When Your Client Gets In Your Face

What do you do when your client gets angry at you, upset with you, in your face?

In truth, most clients don’t actually yell at you.  But of course you can tell when they’re upset. Maybe we even project a little bit, and imagine the horrors of what they might actually be thinking, regardless of what they actually say.

It all feels pretty horrific.

Well, there’s a simple two-part way to deal with that situation.

  1. Recognize it’s about them, not about you, and
  2. Ask to talk about it.

Here’s how that plays out.

It’s About Them

When someone’s angry at you, even yelling in your face, about something you may or may not have done, it’s critical to see what’s happening.

  • What you think is happening is, “he’s angry at me.”
  • What you need to see is happening is, “he’s angry.”

If the “someone” is your three-year old child, we have no problem doing this. We think, “Oh, he’s tired,” and we have patience. What we don’t do is take seriously for a moment whatever horrible things the three-year old is saying about us.

But let’s say your child is 15; suddenly, it’s all personal, and we become offended and lash back at them. We feel attacked, and return anger for anger.

And when clients do it, it’s infinitely worse.

But – it’s still your choice. You can react as you do to a three-year old – with calmness and understanding about what’s going on with them – or with anger, getting sucked into a downward spiral.

Guess which response is right. Always remember: when someone’s angry at you, the key observation to make is that he or she is angry. It’s an emotional state in them.

The fact that they’re angry at you is relatively unimportant. You may feel hurt for a hot moment, because pain is inevitable – but suffering is a choice. Your choice.

Ask to Talk About It.

People get angry because they feel afraid about something, and are trying to be heard.

So – hear them.

Find the words to acknowledge their anger. In fact, to go further than that, and ask them to tell you more about it.

Them: I can’t believe this whole thing happened, and it’s your fault. It’s costing me money, and time, and I’m now behind schedule, and I want to know what you intend to do about it! Right now!

You: Whoah, wow. I’m not sure I appreciated how important this obviously is to you. And I get it, you’re upset – at us, and at me in particular. I, uh, think I really need to take some time and hear you out on this.

Them: I’ve been talking to you guys; I want to know what you intend to do about it.

You: Fair enough. You deserve that.  At the same time, I don’t want to hip-shoot some solution without really understanding fully your context. And obviously we haven’t done that yet. So – give me 5 minutes to really understand your perspective; I promise to listen, and to talk about action steps – in 5 minutes.  Now please – talk to me.

Or words to that effect. Nobody can script for you exactly what to say – that’s a function of who you are, and who your client is. But the point is to acknowledge the anger, and commit to listening.

And by the way, this doesn’t mean you need to be all passive and apologetic. You can, and should, push back on the insistence on immediate action. It can wait 5 more minutes, and the truth is until you really have listened to your client’s outbursts, he or she is not going to listen to your solutions.

Remember: It’s not about you. And until you talk about it, they’re not going to accept your solutions.

 

Trust-based Networking and the Paradox of “Collateral Benefit”

A (seemingly) simple question: What is the goal of business networking?

  • The goal of most business networking is to make new connections in order to get more business. 
  • The goal of trust-based networking is to help others develop their businesses.  The “collateral benefit” of trust-based networking is that others then help you.

When it comes to networking, injecting trust into the picture creates a sort of paradox. It’s exactly the same paradox that arises when we think about injecting trust into selling, or advice-giving, or getting people to review your books. 

That paradox was expressed well by Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar, and a host of others: basically, the best way to get what you want is to help others get what they want. 

It’s easy to forget how radical that proposition is; and how infrequently people actually do it. 

(This topic will be explored in much greater depth in our next free Trust Matters Webinar: Network Like a Trusted Advisor: Take the Work (and Stress) Out of  It on January 29th at 11AM EST)

(Meanwhile, you might want to check out our eBook The Do’s and Don’ts of Trust-based Networking)

 Current Networking Practice

Ask yourself: when you go to a meet-up, start looking through LinkedIn, or scan a rough lead list –  how do you proceed? Here’s what usually happens:

  • You search and scan in advance for those you’ve profiled as most likely to be prospects – focusing and prioritizing to narrow down a wide list of leads
  • You focus on honing your elevator pitch
  • During interaction, you focus on finding pain points (waiting to offer solutions at a later time).

If that roughly resembles what you do, then please take note: all three of those benign-sounding activities share one trait – they’re all about you. They are not activities that put Dale Carnegie’s insight into practice. 

Trust-based Networking

What if you were to try something entirely different? For example:

  • You search and scan for pairs of people both of whom you know, but who don’t know each other – and who could each benefit from the introduction
  • You focus not on your elevator pitch, but on a really great question you’d like to know the answer to (better yet, ask the question in the form of a Risky Gift)
  • You focus not on pain points, but on being genuinely curious and seeking perspectives. 

Those are very different activities: they’re not self-focused, they’re other-focused. And, they are more likely to result in relationships and in interesting conversations. It is those relationships and conversations that result in true connections of interest – and before very long, in leads and business development conversations.

