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Managing stressed clients

publication date: Oct 17, 2006
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Everyone knows that the English system of buying and selling houses is unnecessarily involved and stressful. Yet it is easy for those involved in facilitating the process (estate agents and solicitors) to fail to sufficiently take into account the stress levels that clients face when they are going though it.

Buying and/or selling a house is a major life change for people yet many of them face months of waiting, uncertainty, lack of communication and lack of control over something so vital to their future well-being and that of their family. Given this, it is hardly surprising that their fear, stress and frustration can so often turn to aggression against those who they feel are to blame for their problems.

The first thing to do to reduce the risk of facing aggression or even violence from irate clients is to recognise how they might be feeling and why. If a client is concerned that the sale is not going to go through, worried about how they are going to pay for it all if it does fall through and they have to start again and frustrated because they don’t know what is happening, it is often the case that their estate agent is no wiser than them about what is happening further up the chain. However, whether you know the full story or not, there is only one way to keep a client from exploding: good communication.

By communicating well and keeping your clients in touch, frustration and aggression can be kept to a minimum. However there will always be clients who are easily annoyed and there is always the chance that they might be aggressive with you no matter how much you try and relieve the stress for them.

They might even be stressed and annoyed by something that has got nothing to do with the house buying process but it is just the final straw that makes them snap. Therefore it is important to pay attention to early warning signals that someone is becoming aggressive and to learn how to calm the situation.

Body Language

Whilst what you say when dealing with a potentially aggressive situation is obviously crucial, your non-verbal behaviour is often of much greater importance in conveying messages to others. In fact the vast majority of communication is conducted through non-verbal signals. (55% body language, 38% tone of voice and only 7% words) This is important to understand as it allows you to control the over-riding message you give out and allows you to look out for danger signals from others.

It is also important to realise that if verbal and non-verbal signals conflict then it will be the non-verbal that is believed. For example, using sympathetic words but having your feet up on the desk and leaning back with your hands behind your head, gives the impression not of sympathy but of indifference.

Calming the Situation

If you can see that someone is becoming irate, try and calm the situation before it escalates. To do this it is vital that you actively listen. This is not as easy as it sounds as most of us spend the time when the other person is talking, considering and formulating our response instead of actually listening to what they have to say.

Also, make sure that you actually demonstrate that you are listening. Use eye-contact and nod your head to show that you are following what they are saying. Use empathetic phrases such as ‘I can understand why you are angry…’ or ‘ Obviously it has been very stressful for you……’ Keep you voice calm, gentle, and clear and never invade their personal space.

Give them time to explain the problem they have and when they have finished clarify with them that you understand the problem and what you can do. If appropriate take notes as this shows that you are taking them seriously.

Moving Forward

Once the client has have calmed down, ask them any questions you have and remind them of your role in the process and any limitations you may have in solving their problem. Be realistic with them about what you can do but set positive targets and if possible, deal with things then and there to show you are on their side e.g: ‘Unfortunately I can’t influence when we will receive the buyer’s mortgage offer, but I will call their solicitors right now to ask if they have any news yet.’

If it is not possible to calm the client down and they are becoming aggressive and potentially violent, then you need to either get out of the situation or call for assistance. If you are alone in the office, then use an excuse to make a call: ‘I’ll just check that with their solicitor’. Then call a colleague and make it clear to them that you are in trouble and need assistance without letting the client know. The easiest way to do this is by using a pre-arranged password or phrase. Once this is done do everything to keep them calm until assistance arrives.

The majority of potentially volatile situations can be defused if they are dealt with properly and even these can often be avoided in the first place if good communication takes place from the start.