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Is your communication readiness at DEFCON 1?


In calming an irate client, remember your tone and goal. Keep your tone normal when talking to the client and your body relaxed. Always remember that your goal should be to listen to their needs and try to meet them when appropriate.

1. If you do not fear physical harm, invite the client away from the waiting room. Try to make the area neutral; don't use your office, it could actually escalate the situation. The first order of business is to get a screaming pet owner away from your other clients.

Remember: An irate client wants everyone to hear his or her complaint. If the client won't budge, have your staff corral the waiting clients into an examination room, if possible.

2. Simultaneously, focus on diffusing the anger.

a. Acknowledge the anger. "Mr. Williams, I understand you are angry. My intent is not to do battle with you, but understand your needs and try to meet them."

b. Don't mirror the behavior of the irate client. If he or she is shouting, don't shout back.

c. Teach yourself and your staff to control body language. Don't put your hands across your chest or in your pockets, point your finger or close your hand. All are signs of anger or defensiveness. Your body should remain relaxed.

Practice the proper body language, along with different scenarios. Behrends says body language can be more important than words in calming many situations.

For example, if you purse your lips when you get angry or clench your jaw, and at the same time ask a client to simmer down, your body-language message wins because the messages are conflicting.

When confronting an irate client, keep the messages congruent, Behrends says.

d. Don't give advice or orders. Avoid phrases like, "If I were you, ..."

e. Never touch an infuriated client.

3. After you have acknowledged his or her anger, wait and listen. Sometimes it is effective to have another person distract the client by intervening.

This independent person should then use the strategies outlined to try and calm the situation.

4. Work to resolve the anger before the client leaves, if possible. Sometimes, no resolution will be acceptable to both parties, but at least the issues have been heard.

Whether the veterinarian finds the client demands acceptable is an entirely different question, Behrends says. Giving in to a client's demands just to get the problem out of your office is not a healthy way to resolve the issue.

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