How to reset and stick to boundaries with abusive client I can't fire
August 11, 2017 8:25 AM   Subscribe

I have an hour or two to prepare for a very uncomfortable conversation with a client who is abusing me and my team. Please help me stand strong as I set multiple boundaries with them.

An extremely problematic and high maintenance client has spent the last 24 hours trying to get me and my team to give them immediate technical support and deliverable turnaround time. They called me after business hours, sent my team multiple messages at midnight, and earlier this morning entered tickets in JIRA to get our attention (again, not during our business hours). None of these things are a) in scope or b) in their contract with us. They refuse to acknowledge that.

My boss is away today so the task of re-setting boundaries with this client falls to me. I can't avoid a conversation with them, so I need to tell them the following:

1. We do not respond to or take calls outside of our business hours until we return to the office the next business day.

2. We do not provide emergency technical support to clients who are unwilling to pay for it.

3. We can not attend emergency calls with their team or their other client without 24 hours notice. (We are subcontractors.)

4. The two request client wants cannot be fulfilled until next week when our development team returns from holiday and there is nothing we can do to change that.

5. We have already worked extra hours this week to fulfill another request and we are unable to do any additional work until other contractual obligations on the part of the client are met.

I have no issue sticking to my guns when I put this sort of stuff in writing. (Which I will.) Everything I am going to say is 100% backed by my boss. (Which is great.) However, as soon as this client gets me on the phone (which today is unavoidable) I go numb. I have to be strong today and not let this client's anger get to me, especially because this won't be the last time I have to have this kind of interaction with them.

Xanax is already prepped. I will have another coworker to be there for moral support. What else can I do? I am sick to my stomach about this, which sucks because this client's project has given me an ulcer so I'm doubly in pain today.
posted by Hermione Granger to Human Relations (36 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Client called AGAIN at 7:30am. I missed the call because my phone was off.
posted by Hermione Granger at 8:33 AM on August 11


That's so sad! Just spit it out, like someone defending a war torn country. It'll feel better afterwards. This is actually great practice asserting boundaries even though it must feel justifiably shitty. Can you not just fire off and email and leave it at that though? I'm not in your field obviously.
posted by benadryl at 8:38 AM on August 11 [4 favorites]


Reply via email and let your boss handle the phone call. No Xanax needed, you can carry on with your day.

I'm a believer in facing down the scary things so you learn it's not so scary and you can be proud of yourself. However, there are so many situations that are just so not worth the aggravation and this feels like it could be one of them. I don't see where there is any added value to speaking to someone who you know already refuses to acknowledge the terms of your contract and will not be moved to become more rational in a phone call.

Why do you need to have this phone conversation? Dealing with this person is above your pay grade. Your boss should make this call. If you can handle this via email, do it. It seems better to have everything meticulously detailed in writing and reminding the client they can reply to that, if needed.

(FWIW, I'm a special education teacher and have a handful of parents who email me daily and insist upon meetings where they can yell and be generally nonsensical--we forward those emails to our admins and let them deal with those people. It's far above our pay grades.)
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:39 AM on August 11 [41 favorites]


I'm so sorry - my stomach is twisted in sympathy.

How much conversation do you actually have to have with them? Do you need to get their approval on any other parts of the project via phone?

You've got great bullet points above - can you just stick to those as firmly as you can, then GET OFF THE PHONE?

It sounds like the danger might be they want to go on a rant and argue with you about all the details of 1-5? Don't let them do that - make your point then disengage.

I don't think saying to your boss when they return "I will only engage with X via email from here on out" is a bad idea.
posted by pantarei70 at 8:39 AM on August 11 [4 favorites]


Even if the call is unavoidable, I would definitely lay it all out in an email first, ahead of time, enough time for them to see it first. And then the phone call can be basically reading through the email. And you can say "I understand your desires here, but as you can see in #2, we won't be able to do that."

But yeah - there is no reason to take this call. That fact might as well be included in the email. You lay everything out there. If you are establishing/reiterating rules about amount of contact (which you 100% should!), might as well start here. Just start the email with "Hi client, I'm not going to be able to speak with you by phone, please see the notes below and reply to the email if you have any questions."
posted by brainmouse at 8:41 AM on August 11 [25 favorites]


Is your boss the prime contractor? If so, can he/she call in? Is the client's contract with your firm directly, or with the prime? If so, can you defer this to the prime?

