Five big STRESSORS as a contractor, and how to achieve contractual zen

Navigating the intricate world of contracting presents a myriad of challenges, not least the stressful contractual situations which often arise.

I know that much of my contractor clientele finds contract or client situations the most taxing on their patience, wellbeing and otherwise resilient natures, writes Shwezin Win, life coach at Win At Life.

So, it's essential to equip yourself with stress-busting techniques to effectively manage these inevitable flashpoints.

Drawing upon my experience as a life coach specialising in professional development, here’s my five top tips to help contractors tackle stressful contractual or client scenarios with confidence and poise.

1. Establish clear expectations from the outset, and get it in writing

The foundation of any successful contract lies in establishing clear and mutually agreed upon expectations from the very beginning.

These expectations are not just those of the client, but also your own.

Clearly articulate and clarify the needs and wants from both sides and be clear everyone is on the same contractual page.

Before signing any agreement, take the time to thoroughly discuss and outline the project scope, deliverables (and measurements), timelines, working patterns and payment terms with your client.

Ambiguities in these areas -- especially in the contractual terms or wording you propose without the help of contract/legal specialist -- can lead to misunderstandings and disputes down the line. If you leave open to interpretation what you want, it can lead you to be disappointed and demotivated when the outcome is not as you or the client expected.  

A calm conversation can really help head off misunderstandings, as can keeping all revisions of contracts, schedules or briefs in writing to ensure there’s no ‘he-said she-said,’ or ‘dropped balls’ which you later get the blame for.

2. Maintain a meticulous approach = don’t think ‘They’ll know what I mean’

Following on from the wisdom of keeping contractual negotiations in writing, make sure you do the same with your project.

In fact, keeping detailed records of all communication, agreements, and changes throughout the duration of the project is best-practice as a contractor.

This includes emails, meeting minutes, and written correspondence. Not only does thorough documentation serve as a point of reference for both parties, but it also provides invaluable evidence in the event of disputes or disagreements.

It can be easy to fall into the assumptive, almost lazy mindset of:

“It’s ok, they’ll know what I mean.”

This unfortunate mode of thinking is prone to those contractors who work with a client for a long period. I’m not a legal expert but have signed a fair few agreements in my time, so my tip? Don’t get complacent and don’t take it for granted that someone knows your intention.

Leaving nothing open to their misinterpretation (unintentional or otherwise) is also helpful in situations where your reporting line, or line manager changes at the client organisation. Or you get a new client representative for contractual matters. Making the conversation and resulting terms around your role and deliverables as unambiguous as possible is the key to avoid stressors later on.

3. Foster open, transparent communication and speak up as things crop up

Mostly gone are the days when contractors only worked in silos, so make sure you’re on the front foot with this evolution.

In short, foster an environment of open and transparent communication with your client and any other relevant stakeholders.

If there are key areas you’re concerned about or even points of potential conflict, highlight the issues as they happen. Do this to avoid your pent-up stress later being let out in an information overload to the recipient!

So do not hold back your concerns till the end of a period or contract. Again, as well as avoiding bottling things up, good advice is to record/log as you go.

Next, don’t expect everyone to have your own diligence or organisation or system, running to a schedule you’d approve of. You need to give the client or relevant party the opportunity to recognise the issues and find ways to respond if not resolve them. Don’t get stressed about response times or other aspects you cannot control!

One IT contractor I know of ensures she regularly updates the client on project progress, challenges, issues, and latterly, a few deviations from the original agreement. She did this unsolicited and it’s working well.

In terms of having to broach the content of those near real-time updates face-to-face, consider your mindset -- and theirs, and how you can approach difficult or potentially stressful conversations with empathy, precision and professionalism.

4. Know your rights and responsibilities – but go easy on 10b section iv)!

From experience as a professional on a contract, I can recommend familiarising yourself with the contractual obligations outlined in the agreement, including provisions related to deliverables, timelines, payment terms, and dispute resolution.

But remember that productive conversations and sorting challenges are more likely to stem from you being proactive, open and calm, than you knowing off by heart the wording at 10b section iv) of the agreement! While you very well may know such wording in your sleep, being proactive, open and calm is much more likely to help avoid unenviable legal wrangles.

Nonetheless, knowing where you stand legally empowers you to assert your rights and navigate contractual situations with confidence, when necessary.

5. Seek support and guidance to avoid stress adding to out-of-depth-ness

With contracts, pay negotiation or tricky situations, don't hesitate to seek support and guidance from trusted advisers, coaches or mentors.

Whether it's consulting with a legal expert to clarify contractual clauses or seeking advice from an experienced life coach who will have navigated many individuals like you through similar challenges, tapping into external support networks can provide valuable insights and perspective.

Clarifying what’s really the issue -- with a fresh pair of informed eyes -- is invaluable in securing the safest possible route to a positive resolution.

In short, a coach or mentor will help you get some focus on the actions you need to take rather than feeling overwhelmed or stressed.

Five contractual stress-busting techniques, in a nutshell...

Mastering stressful contractual situations requires a combination of confidence, proactive planning, effective communication, and a thorough understanding of your rights and responsibilities as a contractor, while choosing your contractual battles carefully.

Remember, resilience, resourcefulness and a bit of diplomacy are the hallmarks of a seasoned contractor -- embrace these qualities, and you'll be well-equipped to overcome any contractual hurdles that come your way in the least stressful way possible.

If you are faced with a challenging client situation and would like to gain some clarity on the way forward, book your free call so we can empower you to resolve the situation in the least mentally and emotionally taxing way, here


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Written by Shwezin Win

Shwezin Win is a fully qualified and experienced Personal Performance Coach. She has worked for over 20 years in small and major businesses within retail and marketing. She has held senior positions, managed large teams and worked for many years within IT/transformational projects, which is how she has had the experience of working with so many contractors. She set up Win at life to help as many people as possible to thrive rather than survive.

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