects. For instance, when I take a professional development class, I prefer to listen to lecture instead of doing group activities. So when I am designing a new course, it is my natural bent to want to include lots of lecture in the format. This is fine and dandy if I have free reign over the course, but when a client is asking for hands on training and role playing, I would be doing a disservice by inserting my own preferences into the design.

4.) Ask for feedback during the creative process- One of the most frustrating parts of subjective work is finishing a project only to be told that the client hates it. Avoid this pitfall by continually seeking feedback during the design process. Check in to make sure expectations are being met along the way so you can make tweaks as you go, instead of being forced to scrap it all at the end.

5.) Own your expertise- Many subjective jobs are specialties (art, music, graphic design, etc.) and no one should be ashamed of being specialized. Because I spend a lot of time learning about the history, current trends, and future plans of the T&D world, it makes sense that I know more about my field than an accountant would. So if an accounting department comes to me for suggestions on how to build team cohesion, I answer as an expert. I try to avoid subjective statements and wishy-washy language. I make recommendations that are rooted in the study of my craft and assure them that my advice is solid.

6.) Talk about subjectivity with your clients- As you begin the planning process, help clients understand that you work in a subjective job. This isn’t about making preliminary excuses for clients who are unhappy with your work. Instead, these open dialogues foster an understanding that you’re aiming at a constantly moving target of personal opinion.