You said those requests were not in scope, but are they spelled out in the contract? Do you have a copy of the contract with you? Does the client have a copy of the contract? (I'm with you, believe me, but know how these things are subject to conflicting interpretation.)

Adding: I'm with yes I said who points out this is your boss's problem. And yes to the email; I'd just be sure that you are able to (politely) point to the wording of the contract as a CYA if at all possible.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:43 AM on August 11 [3 favorites]


You don't have to set these boundaries. They already exist. You don't even have to convince them of that. What you do have to do is listen to them, repeat what they told you, then restate the appropriate boundary. I'd suggest you print out your list above and have it in front of you when you have this call, and broken record as needed (i.e. every time they circle back to "WE NEED IT THIS WEEK" you respond "that cannot be fulfilled until next week when our development team returns from holiday", and STOP TALKING).

They have problem(s). That sucks. You've had problems, you understand that. But these aren't YOUR problems, nor are they your company's problems. This is a business issue, not a Hermione Granger issue. You are an agent of the business, and it is your job to represent the business. I so totally understand the feeling that they're attacking you, but this is not at all your fault, and I urge you to work through your feelings as to why you're taking it so personal, and how to let go of some of that feeling of responsibility, because if it's causing you an ulcer, that is pretty much my definition of maladaptive.

TL;DR, listen, reflect their message, repeat your boundary, repeat until they get bored and hang up or become truly abusive and say "You are becoming abusive, at this time I am terminating this call, good day."
posted by disconnect at 8:43 AM on August 11 [26 favorites]


When I'm in a sitch like this with an abusive client, as long as my boss has my back, and I trust my boss to shield me from fall-out, my first step is to establish a hard stop time, even if I don't have one. 15 minutes? 30 minutes? It should be a reasonable window, established ahead of time or at the VERY BEGINNING OF THE CALL, so they can't complain that I've cut them off or hung up on them.

Then, before the call, I open up a word document and put in it the following:

A. An intro blurb describing the situation to date that is nice and empathetic and shows you understand that the client is upset, but does NOT offer any kind of apology or change to what you're planning. I usually go with four or five simple, bland sentences.

B. Your five talking points, listed out. In each case, if possible, I'd tie it to the contract -- "The contract says we do not respond to or take calls outside our business hours."

C. A simple picture of something that you enjoy looking at, like a baby elephant.

When the abusive client starts being abusive, and starts demanding things, my SOLE AND ONLY POSSIBLE RESPONSE is to look pick out one of these to read. Like, I am not going to specifically try and respond to their specific thing. I am not going to try and reflect feelings back to them. I just pick out the sentence that seems responsive, and say it in a pleasant, but firm tone of voice, and then let them react. It doesn't even really matter how responsive what I say is. Abusers gonna abuse. So I just stick to my script, and when they really go on a rant, I just look at the pleasant picture and wait for it to be over. What a cute baby elephant! What a cute trunk it has! I love baby elephants!

Rinse, lather, repeat, end the call as scheduled. Printing out the responses is sometimes helpful, just so I don't close or change anything on the computer in my nervousness. I can also keep tally of how many times I use a response.

AND THEN WHEN MY BOSS GETS BACK, I TELL MY BOSS, AND SHE UNLEASHES FIRE AND FURY.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:44 AM on August 11 [81 favorites]


Ooh, I've had to do this. Lots of good advice above; sticking to your guns and repeating "sorry, that won't be possible" is the best thing to do.

While it's happening, the biggest thing that helps me is to have something to grab onto while they pour out the abuse--a stress ball, a set of keys, the hand of a co-worker who is there to support you. It will end. Once it ends you will be so happy. Good luck. Argh.
posted by Melismata at 8:45 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I've been in a similar situation and was hella anxious before and doing the call.

What helped:

1. Get a copy of your contract
2. For every item on your list, know exactly where in your contract/agreement it says that you cannot provide that service/they haven't paid for it/it's not in scope, etc.
3. Start the call very business-like. "I reviewed the messages you sent. It looks like you are requesting 5 things, so let's go over them one by one."
4. Be a broken record. "I understand you need this done ASAP, but according to Section X Paragraph Y of our agreement, we only provide support during business hours. If you'd like to pay for after-hours support, the fee is $."
5. Move on to the next items in order, so you don't get stuck getting yelled at. "The only way to resolve Item 1 is to modify the contract and pay the fee. Would you like to do that now, or should we move on to Item 2?"

