No matter how openly you communicate with your clients or how sensitive you try to be to their needs, there are times when anger flares up. At best, it will sear anyone who has to deal with it. At worst, it can burn up an entire relationship.
Sources of anger are all around us. Shrinking wealth, corporate greed and corruption, and senseless violence around the world have stressed many people’s emotions to the flash point. Add the right spark, and these feelings can explode without warning.
If you’re facing anger in clients or colleagues, or feeling it yourself, here are some suggestions about how to deal with this most destructive of emotions.
My client seminar is supposed to be about ways to cope with the stock market downturn, but I’m afraid it will turn into an angry wrangle about greedy CEOs, rubber-stamp boards of directors, and balance-sheet scams. I’m sure some of my clients will want to know why I didn’t warn them about these practices. What can I say? To prepare yourself, think of all the ways you have helped your clients. Protect yourself emotionally by vowing not to take their recriminations too personally. (A technique I sometimes use in therapy work is to visualize myself surrounded by a light-filled membrane of energy that keeps me from absorbing clients’ negativity.)
If you are confronted with your clients’ anger, try to join with it in a measured way. Share your own anger and frustration about these companies’ dishonesty. Let your clients know if financial losses have required you to make changes in your own lifestyle. Misery does love company, and shared misfortune can help clients realize that even the pros couldn’t foresee what would happen.
But after you’ve made space for their angry reactions and partnered with them where you can, be sure to leave them with the bottom-line impression of your expertise. Remind them of the disciplines you follow to identify solid and trustworthy businesses. If you’ve stepped up your due diligence in light of the scandals, say so.
Soon after this event, it would be a good idea to meet individually with your unhappiest clients. Repeat the process of listening and empathizing first, then talking about the steps you’re taking to protect them, to see if you can bring them back on board. You may not be able to keep every client. But do your best, and let go of the rest.
A client couple of mine, now in their late 50s, provide financial support to his elderly father and mother. The wife told me she has always been bothered that his parents’ improvidence left them so needy in their old age. Now, with their own retirement portfolio hit hard by the market downturn, she feels downright angry that this commitment to his parents prevents her and her husband from putting more money toward their own future security. She feels too ashamed of these “selfish” feelings to discuss them with him. Is there any way I can help her? I think part of your job is to validate your client’s reasonable anger and frustration, and help her give herself permission to care about her own needs without feeling she is too “selfish.”
Most women are socialized not just to be accommodating, but to sacrifice their own needs to meet those of others. The tacit contract is: “I’ll overgive of myself to you and your family in exchange for being loved, admired, and taken care of.” If this contract doesn’t work out as expected, an angry backlash can result.
Be patient and compassionate in supporting your client’s right to feel concerned about her and her husband’s security. Seeing the parents lose their financial independence has probably driven home to her the danger of being ill-prepared.
I think communication between your clients will benefit them both. Encourage them to discuss what they can do to make sure his parents are supported, now and in the future, while helping the wife feel more financially secure and at peace.
I’m an advisor of Lebanese origin who is a naturalized U.S. citizen. Since 9/11, my referrals have dropped off, and I often find empty chairs around me at civic events. I seem to be angry all the time. What can I do? My heart aches for you, and for other victims of prejudice exacerbated by the 9/11 attacks and the horrific situation in the Middle East.
urge you not to keep your feelings bottled up. Over lunch or coffee, during a walk, or after a workout at the gym, share your hurt and anger with your friends or friendly colleagues. Many will feel upset that you have been placed in this situation. Some may even come up with creative solutions to help ease your pain.
For example, you might consider taking the bull by the horns by sending a letter to your clients and their friends. Explain that you have felt the effect of others’ prejudice despite your citizenship and loyalty to this country, and ask for their help in encouraging tolerance in the community. You might consider hosting a workshop or writing an article for the local newspaper.