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Keep Your Head and Your Job: Tips for Dealing with Irate Clinic Clients  

Sarah Rae Murray is a writer, veterinary practice receptionist and an advocate for all animals.

Every veterinary professional has experienced an unprovoked emotional outburst from a client. One moment you’re advising on their dog’s overdue vaccine and the next they’re yelling at you for not hand delivering a vaccination reminder directly to their front door.

It’s enough to make you yell right back at the client. What right do they have to treat you so poorly? None. But answering anger with anger can cause a multitude of problems, especially in an industry where practices depend on good client relationships.

If a client confronts you with aggression, take a breath and respond calmly. By remaining level headed you take control of the conversation and will ultimately have a greater influence on the outcome.

There are ways to diffuse explosive client interactions while keeping your dignity, sanity and job intact. Psychologists and experts in conflict resolution suggest these tactics:

DO: Keep your cool

Emotions are infectious. We’ve all heard the old adage “laughter is contagious” but it turns out negative emotions and behavior are too. If a client confronts you with aggression, take a breath and respond calmly. By remaining level headed you take control of the conversation and will ultimately have a greater influence on the outcome.

DON'T: Poke the bear

It can be tempting to treat an angry client like a child having a temper tantrum. Resist the urge to patronize them like children. It’s important to treat clients with respect and professionalism. If the client crosses the line into abusive or threatening language, end the conversation immediately and find another team member for support.

DO: Listen and choose your words wisely

Active listening is paramount in assessing the situation and ensuring the client feels heard. The next step is responding strategically. Psychologist Dr. Barbara Markway advises that the words “I understand” can actually make matters worse. Instead she suggests encouraging the client to explain so you can understand their position better, to apologize when appropriate, and let them know that you want to work with them to find a resolution.

DO: Respond with kindness

“Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It’s an often-cited quote that offers real wisdom in these situations. It’s easier to write off a client’s rude behavior when you know they’ve had to euthanize a pet; it’s a lot harder when they seem to have created problems out of thin air. The reality is, the person who’s screaming at you over virtually nothing is probably “fighting a hard battle” in their personal life. That’s no excuse for mistreating you, but it’s insight that might help you to handle the situation effectively. 

DON'T: Feel like you need to solve the problem alone

Veterinary clinics are fuelled by teamwork. Sometimes the smartest and most effective solution is passing the buck. As unfair as it may seem to capable support staff, certain clients will not be satisfied until they can communicate their frustrations to a “higher-up.” If you find yourself in a dead-end interaction, don’t force it. Have a manager, owner or veterinarian speak with the client as soon as possible.

DO: Debrief and decompress

Make sure that your clinic owner or manager is aware of the incident and its outcome. Evaluate your own wellbeing and make time for self-care outside of work. It’s important to find your own healthy ways of shaking off any residual negative energy from difficult client interactions. 

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Hall, Todd. “4 Tips from Psychology to Handle Negative Emotions.” Dr. Todd Hall Blog, Feb. 2015, Web.

Markway, Barbara. “20 Expert Tactics for Dealing with Difficult People.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, Mar. 2015, Web.


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