Other powerful phrases: I'm not authorized, it's not our policy, it's not possible

See, it's not that you are personally trying to be an asshole by not doing this work, you are just going by the terms of the agreement which your client signed. Once I just kept going back to "But this is what the agreement says!" it was much easier for me to tell myself that while the anger/raised voice might be directed at me, it certainly isn't my fault, since they clearly signed the contract!

Also remember that even if the client can do the yelling and you have to be nice, you actually have a lot of power here, because you can provide a service that your client really, really wants! So no matter how much yelling your client does, you have final say whether that work is going to get done or not.

Then after the call chill out for a few minutes. Take a walk, have a treat, reward yourself!
posted by tinydancer at 8:50 AM on August 11 [37 favorites]


I had to handle a series of calls like that recently. The situation was literally causing nightmares for two people on my team. Things that got me through it successfully: staring into the distance, using Bob Ross's tone and Emily Post's firmness on what will/won't be possible, allowing myself to pause rather than reply instantly to what was really bait for irrelevant discussions, and basically rephrasing the same points a bunch. It wasn't fun, but I did enjoy very slightly each time when I noticed I hadn't taken some argumentative bait.
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:50 AM on August 11 [9 favorites]


I thought of another reason to not make this call!

You need to tell this client things they don't want to hear and your boss isn't there. They won't know exactly what was said. This could potentially cause some problems for you if this client (who already has a shaky version of reality) goes to your boss and gives them an inaccurate and unpleasant version of the call. Then you're stuck not only having this conversation with this client but having to explain it to your boss who may be fed misinformation, and then you're stuck covering your ass while your boss tries to save this client. And the whole thing could have been avoided if your boss handled this in the first place.

Let your boss make the call.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:51 AM on August 11 [19 favorites]


I am also not good at this on the phone. I would be reluctant normally to force a team member to put up with this too but I would get someone to silently ride shotgun, ideally where I can look at them and they can keep me from caving and give me some cheerleading. It's also good to have a witness.

I think the hardest part of this is making them stop harassing you, and I think maybe I'd just give up on that part. Do like tinydancer says and let the contract be the bad guy, just reiterate that you will not be responding to support requests outside work hours, don't invite them to keep tormenting you all but also don't tell them they can't. Just point out once that it's not going to work.

One thing to do to help control the narrative is to never describe them as "needing" anything, only "wanting" it. If they say they need after hours support, you can reflect back that they want that, but if they needed it the contract would reflect that.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:55 AM on August 11 [7 favorites]


I love joyeanmachine's baby elephant approach! Brilliant! Printing it out makes it that much better! Let's you stay detached.

One more thing - do you have a 24/7 deluxe plan that they could have signed up for? If so, keep redirecting them to consider signing up for that plan. "We can't help you now, but in the future, you can avoid these crises by signing up..." Once they realize that this phone call is about you selling them services as much as it is about solving their current problem, they'll be quicker to end the call.

To actually help solve their problem, is their anyone, even a competitor, to whom you can refer them?
posted by at at 8:57 AM on August 11 [4 favorites]


This just did a little PTSD triggering in me, and I'm glad you have a cool boss who is behind you, because I know how much harder this is when boss only cares about money, and not your back.

Say no in the politest way possible. Say it the way every time they bring up some unreasonable expectation.

If the contract specifically states some of the following things, use things I've said before:

"WHY DIDN'T YOU CALL ME BACK LAST NIGHT" - Your contract with us does not have an SLA that falls outside of normal business hours of X to Y. All communication will be responded to within SLA standards between those hours.

"THIS WAS AN EMERGENCY" - Your contract with us does not have an SLA that requires 24/7 Emergency response

"THIS HAS TO BE DONE NOW" - Your contract states that change orders must go through process Z with the contractor and process Q with our subcontracting firm to be vetted, and until those processes are followed, we cannot start work. People able to review those processes will be back in on , and it will be put in their queue to look at then.

Most of all, do not discuss cost for changes/SLA upgrades/emergency hours charges, unless you've been specifically allowed to. Some of these things have be run through the a whole new set of processes, and if you're a subcontractor, the contractor may have some say in this. "I will have (sales / boss / subcontractor lead / contractor liason) follow up with what a change to the SLA looks like for X, and your leadership and ours will negotiate that".

I've been yelled at by client or boss for absolutely everything in this response. Including "Just do the work, we'll charge them after hours rates, and when they pay, you'll get bonused for the work." When it came time to pay the bill, the client didn't want to pay, the boss wrote off the charges (not just the after hours, the whole goddamn thing including follow up work during normal hours), and there was no promised extra cheese on my sandwich when the check came in, I resolved to get out of there.

