A Placid Plan Pleases Provoked People (5 Steps for Dealing with Angry Clients)

It doesn’t matter whether your office is a boardroom, classroom, or laundry room, inevitably your clients will get upset. Regardless of how hard you work, the services you provide fall short sometimes. I’ve learned to apply a prescriptive process that calms down the angriest of customers and gets the relationship back on track.

Last week I received a scathing email from a student’s father. He heard an incomplete account of an event, assumed I had ill intentions, and copied the principal on his angry rant.

kettle with boiling water

My initial reaction was defensive. Didn’t this guy realize how much I care about his child and how hard I had worked to meet his son’s needs that day? What was his intention in copying the principal? Why didn’t he pick up the phone to address his concern with me in a respectful manner? As I re-read the email, I felt my frustration heating up like a boiling kettle about to blow.

When emotionally charged tension occurs in any relationship, it’s important to respond rather than react. Take time to thoughtfully craft a positive way to address the issue. Resist the urge to lash back, and take a break from the heat of the moment. A walk around the building, a diet coke, and your favorite junk food from the vending machine never hurt either.

Use these 5 steps for dealing with an angry client:

  1. Apologize right out of the gate. It doesn’t matter whether the client has a legitimate reason to be upset or not, in your opinion. Something went wrong. They’re not happy and their feelings must be acknowledged. A simple “I sincerely apologize that my discussion with So-and-So upset What’s-His-Name,” goes a long way.
  2. State the facts. After their feelings are validated, the client is more likely open to hearing facts surrounding the issue. Make detailed statements about events, the efforts of team members, and what you know about the situation causing the problem. Keep emotion out of it.
  3. Reassure and encourage. Tell the client everything you’ve been doing to meet their needs. Point out some really positive things related to their concern. What has been going well? What can be celebrated?
  4. Propose a plan. If you don’t have a plan in place to address their concerns, let them know you are working on one and when they can expect to have it in place. Remember: A placid plan pleases provoked people.
  5. Appreciate the communication. Rude ranting and spewing aside, thank the client for their communication with you. It’s better to know they’re upset than not know. “Thank you for expressing your concerns with me” demonstrates your commitment to building a good working relationship going forward.

This formula works. In the particular case mentioned above, my approach resulted in a satisfied parent, an encouraged child, and a principal thanking me for handling the issue so well that she didn’t have to get involved.

What approaches have you used to soothe an angry client?


The Secret to Becoming a More Positive Communicator

We all know someone who drains the energy right out of us. The thought of a brief conversation with a certain friend gives you the shakes. A feeling of dread bubbles up when you see a particular family member’s name on your phone. To this day, you fear that mean math teacher. Or you suddenly come down with a case of swine flu after reading a coworker’s name on the meeting agenda.

After years working in consulting, education, and as a parent, I’ve observed one specific behavior these people all have in common: a negative communication style. Everything they say comes across as critical or condescending. The Debbie Downer is a nag, drag, and a total wet rag.

You’ve been guilty of doing this at times, and it’s likely unintentional. Still, the way you come across when communicating with colleagues, peers, friends, and children will have a lasting effect on your relationships. It will either positively or negatively affect the desired outcome.

The secret to becoming a more positive communicator is simple:


What’s a START behavior? It’s something you want the person you’re talking with to start doing. By contrast, a STOP behavior is something you want the person to stop doing.

Most people, without realizing it, focus on STOP behaviors when engaging with others. Consider these examples:

A manager says to his subordinate, “You’ve gotta stop being late to meetings.”

A teacher says to her students, “Stop blurting out!”

A coach says to her team, “You’re loafing on defense!”

A friend says to another, “I never hear from you anymore.”

A parent says to a child, “Stop running around, you’re not listening!”

All of these statements come across with a negative tone of accusation.

Now consider these alternatives:

“It contributes to the team’s success when you’re on time to meetings.”

“Raise your hand, please.”

