On our conflict management courses recently we have been asked for advice on how to assist clients who are distressed or anxious about coronavirus, some of whom have lost loved ones to the virus.

Even before the pandemic hit, we have been frequently asked by course delegates questions such as, ‘what do I do if a client starts crying?’, or ‘what do I do if the client gets distressed?’.

If this type of situation is not something a staff member is used to dealing with it can generate a sense of powerlessness or even panic. They can have an overwhelming desire to DO something for the client but are not sure what to do.

When a client expresses emotions, we should ask ourselves two questions:

  1. Are they seeking something practical? For example, advice on how best to stay safe during this pandemic, or
  2. Are they trying to release some emotions and have them acknowledged by another human being?

If you are trying to provide some practical advice when the client is just trying to express some emotion, there is a miss match of objectives. In that scenario, there is a good chance the client will become even more upset if you give them advice, because they are not actually seeking any advice.

Often the more upset the client becomes, the more the staff member tries to give advice. This is a downward negative spiral where the staff member can sense their advice is not working. Hence, they can feel a sense of powerlessness and be unsure what to do next.

Our brain can assign an emotion to almost every event and experience we have, which is why a smell can ‘trigger’ us to feel happy or traffic congestion might put us into a rage. Feeling emotion is a very normal part of the human experience.

It is healthy to express emotion rather than:

  • blame others for how we feel. ‘I was so angry because he said that…’
  • ‘bottle’ it up inside or try to forget about it. ‘I am not going to think about it and let it go’.

These tend not to be productive ways of dealing with emotion. We can scream, shout or smash things and that might help to get the emotion out. A better way would be to acknowledge the emotion (feel it) and release it. For example, ‘I am really angry about this and it is okay for me to feel that way’. We can also let other people know how we feel and hopefully they will listen well and acknowledge how we feel, and that helps to release it.

If a client is upset or distressed, aim not to go into ‘fix them’ mode. They are not broken and will not break. They are probably trying to release some of their emotions and distress.

Listen to them, acknowledge what they are saying and feeling. You may have an overwhelming urge to offer advice and DO something practical. Remember your listening and acknowledging is all the DOING the client probably needs from you.

For more details on our conflict management courses, click here or take a look at our recent addition of online conflict courses.

Fancy reading more? Then check out our latest blog post all about How to manage aggressive and potentially violent clients.