The “collateral benefit” of behaving this way is – leads and sales. In fact, more leads and more sales than if you go in with the usual self-centered approach of trying to get leads and sales directly. 

But the paradox must be respected: if you engage in these other-focused activities as mere fig-leaf cover for your true goal of getting more sales – it won’t work. We all see through such base motives. You actually have to commit to the alternative goal – that of helping others.  

A good test of whether you’re really committed is your choice of metrics: do you measure the result of networking by how many entries you generate for your CRM system? Or instead – by tracking how you’ve been able to benefit your new acquaintances. (Hint: what would Dale say?)

 

Learn much more about this strategy at our next Trust Matters webinar: Network Like a Trusted Advisor: Take the Work (and Stress) Out of It, January 29th (11AM EST) delivered by my partner and co-author of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook, Andrea Howe, together with Stewart Hirsch, our head of business development and leadership coaching (and CEO of his firm Strategic Relationships). Sign up for the (free) webinar here.

Answer the Question

Q. What do you do when your client or customer asks you a question?

A. Why, answer the question, of course! (Doh!)

But – what if the question itself is flawed, or incomplete, or dangerous to answer?

For example:

 

  • What if a potential client wants to know the price before you have explained the value?
  • What if a client demands to know the final recommendation before going through the analysis?
  • What if a client phrases a question as a simple “go or no-go” when the issue requires nuance?
  • What if a potential client asks you a very pointed and narrow question about your qualifications?

Then what do you do?

On the one hand, if you answer the question directly, you risk giving an incomplete answer. You open yourself up to a ‘gotcha’ question. Worse, you legitimize a partial or even misleading question by the mere act of responding to it.

On the other hand, if you don’t answer the question, you risk offending the client. Worse, you look like you’re trying to hide something. And, it’s likely to come off as just disrespectful.

How can you avoid disrespecting the client, while not opening yourself up to an unfair and premature judgment?

How to Answer the Question

There is a way out of this dilemma. Better yet, it not only avoids a negative – it actually helps build trust. Here’s what you say:

  1. Flatly and simply answer the direct question you were asked
  2. Pause
  3. If necessary, offer to answer more questions

Here are some examples: then I’ll talk about why they work.

Client: Before we dive into specifics of the situation, I want to know the price on this project.

You: Depending on several issues, around $225,000.

[Pause]

Client: Um, depending on what, for example?

 

Client: Before you go on to page three of the presentation, I want to know: do you recommend we close the factory, or not?

You: We recommend you close it.

[Pause]

Client: OK, why?

 

Client: How much experience do you have doing marketing studies for tech services companies?

You: Two prior clients in the past 18 months.

[Pause] [More Pause]

You: Is there something else it would be useful to talk about?

 

Note the critical role in the dialogue of the [Pause]. In the first two cases, the client is the one who fills in the quiet space. In the third – after making extra-sure of the pause – you fill in the space, by respectfully offering to answer any more questions

The Text and the Sub-text

That’s the text. The sub-text is what’s critical here.

First, the answer. It has to be simple, specific, and directly responsive. That’s because the critical sub-text is all about respect.

By being simple, specific and responsive, you are conveying to the client, “I am willing to let you take the lead here. I am not going to quibble about the relevance of your question, or its potential for revealing value. I am not going to ’spin’ my answer to suit my own needs, but rather will defer to your terms, as stated by you. I will not hedge, hem, nor haw. I respect your right, as the client, to set the agenda and ask the questions; I will reserve my own attempts to frame the issue until you are satisfied. I respect you.”

One effect of showing respect by being simple, specific and responsive is that you reduce the level of fear and aggression in the client. You are demonstrating that this conversation does not have to be a competition, and the client need have no fear about you attempting to control them.

The other effect is to validate the client, to show them that they have asked a fair question, and that you have given a fair answer. Presuming fairness and reciprocating in kind appeals to the client’s innate tendency to return like for like – fairness for fairness – vs. engaging in passive-aggressive games of controlling the agenda.

Second, the Pause. The subtext of the pause is, again, respect. It allows the client to control the agenda (by following up, by taking a new tack, or by simply abandoning the question). This offer of control is another trigger for reciprocity on the part of the client.

Usually – as in the first two examples above – the client will fill in the pause. And their response will usually be tempered by the respect you have already shown them in the simple, specific and responsive answer.

Occasionally – as in the third example above – the pause continues long enough for it to be appropriate for you to offer another comment – and yet another opportunity to show respect. You do this by making explicit what was already implicit – that you are willing to answer any questions, and to respect the client’s right to frame those questions in any form they may want.

The Result

In most cases, this “onslaught of respect” is enough to alter the tone of the entire meeting. Instead of being cautious, suspicious, and aggressive, the client is likely to reciprocate and return the favor. (The fundamental nature of reciprocity was never better phrased than by Robert Cialdini: take a listen to this podcast interview of Cialdini by Barry Ritholtz).

