We’ve all been there. An upset client is shouting at us, calling us every name under the sun and threatening to tell everyone how awful we are.
It’s distressing for us, for other clients who may be present and for our patients who don’t understand what’s going on.
Not all aggressive clients can be talked down off the ledge. I recall one occasion where I had to escort a client from the premises after all other attempts to soothe the situation had failed. In the end, I had to prioritise the safety and welfare of our team members.
For the most part however, inflammatory situations can be cooled with a few tried and trusty methods which will appease even the most hostile of Karens.
1. Let Her Talk
The first rule is – don’t take in personally. Karen doesn’t know you and you just happen to be in the way. She’s frustrated, she’s stressed and she’s probably not listening to anything you have to say at this point. Attempt to take the conversation to a more private area such as a consult room if you can.
Listen to what she has to say – nod, maintain eye contact, remain calm and let her finish. Sometimes a cup of tea and a kind word can do wonders.
2. Empathy vs. Antipathy
We never know what is going on in someone’s life at any given time. Imagine that they just lost their job or a loved one, or are going through a divorce. Sure – that’s no excuse for rude behaviour but it helps us to put the exchange in perspective and to detach ourselves personally from the situation.
If Karen perceives that you are simply going through the motions or that you are not listening, it will add insult to injury.
Put yourself in her shoes and try to understand the reasons for her hostility. It’s difficult to maintain compassion for someone who is being abusive, however if you take a step back and try to understand where her behaviour is coming from, you will find that a lot of the time it stems from a place of fear. Fear for her pet, for her finances or possibly another issue completely unrelated to her complaint.
Reassure her by demonstrating your knowledge and expertise in order to build trust.
By referring to her pet by name and showing an understanding of her pet’s condition and treatment, she will be more likely to feel as though you care.
Validate her concerns. Yes – she may be wrong, but you can still let her know that her feelings are understandable.
3. Commit To A Plan Of Action
Ask Karen what her desired outcome is. What would she like to see happen to resolve the situation?
We can’t always accommodate our client’s wishes, especially if they are misinformed or resistant to advice, however presenting options will give her back some control and allow her to save face.
Agree on a method of follow up and an expected time-frame for a response. Most importantly, ensure that you deliver what you have promised.
In conclusion, some people just like to complain and nothing you say is going to make a difference. In these circumstances, you may need to politely conclude the conversation and escalate the complaint to a member of your management team.
Just remember that you handled the encounter with compassion, kindness and assertiveness and that you did everything you could to help your client.
How Karen feels now is up to her.