Managing client personalities is a case-by-case business.
If you work with people long enough, you’ll probably run into the aggressive, angry type who loves to yell and get under your skin. You’ll also probably find yourself in a room with someone who’s incredibly passive and indecisive. And you’ll definitely meet people who fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
The truth is, there’s no silver bullet for handling any of these client personalities because everyone’s different.
Sometimes the person yelling just needs to vent—and you have to figure out the right things to say to help calm them down. Other times, you may need to be firm and simply tell them, “I’m not going to tolerate this. Unless we can speak like adults, I’m leaving.”
Luckily, you can follow basic psychology principles to help you understand who you’re dealing with and how to manage different situations. If you know the general rules and apply them to your interactions with clients, you’ll save yourself a ton of headaches.
These are the four tips that have helped me through numerous tricky situations:
1: Be a chameleon.
You probably already do this without even realizing it.
The “chameleon effect” is a well-documented behavior in which people unconsciously mimic the mannerisms, posture, or tone of the person they’re speaking to. We do it because when we mimic someone else, it actually makes our interactions smoother. The other person feels more comfortable with us without knowing exactly why.
You can also use this technique consciously. Since you never know what a person is going to be like when you first meet them, it’s important to understand how to adjust if he or she turns out to be more aggressive or passive than you were expecting.
Obviously, you can take this too far. It’s not really about crossing your legs the moment you see them cross theirs. It’s about reading their personality and current mood—and then adjusting your own behavior to help the conversation flow.
2: Listen and wait.
You’re may be wondering how you’re supposed to know what adjustments to make in the first place. The answer is simple: active listening and observation.
Most people will say, “Yeah, I’m a good listener,” but there’s a very real difference between just hearing someone and actively listening to them. When you’re really keyed in on what they’re saying and how they’re saying it, you’ll know whether you need to change your own behavior in some way.
- Watch your client’s body language and facial expressions.
- Listen to their tonality. Are they stressed, calm, rushed?
- Take the clues they’re giving you and use them to navigate any potential hangups or opportunities in the conversation.
Management legend Peter Drucker summed it up nicely when he said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
3: Make others feel comfortable.
People need to feel relaxed around you. You don’t hang out with someone you’re not comfortable with, and you definitely don’t do business with that person, either.
Think of your interaction with a client like you would any other relationship. You can’t build a good rapport until you’re both at ease. If someone’s tense and wary, the conversation will reflect that.
An easy, quick way to help people feel comfortable is simply by finding a connection—something you have in common. Ask them about themselves. Do they have a dog? What kind of music do they like? Yesterday was beautiful, did they get outside and do anything? Oh, they played 18? You golf, too. Talk about it a little.
Once you make that connection, slowly but surely you can build trust and help them feel at ease around you.
4: Visualize situations ahead of time.
While you can use visualization in multiple areas of your life, it can actually be just as helpful when it comes to managing client personalities.
Over the years I’ve been in plenty of situations where someone has said or done something, and I’ve had no idea how to react. Maybe they were overly aggressive, or I wasn’t ready for them to poke me the way they did. Whatever the case, afterward, I knew I didn’t handle it well.
So, I started using visualization. I’d sit down, imagine that situation happening again, and visualize myself handling it confidently. Now, when a tricky situation arises, it’s no problem because I’ve already been through it a thousand times in my head.
Navigating the nuances of client personalities doesn’t come with step-by-step directions. But if you visualize yourself listening, adjusting to the situation, and putting people at ease, I guarantee you’ll have an easier time handling all types of people when an interaction gets unsteady.