Solutions for abusive clients

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Jul 01, 2008

Q: How should we handle aggressive clients who use foul language, throw invoices, or behave badly?


Sheila Grosdidier
"We've all probably been so frustrated that we said or did things that surprised others. Those moments remind us everyone has a breaking point," says Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a partner with VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. "But there's a difference between someone who's having a bad day and someone whose helping others have a bad day."

To minimize negative experiences, create a policy that clearly outlines unacceptable client behavior, including foul language, threats, violent gestures, and outbursts. "Team members' safety is essential, and your policy should include how to handle this behavior," Grosdidier says.

First, immediately report the behavior to the practice manager. Moving these people away from other clients can help as well—unless you feel threatened or suspect the situation may escalate in private and place you in peril.

Next, use the three tries rule. For example, Mr. Jones is angry and uses inappropriate language. The receptionist Sarah politely asks him to discontinue his foul language if he'd like to continue their conversation. Mr. Jones persists, and Sarah calmly repeats her request. The third time, Sarah tells Mr. Jones he'll talk with the practice manager. If the behavior continues, the practice manager will ask Mr. Jones to leave or end the phone call.

Finally, if you're a manager, assure team members you'll support them when they face client explosions, Grosdidier says. They should feel confident you'll protect them from potentially dangerous or abusive situations.