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.