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Client Relations

Calming Down an Angry Client

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

As much as we like to believe that if we do everything well, our clients will always love us, it’s just not true. Here are 10 steps to soothe an angry client.

angry client

You know the scenario. It’s the end of the day. The phone rings and you pick it up, knowing you really shouldn’t. You should just let it go to voicemail, pack up your laptop, and go home.

“What the bleep is this?”

“What the bleep is this?” are the first words you hear. It’s your angry client. The one for whom you’ve worked like a dog, around the clock, for the past two weeks. It seems this month’s bill has arrived and he’s in flames! Now what?

First, Just Breathe. Then Try NOT To:

  1. Argue with him about it.
  2. Tell him it is someone else’s fault.
  3. Ask him to call you back tomorrow.
  4. Hang up on him.

Sometimes that lawyer training works exactly against you when you are confronted by a client. (Or your spouse, your assistant, a delivery driver, the doctor’s office …) These are not situations to be won or lost. You can claim success when you calm the client and neutralize the conflict.

So, after taking that breath, ask yourself what the client wants. You’ve been angry about a service provider’s performance before. What did you want?

It’s One or More of a Fairly Standard List:

  1. To be listened to.
  2. To be treated with respect.
  3. To be taken seriously.
  4. An immediate response.
  5. To make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  6. To avoid blame from someone else in your organization.

Research has shown that first impressions are made up of 55% visual cues (body language), 38% vocal (tone of voice), and only 7% verbal (words.) One expert estimates that the percentages shift significantly when you communicate over the phone, to 82% vocal and 18% verbal.

So when you respond to your client, it is critical to modulate your voice to communicate concern, patience and caring. And choose your words to convey that you are informed and respectful. It is an old but proven speaker’s trick to deepen your voice a bit. Lower voices are perceived as being more mature and in control.

Nearly everyone has an inner child who shows up when we’re angry. Anyone who has parented a toddler knows that rule one is to remain calm. People feel out of control and a little unsafe when in mid-tantrum. If you can maintain your calm, control the situation, and guide both of you to a good solution, your client will relax.

Here are the basic steps to take:

  1. Express empathy (e.g., I can tell how upset it made you).
  2. Get clarification of the problem (ask gentle fact-finding questions).
  3. Apologize (even if you are not in the wrong).
  4. State that you want to help.
  5. Probe for more information.
  6. Repeat the client’s concern back to him to make sure you understand (and so that they feel “heard.”)
  7. Show you value him as a client.
  8. Explain possible options for resolution and ask what they’d like to have happen.
  9. Summarize the actions you agree to (yours and the client’s).
  10. End pleasantly.

If you have kept your head and created an agreement about the resolution of the issue, then congratulations. You win!

Image ©

Also on Attorney at Work:

“Seven Ways Lawyers Can Reduce Clients’ Stress”

“Survival Skill for Lawyers: Letting Go of Anger”

“Ways to Show Clients You Care”

“Opportunity in Crisis: Innovative Ways Law Firms Are Stepping Up Client Relationships”

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Categories: Client Service, Communications Skills, Relationships
Originally published May 28, 2022
Last updated June 30, 2023
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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