You're strong. Go kick some ass. Kill them with kindness.

posted by deezil at 9:06 AM on August 11 [13 favorites]


This is what bosses and procedures were invented for. "Im sorry, I'm not authorized to do that."
posted by SemiSalt at 9:09 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Take the call and don't avoid it, but do stay within your authority limits. Fwiw the only other suggestion about the process is NOT to use the phrase "im not authorized". Just pick the appropriate response as you indicated and wash, rinse, repeat.

As for HOW I like to gamify it. Try to find an extra soft note every time they get angry. When they yell you use extra smile. Not to be a smartass but because YOU have the power not them and youre a nice lovely person. No need to sink to their level. Just award yourself little points on a post it: 1 point for staying calm. 3 pts for not taking defensive bait. 5 pts for etc...

Go for a high score, i know you can do it.
posted by chasles at 9:17 AM on August 11 [5 favorites]


It really gets down to whether you are authorized to approve work outside of the contract agreed upon. If you're not, then you say so, "I'm not authorized to provide this work based on the contract as I understand it." If you are then you say "If this level of service is something you need, then we need to get our sales team involved"

If they debate whether the work is included in the contract it is, "We have a different understanding about what is and what is not included in the contract. We'll have to get our CEO's involved to clear this up."

I'm a big fan of kill them with kindness, up to a point. Saying things like "I can understand your frustration on this." "You're probably right but...", "I know you're under the gun here, here's what we can do...". Sometimes it helps to deescalate the call to a point where cooler heads prevail and you don't feel like garbage.

You say you can't fire the client, but you can make it abundantly clear to them that the relationship isn't working for them.
posted by blackjack514 at 9:20 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I would consider an approach that gives the client something to do, and to focus on, other than his frustration (with his lack of adequate preparation). Something like:

I hear how [name their emotion] you are. This is a [adjective] situation. [spend a sentence or two on his feelings - I recently realized that time proportion matters in communications like this, and acknowledging his emotional state will alleviate his need to keep repeating it until he's convinced you understand.]

Then, if you are stuck in the conversation and if you think it's appropriate, give him something more productive to focus on, like:
To avoid this situation in the future, here are some things you can consider:

- Add X to your contract with us;

- Do [more testing | more backups | more detailed contingency planning | whatever you think is appropriate, including a 10X more expensive approach involving hiring three more people -- whatever it would take. It doesn't have to be "realistic" for him, just an accurate depiction of what it would take for the world to work the way he thinks it should];

- Focus on what to do after the event: how to handle consequences, who to hire for communication issues, etc.

- Other companies, to avoid situations like X, follow these kinds of approaches [A, B, C]


Then, the client's mind has something to work on other than going over and over stuff that's leading nowhere, and he can start working out that he just needs to spend more money, time, or other resources to get the result he wants. It might take a little time for him to accept this, so starting that time now will ultimately be helpful.

Even if he ends up leaving his relationship with you, by preparing him to take this kind of thing more seriously in the future, you are helping his future business partners and your industry as a whole. Client education is kind of an industry-wide responsibility, and new clueless clients materialize every day. Some of them are rude and awful to work with, and it can't be your responsibility to fix them all, but if you have a chance and it helps you, too, then you can feel a little emboldened by knowing that you're just taking the brunt, at that moment, for essentially your entire profession -- and someone, somewhere, appreciates it, even if they never know it was you.
posted by amtho at 9:24 AM on August 11 [5 favorites]


If you feel yourself getting angry and are worried you're going to start yelling back, take a deep breath and start speaking more slowly, more softly, and in a lower voice. Like a deep-chested Zen monk to a group of hyperactive preschoolers.
posted by trig at 9:50 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


You've already gotten great advice on how to talk to the client. I'd just add to that--before you make the call, draft an email with each of these talking points and have it in front of you when you call so you can keep yourself organized and on point.

After the call, send the email to the client, and cc your boss (open the email with "As we discussed on the phone this morning..." so that everything is documented and your client can't try going over your head to your boss.

