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7 Tips for Dealing Effectively with Angry Clients

Dealing with the emotional turbulence of an angry client is sadly an inevitable challenge for veterinary professionals. In the world of animal care, effective communication with clients and conflict resolution skills are as essential as your clinical expertise. The ability to navigate these challenging situations with finesse can be a distinguishing factor in the quality of care provided. This blog post delves into seven tips offering insights on managing emotions, creating conducive environments, pacing interactions, and ensuring clear communication. These strategies aim to empower you to handle challenging client encounters with empathy, precision and professionalism, going beyond the surface level of conflict. If you're looking for support with managing incivility from clients and the impact it has on individuals and teams, our NEW course Managing Incivility and Conflict with Clients will help you to develop and practise strategies to prevent and de-escalate difficult situations.

1) Manage Yourself

When approached by, or directed to, a client who is angry what is your initial reaction? Are you already internally reacting, quickly forming assumptions, and preparing for battle? How are you arriving? Taking 5 minutes to prepare and move your mindset from emotional and reactive to calm and logical will enable you bring the client down the emotion scale.

2) Create the ideal environment

Explain the benefit to the client of finding a private space enabling you to give your undivided attention, take notes, and have uninterrupted time to gather information. What interruptions or distractions do you need to manage prior to starting the meeting or discussion with the client? Managing these will allow you to focus and help the client to feel they have your full attention.

3) Pace

Go at the client’s own pace, rushing someone to get to the end of their ‘story’ can make them feel unheard. Whilst it’s important to demonstrate that you are listening, be careful not to turn these acknowledgements into rushing signals that you are ready to move on – they may not be, as they may not have divulged all the information they feel is important.

4) Check back

Was what they said what you heard, and what they meant? Taking notes and repeating back reduces the risk of confusion and further frustration. Did you fully understand what they meant rather than just hearing what they said?

5) Manage expectations and communicate the next steps

As we all know, there is nothing more frustrating than someone saying they will do something and then not doing it. Putting a time frame on actions you might take can help to manage expectations which reduces both the time spent fielding chasing calls from the client and allows you the time to investigate the situation. Being clear and open with these time frames can help clients to appreciate that you are taking their concerns seriously.

Being realistic with your own time frames is vital, better to over deliver than over promise and fail to make any deadlines you set.

How often are you clear about when and how clients can expect follow up?   

6) Clear communication

What has the client understood? Is there anything they don’t understand? Have you put the information in a way that they can understand? Remember that many clients don’t have a science background and may not understand words or phrases used in day to day practice.

Following up with an e-mail can be helpful, as we all know when we are in an emotional state information can be difficult to take in and remember. This also further reinforces that you are taking them seriously and taking action.

7) Look after yourself

A successful interaction is a two-way system, don’t leave yourself out of the equation. Remembering a few things can help you to manage those situations when clients are more challenging to deal with:

  • We don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives – don’t take it personally, but equally you should not accept abuse or intimidation.
  • When you have dealt with a confrontational or angry client, consider de-briefing with a colleague if there is any self-doubt creeping in. 
  • Remember that all we can do is our best, and even then we won’t always get it right

Further support from VDS Training

In our NEW course Managing incivility and conflict with clients, you’ll take a deeper dive into some of the underlying issues that can drive a variety of challenging behaviours from clients. You’ll also consider the impact on the team and we’ll help you to develop strategies to prevent and de-escalate difficult situations, getting the chance to practice your approach and get expert feedback in a safe environment with our experienced simulated clients.

The next course takes place on Wednesday 6 March 2024. Find out more about the programme here, contact us by email or by calling +44 (0)1565 743862 to see if the course is right for you.

Blog post first published September 2020. Updated January 2024.

About VDS Training
VDS Training are passionate about developing all members of the veterinary team, to help you overcome the personal and professional challenges you face on a daily basis, and to build practical skills and techniques to make a real difference to you and your life.