5 Ways to Manage Client Upset

What’s on the iPod: Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty

Busy week, albeit a short one since my husband and I are finally going to take that vacation we’ve been putting off. Sadly, it’s just four days, but it’s four I don’t have to think about projects or money or anything beyond relaxing. After the weekend I just went through, I’m glad for it.

Because my weekend was full of stressful situations — early mornings, waiting, big crowds and navigating on foot for ten miles, not to mention having my mother and her friend to entertain — I was thinking of how I could redirect my stress or upset in ways that wouldn’t hurt anyone’s good time. It was easy thanks to the atmosphere we were in, but I’ll confess to a few moments in which I wanted to snap at someone or where I needed to un-hear what someone had just said that was way too inappropriate or prying.

In more than one instance with the mom or her friend, I was biting my tongue. Hard. It’s a privilege of getting older to be able to say what’s on your mind whether it should be said or not. After hearing about five different judgments in the span of 15 minutes, I was contained, especially since it was the first time I’d spent any length of time with the friend, but I did assert my boundaries and halted the negative conversation without getting angry or raising my voice.

I used the same methods with the ladies that I do with clients. I invent a new reaction and discard the one that isn’t working. Here are some ways in which to do that:

Get in their heads. That client could have his or her head on the chopping block, or he could have just found out his company is laying people off, or perhaps her supervisor hates her and is looking for a reason to let her go. Always assume something other than you is causing their stress and upset. Until they tell you otherwise, it’s a safe way to approach conversations.

Don’t hear the emotion — hear the facts. Sometimes clients are just too frank. They’ll spill out every little thing that bothers them about what you’ve just presented or what they don’t want to see from the likes of you. Instead of getting your back up, ask for specifics. Where did things start to go wrong in the piece? What bad experiences have you had that you’re hoping to avoid?

Modify the conversation. Take control of it calmly and gently. Ask questions that get to the root of the problem (and also make the client feel heard). Talk through some of the possible solutions. Ask if there’s anything the client would like you to do that would satisfy them.

Stop talking. Sometimes our first reaction is to talk. Assure them this, promise them that. Only problem is we’re not hearing them because we’re so busy trying to fix it verbally. Shut up. Listen. Let the client tell you what’s wrong and where it went wrong for them. Don’t try to speak for them or fill in the blanks.

Maintain your own calm. Look, you can’t stop someone from being upset. You can, however, change your own reaction. If you refuse to allow someone else’s upset to change your own mood, you can respond and amend the situation from a much better perspective. Detach.

Writers, how do you deal with client upset?
What methods do you use for redirecting your stress?

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  • Anne Wayman September 30, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    Good suggestions – particularly not talking or saying anything too quickly – often folks just need to spit out what's bothering them before you can have a conversation with them.

  • Lori Widmer September 30, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    True, Anne. I think sometimes we're so damn eager to please we get in our own way.

    I remember a kitchen contractor coming here a year or so ago. He was so damn busy trying to talk fast and tell us what we wanted he never heard what we actually wanted. He had a date with his wife (their anniversary) and his head was not on the job. So why accept an appointment for that afternoon, I wonder?

    Had he slowed down, he'd have gotten out of here in ample time AND he'd have known what it was we wanted. We might have hired him. But he was so hyper and inattentive, we weren't sure he'd do the job we wanted.

  • Paula Hendrickson September 30, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Anne nailed it – some people just need to spew out everything. They think it's their right to vent. The rare times I feel a need to vent I call my sister or a friend and say, "I just need to vent a bit." My sister does the same with me. Then we commiserate a bit, feel better, and laugh about how stupid it is to get worked up about little things.

    I'm good at biting my tongue, yet know a lot of people – young and old – who seem to thinking having an opinion means they need to share it with the world. I think I mentioned my aunt said some rude things and defended herself by saying at her age (early 70s) she'd "earned the right" to say what she wanted. My response (but not to her, LOL): "You can never earn the right to be rude."

    I've gotten pretty good at dealing with difficult people. It started as a kid. We had a couple of relatives who loved embarrassing people (not the aunt mentioned above – she was often a target from her sister-in-law), so I made a game of predicting what they would say and do anytime we had to see them. It was simple since they were so darn predictable. They had no idea how to react when I only laughed at comments I saw coming a mile away.

    Sometimes it gets tiring walking on all those eggshells  — especially 10 miles in one day, huh, Lori?

  • Lori Widmer September 30, 2015 at 7:27 pm

    Paula, after the weekend I had, I agree — there is no excuse for being rude. My mother's friend is lovely, but wow. I was shocked to hear some of the things she said. I expect that from my mother, but not a stranger!

    LOL! You've got it about the eggshells.They were crunching most of the weekend!

  • Melanie Kissell October 4, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    Always remember …

    Clients are people, too. (Unfortunately) 😉

    Working in medicine for four decades taught me EVERYTHING I ever need to know about dealing with difficult people, Lori. SHEESH! When we humans aren't feeling chipper, peppy, and perky (and our bodies are giving us grief)is when we're at our crankiest. LOL!

    I've found the #1 approach to putting out the fire of furry and frustration is to validate/acknowledge the other person's feelings. Let them blow off some steam and then reply, "I understand how you feel." Or "I can hear the disappointment/frustration/anger in your voice and I want to help." You get the picture. Just reassure them they're being "heard".

    Don't get me started on the "mother" thing. I love my mum to pieces but she's a piece of work! And if I have to hear how "wonderful" her friends' daughters are and how much they "care" about their mothers, blah, blah, blah, I'm going to implode and explode, simultaneously. 🙁

  • Lori Widmer October 5, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    So very true, Melanie! We want to be heard. Period.

    I hear you on the mom thing, too. My mom doesn't do the comparison thing, amen. She "fixes" and I've learned to divert her attention. 🙂 However, her friend was "fixing" things too, and in one case, her comment was so outside of what we were talking about (and inappropriate) that I nearly said something I'd have regretted.

    Better to just let the comment pass without warranting it with a response. But like you, implosion was a real threat. LOL