How to Respond to "That" Client

Don't get mad, get smart. How to respond to that annoying client.

We've all been there. You've kicked butt through another day of work and are feeling pretty good about your progress. It's just about 6pm and you're finishing up a few last emails before logging off and heading to the fridge to figure out what you want to make for dinner. You've just hit "send" on the last of them, when you see that one more came through while you were writing. And it's a doozy. One of your clients just fired off an accusatory, argumentative or just plain rude email that has your blood boiling and you're seeing red. Your dinner plans have officially blown up in your face as you struggle to keep from responding with a few choice 4 letter words.

No matter what line of business you're in, you're going to run into this kind of situation eventually. Whether it be from "that" client, boss, or co-worker, someone is going to step over that boundary and express some kind of anger, disappointment or frustration towards you whether it is warranted or not. They may be disappointed in the outcome of a project, failed to appreciate your work efforts, or unfairly blamed you for something that went wrong. Your first instinct is to fire back and defend yourself from the onslaught. But you know that if you do, you're going to fall down the rabbit hole of those endless back-and-forth email chains that will leave both of you even more frustrated. So, before you type your first word, take a second to run through some of our tips on how you can better handle the situation so you can come out with your head held high.

1. Take a deep breath and count to 10. This may seem obvious and cliche, but it's one of the most important first steps. Taking a deep breath before responding to any kind of confrontation can give you just enough time to talk yourself out of that knee jerk response. Take it from me, your first gut reply most likely isn't going to be your most articulate or professional.

2. Let them know that you've received their message and will get back to them later. Instead of leaving everything out there (or even worse, responding right away), respectfully let them know that you received their email and are going to take a day, or even a few days, to work on a response. It will keep them from sending you more emails while you're working on it (which will just fan the flames) and will show you're reasonable and giving it the time it deserves.

3. Let it out. Before letting your frustration out on your client/boss/co-worker, take it out elsewhere. Go for a walk, exercise or vent to a friend or family member (someone you can trust not to repeat your conversation). Getting that jittery energy out will help you think clearer and better evaluate your next steps.

4. Get everything in perspective. Sometimes in the moment that email can seem absolutely momentous. The problem can seem so huge it feels like it's just sucking up all your energy and completely taking over your time. Here's where you have to give yourself a little tough love and shift your thinking to something a little bit more realistic. Is this the end of the world? Probably not. In 6 months, is this situation still going to be going on, or even matter? In most cases, no. Talk yourself off the ledge and give yourself an accurate view of what is really happening and how much weight it really should carry.

5. Start collecting evidence. Break down the email and begin collecting evidence to back up your viewpoint. Find old emails, reference old conversations or collect some statistics and data. Write down a couple bullet points with your perspective under each point to being to organize your thoughts. 

6. Be clear, concise and let down your defenses. It may be tempting to go on the defense, but if you do, you're going to come across as immature and irrational. Use clear language, and make your points in calm, factual ways. Don't exaggerate or embellish, but don't back down when you truly have a point to make either. And here's an important thing to remember - be willing to admit to situations where they may be right and the evidence points in their favor. Be honest with yourself, and them, even in situations where you have to swallow your pride and concede. 

7. Hit save, before sending. Don't send right after you finish. Instead, hit the save button and walk away, to re-evaluate again later. If the situation allows you to, give it a good 12-24 hours. When you look at it again, more time will have passed and your head will be even cooler. You'll be able to more accurately reflect on your language and phrasing to ensure you're 100% happy with everything you're about to say.

8. Fire and forget. As soon as you hit that send button, move on to another task. It's tempting to obsess over your email while you constantly hit refresh to see if you've gotten a response. Busying yourself with other activities will help keep your mind off of it while you await a response and keep you from wasting valuable time running through made up scenarios in your head. 

By the time the other party reads your well crafted email, chances are they will have had enough time to calm down as well and their response may be surprisingly rational. However, if they don't reply in a way that you would like them to, head on back to Step 1 and repeat the process all over again until they do.