We’ve all been there: sitting across from a client who’s steaming mad. Sometimes it’s something you’ve inadvertently done that riles them, other times it’s just a byproduct of the legal issues they expect you to make go away. Regardless of the source of their frustration, you have to find a way to defuse the situation in a safe and effective manner that doesn’t put your client-attorney relationship at risk.
Here’s How You Can Defuse An Angry Client
Admittedly, every situation is different. You’ll have to deal with each client on an individual basis and choose the tactics and techniques that you feel will be best, given the circumstances. That being said, the following tips are usually helpful.
Let Them Vent
When customers get angry and start throwing accusations and talking about how they’re going to do this or that, it’s to bite your tongue and sit still. But that’s the very best thing you can do.
Interrupting people while they’re venting can make their frustration even bigger. If you let them speak their mind instead, they’ll run out of things to say eventually, and the confrontation will cool down. There’s room for only one overheated individual in a discussion.
Meet Face to Face
Arguments conducted over the phone or via email are highly risky. Words can be misconstrued, there’s no opportunity to study body language (especially facial expressions), and people may say things they wouldn’t dare to voice in person.
If you get an angry email or call from a client, politely ask if he or she would be willing to meet with you face to face. Though this will demand more time investment, it will be time well spent if you’re able to defuse a spark before it bursts into flame.
Kill With Kindness
There’s a common strategy that people in retail use to calm angry customers: It’s called killing them with kindness. For every mean thing a client says to you in an argument, respond with a compliment.
Whenever someone makes a threat, provide encouragement. By dishing out kindness, you’re more likely to soften even the angriest client eventually.
Never Take It Personally
“Nothing others do is because of you,” author and motivator Don Miguel Ruiz says. “What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
In other words, do your best not to take things personally when you’re faced with angry clients. You have to separate yourself from the issue mentally, and remember that this is just your job and you cannot control what other people think.
Once you can remove yourself from the immediate situation, it becomes easier to defuse it in an objective manner.
Focus On Solutions
The problem with angry clients is that they only want to talk about what’s going wrong or what happened in the past. Though these need to be addressed in order to provide context, it should be your primary goal to focus on solutions. When solutions are discussed — as opposed to the negative byproducts of the underlying problem — you have more of a chance to make healthy progress.
Step Away If Necessary
Despite your best attempts not to take insults personally, there may be times when an abusive client crosses the line and pushes your buttons in such a way that you feel yourself on the verge of exploding.
Instead of reaching across the desk and grabbing the person by the throat (which you may be picturing in your mind), simply respond with the following words: “Please give me a couple of minutes. I need to step outside.”
By walking away and giving yourself some privacy to let off a little steam, you will be able to avoid exploding and ruining your reputation.
Establish A Paper Trail
As an attorney, you’re well aware of the value of documentation, but this especially bears repeating in this particular kind of situation. You should always establish a paper trail so that, should a client make formal accusations in the future, you can show how you did everything possible to appease the person.
Respect Your Client’s Frustration
Although you don’t have to agree with your client and what has motivated the anger, it’s important that you don’t try to discount the person’s frustrations. The client is obviously agitated for a reason and, as the client’s attorney, you should make it a point to sympathize and locate a solution.