As others have said, this is stressful, but you aren't a bad guy, you're a good guy stepping in for your boss to enforce company policy and for protecting your co-workers from crazy client demands. Good luck, you can do this!
posted by Swiss Meringue Buttercream at 9:58 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Oh my god you guys this client lied to my boss and said I scheduled an 11am call with my team and theirs

I did no such thing

You guys this is chaos

I wrote them back and said we are unable to accommodate emergency meeting requests, calls outside business hours, and we will not be able to provide new meeting time options until next week.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:04 AM on August 11 [55 favorites]


GOOD FOR YOU! I've been rooting for you all morning.
posted by apartment dweller at 10:18 AM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I feel your pain, I had an irrational, abusive client but I was able to fire him (I'm a freelancer).

I suggest taking your enumerated points from your original post, printing them out, and then let those be the only words that come out of your mouth. Any point he argues, just pick the appropriate item from your list and say it. The same words every time, just as you've written them, no deviation.

Except... if the client becomes abusive or profane, I'd say "You have no right to speak to me that way and I will not tolerate it." and hang up. Every time. I don't think there's any way to make the client understand or behave professionally, and it's not productive to sit there and absorb abuse, so I think it's fair, ethical and right to terminate the conversation if it gets to that point.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 10:19 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Wow, I was prepared to offer specific advice on how to have a call, but given this update, if they're lying to your boss, then I'd stick to email for all communications. Waiting until your boss returns is the best solution. Good for you.
posted by salvia at 10:26 AM on August 11 [3 favorites]


I'm so sorry for what you're dealing with.

One tip I'd recommend is making sure you stick to a script and DO. NOT. deviate from it. Changing your wording will likely cause the client to try to twist your words against you.

The AskMeFi standard of "I'm sorry, that won't be possible" likely has many place in your script.

It also sounds like having your boss on the phone with you is highly advisable. Some clients only respond to higher powers (which sucks and is in no way a reflection on you - I deal with the exact same thing in my job) and best to get them involved to help re-enforce your reasonable boundaries.

Best of luck!
posted by Twicketface at 10:34 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


If you haven't already, keep a written record of everything that has happened so far and any other emails or phone contacts that happen until your boss returns.

Not only does it help your memory, it shows the clear pattern of their behavior through this whole thing. It's great the boss has your back 100%, but sometimes it can still degrade into a he-said-she-said and then you use the notes to back yourself up.

(Funny, this is the same advice you give someone headed for divorce. I hope your boss dumps their ass when the opportunity is available).
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:43 AM on August 11 [3 favorites]


If you're in a one-party consent state, record any call you have with this guy. If you're not, arrange for a mechanical voice to say "this call may be recorded for quality control purposes" at the beginning, and record the call. (You can provide the voice yourself - many pompous jerk business dudes ignore phrases like that if they sound impersonal and ordinary.)

Read some Clients from Hell to see how similar situations play out: mostly, clients like this do not learn a damn thing, do not budge, and will continue to ignore any boundaries you set. Make sure to remind boss that there's a no-after-hours-support contract, and that the company should not be rewarding abusive behavior with free labor.

And as others have said--stick to the contract, mention it often, and politely state that you won't be doing work outside of its scope. Don't argue over whether he needs it or "deserves" it, or whether he's being unreasonable. DO take note of any actual threats he makes, especially in text format, and forward them to the appropriate authorities immediately, along with a very brief outline of the situation and timeline of events.

Also take note of overt statements of sexism or racism, where he implies that you or some of your team are incapable of doing the work because of biology. If possible, use that as an excuse to cut all contact with the guy; "I'm sorry, but [Client]'s belief that I am unqualified is an insurmountable barrier to effective communication."

Best end-result is that you finish the project for him - on your original terms - and he never speaks to any of you again. Second-best is that he walks away without paying (or finishing paying, if there's been a deposit).
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:53 AM on August 11 [4 favorites]


Oh God yes, nthing Clients from Hell. Read it from the very beginning. You will feel so much better.
posted by Melismata at 10:55 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Oh my god. My stomach has hurt for you all morning, and I just got off a call with lovely clients and wondered how you were doing.

My last really bad client, I emailed my boss documentation every single time I interacted with them (assuming it wasn't by email and she was copied already). Transcribed every voicemail. Had gotomeetings so I could record them.

I told her I was leaving a paper trail in case they killed me.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:57 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


If you absolutely must take the call, can you record it? Depending on the laws in your state, you may or may not be required to notify all involved parties, but I'd do that regardless. Just start out with, "Just so everyone knows, I'm recording this call for my records," and if anyone questions it, you can bring up the "miscommunication" where the client lied about scheduling that other call.

If you have to take the call, I'd suggest you straight up insist, in fact. It's absolutely reasonable especially in light of the client lying.

