Daniel Strunk

Taking the middle road

Nobody likes the braggart in the room; they are loud, haughty, annoyingly boastful and generally just a pain to be around. I’m sure you’ve worked with somebody similar. Yet, something can be said about these individuals: they are usually fantastic salespeople, as long as they’re selling themselves or something they believe in. They are sure-footed, confident. Positive that their way is the correct one. On the other end of the spectrum, somebody lacking zero confidence is equally as annoying; constantly second guessing themselves, unable to follow through and always needing their hands held through a process. And these people also have their benefits: because of their introspection, these people rarely jump the gun on rash decisions that could come back to bite them later on. In my career, I’ve seen people on either end of the spectrum, and the extremes of either are usually uncomfortable to work with. And it’s a sliding scale; some are better than others. But the ones that I’ve seen that have been the best are the ones that take the middle road.

The middle road: the one less traveled

In our industry (and in life), it seems that extremes are the only ones that garner any recognition. The pushy salesman that finally landed the big sale after prodding the client after 5 years of dedicated calls. The unrecognized but incredible developer or designer that broke free from their company and founded the hot new agency. But the most important stories aren’t the extremes; they are the ones that attract little attention: the quietly thriving companies or individuals that do right day by day and make their clients feel comfortable while remaining humble to their craft. These are the stories that are more than flashes in the pan, the ones that enjoy fame past their 15 minutes in the sun. These people realize that the client has an idea. The client might not know the method needed to achieve the end result, but they aren’t obtuse. Knowing this, the designer or developer does their job without stepping on the clients’ toes. But, while they are careful not to step on toes, they don’t allow themselves to be walked on. Yes, while the client has an idea, they don’t know how to do yours. As a designer or developer, your job is to set boundaries and manage expectations: there’s a reason why they are paying you to do work (hint: it’s not because you’re a dancing monkey). It’s important to let the client know that you’re not simply a tool; you’re a professional, and your ideas hold weight and value past being mere suggestions. The most successful designers and developers are the ones that listen to their clients while remaining true to their charge.

The one that made all the difference

The overly-confident person might come across as being too pushy. That isn’t good for the client; nobody wants to be told what their business is, and will shut down as soon as it is suggested to them. Conversely, people that aren’t confident in their skill won’t be taken seriously in their field. They are seen as worker ants, only able to do the job dictated to them and nothing more. The important takeaway is this: be confident in your skills, but never presume. Listen to your client. Communication is key, and it works both ways. Be firm in your charge; don’t be a doormat. Be confident but calm. Don’t follow the crowd; take the road less traveled.