Peopling for the Introvert: How to Handle Difficult Client Interactions

All Things Paw

By Michelle Knowles

I’ve seen grown veterinarians, technicians and groomers break down and cry, have to leave for the day or, astonishingly, quit their job over an angry and/or unreasonable client who has lost their sense of self control in the lobby or over the phone.

Many of us in the grooming industry picked this career because we don’t like dealing with people but really love animals. This tends to leave us at a disadvantage when we don’t have enough communication practice to deal with the wide variety of personalities we might come across during our workday. 

Making the decision to strengthen your people skills will be one of the best investments of your career. It makes handling the good clients easier and the not so good clients manageable. There are a few things that you can do to lessen the stress of having to interact with someone who is angry or critical, and learning the steps to reconciliation will give you a set of tools to work with as you practice. 

1. Don’t take it personally. There are hundreds of reasons why a person might be bent out of shape and you just so happened to be the focus of all that frustration. It might be difficult at first, but will get easier with practice. Think of a small toddler or a puppy. They are very self–centered, and the world revolves around them, but when they don’t get their way, they may throw a tantrum. Sometimes, as adults, life’s frustrations can be overwhelming and we revert back to the time when we felt like we had no control and throw tantrums. I tend to think of these people as really needing someone to hear their story; after all, the tantrum has very little to do with you. Be patient, provide answers when you can, and patiently ride out the storm of their emotions until it calms down (or the police need to be called). I had a long–time client yell at me in my lobby about something totally unrelated to grooming and come back the next day to apologize. Frustration happens to everyone.

2. Listen to what the upset party is saying. Many times, when someone gets upset with us, we internalize it and become very defensive. If there is blame to be had, take responsibility for your mistake and try to move forward to a resolution. If you feel you are in the right and the client is wrong, the best thing to do is find some middle ground where both of you can fix your differences. After all, who really wins if one person insists on being right? Attempt to change the dialogue from “us against each other” to “us against the problem” so that both parties can work toward a mutually beneficial solution.

3. Keep on topic. Many arguments can escalate if either party is allowed to use personal attacks, talks about issues other than the main issue at hand, or becomes violent. When violence happens, it is always a good idea to call the authorities, but negotiation might help to prevent this. 

4. Forgive easily. When either party has a breakthrough or softens, accept this as a sign to back down so the real problem solving can begin. If you, as the shop owner, can make this happen on your part, this often triggers a sympathetic response in the client and brings the disruption to an end. 

5. Leave it at the shop when you lock the door for the day. Sometimes the hardest thing is to not obsess over all the choices you didn’t make while talking with the difficult client and how you could have handled it differently. While rehashing scenarios in your brain will help to make you more resilient in the future, leaving the angst at the shop is the best way to keep yourself clear of stress so that you can give your full attention to your family. 

It is never easy to deal with people who are at their worst. I use the encounter to put myself in their shoes to see if I can better understand how they are feeling. If I am unable to do that, I try to remember that the frustration is real for them so I give my best effort to assist them in whatever way I can. If I cannot reach them, I invite them out of my life with a genuine hope that they find the peace they are looking for. 

Just because you might be an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t get better at communicating with people, it just means we have to practice so we get better because, ultimately, we really just want them to leave so we can be with their pet! ✂️