And this is a long shot, but what are you like when you're mad? I turn into an ice queen when I'm really morally outraged by something, so in a situation like this, I would prime myself to be angry with the client right from the get go, rather than questioning myself and starting out with a conciliatory mindset. This guy's already grossly abused you and your staff, and he's trying right now to discredit and manipulate you, and oh fuck no to that. Normally, I do the conciliatory thing that we're all cultured to, but when I've got a clear case of someone being abusive and just plain wrong, I am really good at standing my ground and defending what I need to defend. (In fact, I cannot do any kind of public speaking unless I'm actively pissed off.)

I've gotten that kind of angry at work a few times, and it's always been effective, so on the off chance you can do that, I'd recommend it.

Either way, though, either cancel or record that call if at all possible.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:00 AM on August 11 [3 favorites]


Such great advice here! I would add....When you pick your phrases, practice in front of a mirror beforehand. For some silly reason, it really helps when you need to stick to your guns.

I completely agree that you need to record every conversation with this client, especially if your boss won't be present. Most states with laws against it are covering secret recordings, so you need to get it on tape that the client has been advised. Just start out the meeting with "This conversation will be recorded for customer service purposes." Don't ask, just tell.
posted by raisingsand at 11:37 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Agreeing with everyone above, and sending massive sympathy ... but I also would suggest that you think about a way to re-frame this statement:

"We can not attend emergency calls with their team or their other client without 24 hours notice. (We are subcontractors.)"

Emergencies usually happen without warning, not on a schedule, so asking that an "emergency call" have 24-hour notice isn't realistic. Absolutely they should be *paying* for 24/7 emergency coverage if they need it, but if I were a client and a business told me "I need 24 hours notice for emergencies" I would be taken aback and would question the company's ability to do the job I needed.

I'm not saying to cave in and do their "emergency" stuff that they don't pay for, only saying to be careful how you frame this in conversation with the client for the sake of the larger business relationship. You don't want to screw your prime contractor inadvertently, especially if they have been supportive of your position in the conflict with this conflict.
posted by mccxxiii at 5:15 AM on August 12


There are a few things you can do when stuck on the phone with an abusive client. One thing you can do is nothing. You absolutely do not have to say anything in response. So when they snap, "What are you going to do about it!?" this can force you into stammering out a response that matches their urgency and getting you committed to something. Instead you can just breath quietly into the receiver for a few seconds. Think quietly. Deliberately create these pauses. You don't really have anything to say, right? You've already said everything you have to say, so you are only listening to them out of courtesy. So if you can get them to leap in again, that's great. "What are you going to do about it!?" is a rhetorical question. Your customer knows what you are going to do about it. Nothing whatsoever, per the terms of your contract. If you talk slowly and pause it may help them to slow down.

Another thing you can do is not answer his questions. So when your customer snaps, "What are you going to do about it?!" you can reply with a non sequitur. "You sound quite frustrated." or "You've been having this problem since Friday." or "My boss has received all the e-mails you have sent." You don't want to end up yelling, "Nothing, I am not going to do ANYTHING!" even if that is the truth, so not answering may be a better way to respond. Clearly your client has communication problems, so quite possibly he won't even notice that your responses are not actually replies to his question, but don't do this too much anyway, as it can make him more frustrated. To avoid this try to give him some positive feedback or information. "You've described your technical issue quite clearly." "Our development team will be able to address this as soon as they return."
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:54 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Use visualization and imagination to give the client a less prominent space in your mind and reduce your stress response.

-Imagine they're a tiny person yelling in a tiny cartoon voice
-Picture them in black and white
-Picture them being very far away from you
-When you read their words or hear their voice, imagine it in a quiet whisper
-Picture them fading away

Reframe their antagonism as a symptom of some problem in their life, and see them as deserving of compassion (from a distance). They aren't just yelling at you; they're crying out, like a sad kitten.

Basically, use your mind to help your body and spirit have an accurate perspective on the threat level (which is very low).

Do this both in the moment and as you recollect interactions with them.
posted by ramenopres at 8:38 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


When I have to make a difficult phone call, I like to do it with a friend in the room. Even if they're just sitting there and occasionally rolling their eyes in empathy, it makes a huge difference to my strength of will. Do you have a supportive colleague who could sit you with you while you do this?
posted by Salamandrous at 8:21 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


« Older Books on the history of housekeeping   |   Inspirational fitness documentaries or shows Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments