There may come a time when you are confronted with an angry client. If this happens, how do you respond?
A few massage-therapist colleagues and I set out to discover how other professions react in situations where they are confronted with angry clients.
In the first year of my 2,200-hour massage program, I remember having to take a course called "Therapeutic Relations." This course focused on ethics and psychology for massage students. The course also included a variety of topics, such as ways of interacting with colleagues and clients on a professional level while maintaining boundaries. In addition to the classroom lectures, I remember gathering together in a comfortable, cushion-and-couch-filled room with other classmates. This was our opportunity to voice our opinions and concerns to a psychologist and to each other about anything we wanted to discuss. Being in these small groups allowed us the opportunity to discuss and view how we related to each other, as well as how and why we respond verbally or nonverbally. We soon learned our actions, whether verbal or nonverbal, may have a positive, negative or neutral effect on the receiver, thus having an impact on his or her response.
"How does this relate back to massage therapy?" was the question I heard other students ask. As time moved on, it all became clear. We were taught a lot of information, but one particular lesson stood out for me-which, at the time, I did not know I would use a week later in the clinic. The particular lesson was about responding to something that seems harmless, but could have quite an impact on the listener.
For example, your client comes to see you and completes her health-history form. On the health-history form, she notes she is pregnant. Your first instinct may be to say, "Congratulations!" In our course, however, we were taught to ask, "How do you feel?" The client may have come in for stress, and the pregnancy may be unexpected or not seen positively by the client. The congratulations may increase the stress level of the client or create an uncomfortable situation from the start. We are taught not to ask leading questions but rather be neutral and caring while allowing conversation and discussion to continue.
When setting out to see how other professions react to angry and demanding clients, my colleagues and I brainstormed for about one hour and did not plan to spend more than a day to conduct this test. We wanted to find out if other people employed some of the same techniques we learned to help calm the situation through reasoning and logic. I was elected to be the client and visited a pharmacy requesting a refill of an old prescription; approached a security guard and demanded an extension on a parking permit; spoke to a bank teller with bag of unrolled coins and requested paper bills in exchange; and made contact with a subway attendant and asked a variety of questions related to getting to various locations by transit.
All of this sounded easy, but for me it was extremely difficult to do. I was not used to trying to get progressively angry-verbally, physically or emotionally. I approached a pharmacist and presented my expired prescription and found it extremely difficult to get angry because the pharmacist was rational and logical in her responses as to why she could not fill my request. She offered to contact the doctor's office, so I said I would be back in an hour. This gave me a chance to go outside and practice getting angry, which included suggestions from my colleagues to bang on the desk and raise my voice a little.
An hour passed and I returned, ready to pretend being angry. I tried raising my voice and even banged on the desk twice, demanding the medicine, but in each instance, the pharmacist replied logically and in a calming voice, "Your action is not helping the situation," and continued to be pleasant to me. I wanted to break out of character and say, "Congratulations, you handled this situation very well," but I stayed in character and left. My colleagues and I planned to revisit each of the unknowing participants later to explain our test.
I continued to the bank, security guard and subway, only to find that in each of the cases, these people handled themselves very well using various reasoning and logic to keep the situation from escalating into something more. I, on the other hand, needed a few massages after that. Trying to get angry and act this way made me physically feel tense; I was emotionally tired, on edge and angry with myself. This was completely out of character for me, and it took a few days to unwind and return to normal.
This exercise reinforced what we already do as professionals and confirmed that remaining calm and trying to keep clients' concerns at the forefront of the situation helps bring better understanding where understanding was once clouded.
The security guard I spoke with said, "Appreciation is the essence of life." Acknowledge others for what they contribute to the mix.