Six client tricks that manipulate freelancers

Since the dawn of time, mankind has tried to find ways to get people to do what they want. Sometimes they employ strong-arm tactics and sometimes they use deceit, but most of the time they use manipulation to bend people to their will, writes Aidan Huang of Onextrapixel.

They have used tried and tested forms of manipulation for thousands of years and for the most part these techniques have worked pretty well. But they only reason they are so successful is that most of the intended victims (including freelancers), don't even realise that they are being manipulated.

If they did recognise these techniques for what they really are, then they would lose all of their effectiveness. Just glancing over the list below could save freelancers from being manipulated.

1. Taking advantage of divided attention

This is a very classic manipulation. Instead of asking a person for something while they are giving their full attention to them; the master manipulator will ask for something while that person is preoccupied. This is a common practice among women who are looking to get their husband to do something while they are watching the game! It is also used frequently by people to control their co-workers.


Client: I need this report done by Thursday
Freelancer: I have quite a bit of work on my desk today, but I should be able to get to it.
Client: Oh, can you also do one little assignment for me by say, Saturday?
Freelancer: I am really up against it at the moment.
Client: It's just a little assignment. Won't take much time.
Freelancer: Ok, send it on over.

The client then sends over an assignment that consists of three parts and would take at least a week to complete.

2. Leveraging their superior position

This is a manipulation that is often used by people in positions of power. People such as police officers, doctors and politicians are the most common perpetrators, but it can be used by almost anyone in an authoritative position.

They use their authoritative positions to convince their intended targets to forgo their own common sense in lieu of theirs.


Prospective client: "I spend millions of dollars on freelancers every year, and every single one of them works for the salary I just offered you. If you don't won't to do the assignment for what I am willing to pay, then you are missing out on quite a bit of work."

3. Topic dialing

Topic dialing is when a person wins an argument by quickly changing the subject to a completely unrelated topic that is only distantly related to the original subject. The effectiveness of this technique is usually dependent on how fast they can change the topic. They faster they can change the topic, the more successful it is likely to be.


Client: "I heard that Stephen King worked as a freelance writer before he became a novelist. During that time he was able to write five or six reports at a time and have them done within a week or so. He could really crank them out. By the way, do you think that you could finish this assignment in the next day or so?"

4. Assumption of guilt

This is when the manipulator assumes that a person is guilty of something by observing only the smallest amount of evidence.


At 3am, after finishing a website template for a client who had to have it “by 6am their time,” the freelancer sent an email letting the client know that it was finished. The next day the freelancer gets a call:

Client: I don’t appreciate you staying out all night when you should be working on my project.
Freelancer: I’m sorry? I was working all last night. As you can see, I sent you an e-mail.
Client: I see that. At 3am. Do you think it’s okay to party all night and then work without sleep at 3am? It’s very unprofessional and morally reprehensible.
Freelancer: What makes you think I was out partying?
Client: Why else would you be up at 3am?
Freelancer: You gave my 24 hours to do 18 hours of work. I had to stay up.
Freelancer: Don’t try to use maths on me!

5. Making an outrageous first request

Here is a tactic that almost everyone has used at some point in time. It involves making a request that is almost impossible to fulfil or is a request that is most likely to have been denied by the target. The manipulator then asks for something that is less likely to be struck down.

This works on the psychological principle that people don't like to have to say no multiple times in a row.


Client: Do you think you can finish these 4 reports by this weekend.
Freelancer: I don't think that is possible.
Client: How about 2 reports by this weekend
Freelancer: I'll try but I can't promise it.
Client: Okay, can I have the first report by tomorrow then.
Freelancer: Sure.

6. Making reality more pleasant than it really is

This is often called looking at things through rose-colored glasses. Except that it is done intentionally and is not a result of the manipulator's naivety. The manipulator relays information about a potentially unpleasant situation in a very pleasant way.


Client: "This assignment is really easy and shouldn't take anytime whatsoever." After receiving the assignment, the freelancer realises that it will take several long days to get it completed on time.


As can be ascertained from the above list, there are a variety of different ways that clients use manipulation in order to tilt things to their favour. This has always been, and most likely will always be, something that is done on a regular basis. But if a freelancer knows the different ways that customers manipulate, and keep their eyes open, then they can avoid being manipulated and ensure that they are always in charge of the situation.

Editor’s Note: This piece is an abridged version of an article first published on Onextrapixel .


20th July 2012

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