Don’t look back in anger

We all get angry from time to time. From Russell Crowe hurling telephones at
hotel staff, Gordon Brown’s alleged verbal tirades, to the famous incident
involving Alex Ferguson, David Beckham and a football boot – anger is an emotion
that affects us all.

Clients are no different and equally have the capacity to get angry. While
not every client resorts to throwing footwear when things don’t go right,
accountants do need to know how to deal with difficult situations to ensure
clients feel listened to and understood.

Before any new client relationship gets underway, make strenuous efforts to
understand their needs – this will go some way to avoiding a difficult situation
further down the line. You can do this by asking questions which explore their
expectations. If you manage expectations now you can avoid misunderstandings
later on. You should also find out just how the client likes to do business, how
much they want to be involved in any processes, and confirm all fees and
costings so confusion (and irritation) doesn’t occur later on.

No matter how much groundwork you lay, difficult client situations can still
arise. If things do go wrong, meet with the client and try to sort out any
problems face-to-face.

If your client is angry, take a step back and try to be objective in
assessing the problem and share with the client what you want to achieve. Pitch
this to them as an invitation to join you as a partner in resolving the

This gives you scope to explore both sides of the argument and gives you the
chance to listen to their perspective. Dig deep, use open questions and ask for
their view of what happened. Acknowledge feelings behind the arguments (this is
not the same as agreeing) and try to unravel how the two of you arrived at this

Lastly, be creative. Invent options that will satisfy the most important
concerns of both parties and discuss how you will improve communication channels
to prevent a similar misunderstanding recurring. As is often the case,
communication is key to getting you both back on track and much less painful
than a telephone in the eye.

Jack Downton is the managing director of The Influence Business

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