You can call this dynamic “give to get,” or “trust to be trusted,” or “mxqtplskz;” what you call it doesn’t matter. What matters is that by treating a loaded question with respect, you can transform the context within which that question is being asked, and thus transform the relationship.

All by just responding to the question simply and specifically – and pausing to show even more respect.

The next time a client asks you a tough question, just try it. [Pause].

Trust Matters, The Podcast: Building Trust When Industry Spirals Into Cutthroat Pricing (Episode 13)

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The Easiest Way to Create Trust

I was in a Costco store the other day, and noticed the man whose photo you see attached here. I was struck by his t-shirt: in bold, large font, it reads, “Because I Said I Would.”

That got me thinking. As founder of Trusted Advisor Associates, one of the most common questions I get over the years is some variation on, “How do I go about creating trust?”

There are many variations on that question: What’s the fastest way to create trust? What’s the most enduring way to create trust? What’s the most cost-effective way, the highest-value way, the most accessible way, and so forth.

I’ve written elsewhere about some of those, but this t-shirt reminded me of a very important one – What’s the Easiest Way to Create Trust?

So here it is (and then we’ll come back to our t-shirt guy).

The Easiest Way to Create Trust

The answer (drumroll) is – make a lot of promises, and then keep them.

Here are several reasons I call that the ‘easiest’ way:

  • We all know how to make promises; we make many of them every day (“I’ll see you at 10:00,” “I’ll have that done by Tuesday,” “I’ll take care of it for you.”)
  • Most promises aren’t really that difficult to fulfill: most of us don’t wildly over-promise, or promise things that are massively outside our ability to complete.
  • Kept promises are easy to see, and easy to credit. They go into an account often labelled “integrity,” a not-so-trivial attribute to be credited with.
  • Kept promises fall squarely within one of the four Trust Equation components – Reliability. In fact, kept promises are pretty much the main way we establish our rating of someone’s reliability.
  • It’s not that hard to come up with a list of viable promises you can make, which then offers you a list of promises you can keep. Most of our client relationships (indeed, all relationships) have frequent components of timeliness, or of quality of delivery.

But notice: if it’s so easy to keep promises, and so valuable to keep them – then why aren’t we all paragons of Reliability virtue? Because let’s be honest – we’re not.

Where Promise-Keeping Falls Down

There are three areas where we fall down in promise-keeping.

Fear. Ironically, the biggest failure of promise-keeping is failure to make a promise in the first place! Nobody can fault you – or credit you – with a promise you never made to begin with.

Why do we fail to make promises in the first place? Usually, because we fear being held accountable.  It feels safer to say, “I’ll get it to you before the end of the week,” or “I’ll be there around ten-ish,” because it leaves you lots of wiggle-room. That way – we like to kid ourselves – there’s sufficient vagueness that no one will blame us. 

We forget that the failure to be blamed for something that didn’t happen doesn’t rank nearly as high on the trustworthiness list as the fulfillment of a promise made. It’s a classic case of avoiding a risk, and thereby incurring a larger, longer-term risk – the risk of never having taken a risk. And remember – without risk, trust never exists.

Optimism. Another failure of promise-keeping is our own well-intended optimism. We really want to get that document to them by close of business Wednesday, because we sense that they’d really like it by then. So, we optimistically say we’ll do something that frankly, isn’t realistic, and then rationalize missing it later by telling ourselves it really wasn’t that important.

Sand-bagging. This one is pernicious. Are you a believer in “under-promise and over-deliver?” Because if you are – and let me put this provocatively – you believe in lying. Either you are lying in knowingly making a false promise, or in knowingly confounding the Other’s expectations. Or both!

The problem with sand-bagging is that it compounds. You may generate delight the first time, but when you do it again, the Other party figures out your game. Even if it doesn’t annoy them, they begin to discount your promises by the amount you lied the first two times. You are no longer believed. Which means your promises can’t be trusted. (Ask any firm that has tried to consistently sandbag Wall Street with calculatedly discounted earnings estimates).

The Costco Guy with the T-shirt

Back to our friend. When I saw him, I asked if I could take his photo; he readily agreed. I was very curious about whether he intended his t-shirt to mean what I would mean by that phrase – which is all the trust stuff I wrote about above.

Here’s what he said.

“It’s a personal statement to myself. I wear it to remind myself to keep my word. That’s really important to me, in all things.”

Pretty much what I’d hoped he’d say. I agree with him. And while we just went our ways, my guess is that if I’d talked to him further, he would probably have agreed with me that:

  • Promises come up a lot, every day
  • Keeping them isn’t all that hard – if you just focus on keeping them, and not be distracted by all the little temptations to let them slide, or to avoid making them in the first place
  • A lifetime lived by making a lot of promises, and pointedly keeping them, is a terrific way to create trust in our relationships with others.

Anyway, that’s my take on the easiest way to create trust: make a lot of promises and keep them.

And, since I stupidly forgot to ask the gentleman’s name, if you know him, please reach out and send this blogpost to him – with my thanks, and my congratulations.