In the pages of our “diary”, we have often stressed how important it is to maintain a good relationship with clients over time. A relationship based on trust, ethics, and mutual respect. However, despite our good will and all the efforts made to make sure they are satisfied, clients might still get angry and lose their temper. These occurrences are of course unpleasant and hard to handle, and in the most serious cases they can be so unsettling that we can end up feeling frustrated and angry which, in turn, amplifies and worsens the tension. So, what should we do? Here is some advice on how to handle an angry client.
Why people get angry
We are all different from each other, and we each have our own values, our expectations, and our traumas. Anger is a feeling that is unleashed when something has violated, or at least negatively affected, what is important for us. Carrying out a detailed analysis of everyone’s character and of what annoys each of us in only one post isn’t feasible, but we can still outline some recurring characteristics of the reasons for our anger. Here is a list of a few of them:
- Someone isn’t paying attention to us or isn’t listening, so we feel misunderstood.
- We don’t feel valued, respected, or adequately acknowledged.
- Something triggered our fears, insecurities, or anxieties.
- We feel excluded, treated differently from others, or not involved.
- We think we are being made fun of, cheated, or deprived of something.
- Our time is being wasted, something is slowing us down, or we are fruitlessly waiting for something.
- Our requests, needs, or requirements have not been taken into consideration.
- We are being treated unkindly or condescendingly.
- We feel forced to do things that we don’t approve of, that aren’t in our character, or that are unfair.
As our friend and colleague Massimo Franceschetti often reminds us, this is all based on unfulfilled expectations, combined with the inability to relativise, or to put what we are going through into the right perspective.
Photo Alexas fotos on UnSplash
Empathising with an angry client
Anger is a feeling, and it is, therefore, something we can also empathise with. To be clear, we aren’t saying you should like or approve of someone who is shouting or has an aggressive attitude. Those are ways anger is displayed, and no one should be forced to deal with that. Empathising with anger means understanding and accepting that, at times, it’s natural to feel like that. This can allow us to be more open-minded and help us handle those who are drowning in rage, without the risk of being infected by it.
Feeling understood when we are angry and perceiving that others aren’t judging us but are, on the contrary, trying to help us, calms us and prevents violent displays that are often the results of frustration and external judgement.
The next step is to analyse what is hidden behind an angry client by assessing their reasons with patience and sensitivity.
By using the list in the previous paragraph as a guideline, ask yourself what has made the other party react angrily. Discovering the reason will allow you to put yourself in their shoes and empathise. How many times have you felt like that? What would you have needed to calm yourself? The answers to these questions are the key to handle and angry client.
The dos and don’ts when facing anger
Let’s now come to the crucial question, “What should I do when facing anger?”.
First of all, don’t try to stem the flow or rein it in by saying things like “calm down”, because you would achieve the opposite effect. If you can, allow the other party to explain their issue and try to ask questions. Speaking helps to vent feelings, so it has a calming effect. During this dialogue, which will help you understand what has happened and pinpoint what has sparked the anger, don’t get distracted. Maintain eye contact and an open and welcoming posture, but don’t be too relaxed as this would convey a feeling of detachment or irritate the speaker by trespassing their proxemic zone (their spatial safety distance) because they might react badly.
After understanding the reasons, offer your help even if you were not the cause of the problem. Don’t minimise the problem, even if it seems like a “trifle” that, in your opinion, should not anger the client. To them, it is obviously an important issue.
Always remember to not take it personally as that would trigger a useless tug of war. If they say something you don’t agree with, instead of contradicting them, ask them how they have reached those conclusions. Make sure you take all the time you need to weather the emotional tsunami. In cases where anger has already turned into verbal violence, our suggestion is to take a break from the discussion by offering them the chance to reflect. This might be a short pause to have a coffee or a glass of water. Another option is to explain to the other party how you feel about the current situation. Open your heart to them and show them your feelings and how their violence is hurting you, in the hope they will empathise with you.
Some of us have a natural aptitude for avoiding or managing anger. Others are instead like magnets for it, and they often run into angry people or find themselves in conflicts. If you belong to the second category, you might have issues with your own anger that reflect on your surroundings. To be able to handle other people’s anger, you need to get into deeper contact and accept your own anger.
There are specific paths you can take to learn how to do it, but a good first step is to understand the reasons that trigger this feeling by applying the advice in this article to your own lives.
| partem claram semper aspice |
The photos used - where not owned by the editorial team or our guests - are purchased on Adobe Stock and IStockPhoto or downloaded from platforms such as UnSplash or Pexels.