“You need to want the ball more than the other team!”

“I’d love to get together for coffee. I miss you!”

“It’s time to sit down and do homework.”

See the subtle differences? One set of statements sends the receiver of the message a bad feeling. The other phrases send the same message in a more positive, respectful way. The first set assumes the worst about the person you’re addressing. The second set assumes the best in them.

It takes practice, but focusing on START behaviors when communicating with the people in your life will not only increase the likelihood of a better response, it will improve the overall health of your relationships.

What are some ways you try to be a more positive communicator?


The Secret to Balancing Service and Self

Serve others. It’s expected, noble, and arguably the most important reason we’re put on earth.

But serving others can be exhausting. If you’re not careful, it will deplete you of all the skills and traits that make you a useful servant in the first place.

Everyone I know is consumed by the do-it-all culture we live in today. College students, executives, parents, working moms, and stay-at-home moms are over scheduled and sleep deprived. On top of the endless list of responsibilities, they willingly pile on acts of service. Volunteering, rescuing, helping. Not a single person I know sits around eating bon-bons and watching The Today Show. (I take that back, I do know one, but nobody likes her).

Spending most of your time serving others is a good thing. Until it becomes a bad thing. If you don’t make time to take care of yourself, you’ll crash and burn. Over the last year alone I’ve watched people develop chronic illness, clinical depression, and overall lousy moods. One friend even pulled her car over on the side of the road, calmly got out, and walked off into the woods never to be seen again. (Or was that just a daydream I had yesterday?)

The two things keeping us from taking care of ourselves are time and guilt. But consider this. Most of us are running on fumes. If you want to be effective when pouring your life into others, you’ve got to stop and fill the tank.

So what’s the secret to balancing service and self?

Bookends. They hold everything together. 

Bookend the day. Start each day doing something for yourself. Get up 15 minutes earlier and enjoy a cup of tea alone. Go for a run. Read. Paint. Anything you love to do. End your day the same way. Make time to do something for yourself as your final “task” before you go to bed.

Bookend the week. I find it unrealistic to bookend my life every day. Sometimes I feel like a ninja blocking wrenches thrown at me from invisible forces of evil. But, I am relentless about bookending my week. On Monday mornings I meet my friend Aimee to run Town Lake trail. Friday mornings I do yoga with my friends Laura and Brettne. Everything in between might look like organized chaos, but I start and end my week with something just for me. Exercise and time with friends.

Bookend the month. At the beginning of each month, take time to look ahead at your calendar. Highlight important appointments, review responsibilities, and be intentional about placing some fun things on the schedule that YOU want to do. At the end of the month, plan a party. This could be as simple as lunch with a friend. A round of golf. Or a beer at your favorite pub. But end the month with something enjoyable.

Bookend the year. Kick off each new year by setting personal goals. Plan time for yourself. Conclude the year reviewing how well you did. Celebrate success and document lessons learned from mistakes. Write. It. Down.

Bookend your life. Strike this balance and you’ll be a much better friend, spouse, or parent. Your job performance will improve. And you can serve others with joy rather than bitterness.

What are some other strategies you use to balance service and self?


The One Thing Your Children Need to Hear

Do you love your children? The majority of parents would respond with a resounding yes. A large percentage claim to love their kids unconditionally and want them to know it. But throughout my experience coaching, teaching, and volunteering in schools I have seen too many kids tie their self-worth to individual performance.

Deep down in their hearts, they feel the following pressure:

My parents will love me LESS if I…

  • Miss the shot
  • Fail this test
  • Don’t try my best
  • Get caught in a lie
  • Wake up in a bad mood

My parents will love me MORE if I…

  • Score the most points
  • Make good grades
  • Have lots of friends
  • Obey all the time
  • Never fail at anything

Growing up in today’s pressure-to-perform culture, most children feel this way. But you can change it with these simple words.

I love you the same no matter what you do.

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