Matt-Rody-Mastodon-Media-SeattleWorking for over 18 years in people-centric businesses like real estate and marketing, I have learnt one thing: no matter how good you are at your job, a percentage of your customers will always be unhappy with what you do.

There are not enough rabbits you can pull out of the hat to please these people because a) they don’t really know what they want b) they are always worrying about getting the best value for their money c) they don’t really trust your expertise or experience d) they think they could have done better elsewhere e) they’re just having a bad day…

Whatever the reason, it is hard to stay professional and courteous sometimes when hostile customers are overstepping some serious boundaries of ethical business dealing. The urge to `set them right’ is strong. But their contrariness does put you at a crossroad in your own journey of personal development, and which road you choose to take from here affects not just your relationship with these customers, but your relationship with yourself as well.

Don’t get me wrong.

I am not suggesting for one minute that you bow and scrape in front of hostile clients and pull at your dreadlocks every time they make irrational demands, because some self-help book has told you that the `customer is always right’. This isn’t about the customer at all. This is about empowering you in a potentially disempowering situation, and taking a long view on a short-term power play that will always ensure that you come out on top.

Here’s how to do it:


This is a golden rule of working with an irate client that I learnt from my father at a very young age, while helping him run our family’s underground construction business. Staying silent does not give you the instant gratification or immediate satisfaction that retaliation would bring. But by doing so, you keep your power. And you buy yourself time. Use that time well to get a top-down, dispassionate view of the situation. It is amazing how few the regrets will be about your negotiation skills if you just control the urge to respond and react immediately.


When being challenged, the human brain instinctively goes into flight-or-fight mode, and you’re overcome by the desire – by the need – to defend and protect yourself with comebacks and counter-arguments. The last thing you want to do at the time is shut up and listen.

Listening, however, has a lot of advantages. For one, hostile clients reveal a lot of weaknesses during their belligerent outbursts – weaknesses that give you an upper hand, if only you stop to listen to the entire diatribe without once trying to defend yourself.

Second, by letting the clients vent without interruption, a lot of angst flows out of the interaction, and they are likely to calm down and be more manageable afterwards. You can practically save the business relationship just by letting the clients say their piece, no matter how incorrect their assumptions may be.


Never commit to anything while dealing with hostile clients in the first round of battle. Make no promises. Use phrase like “I hope..” or “let me get back to you on this…”, so you don’t make spontaneous commitments in the hope of quickly diffusing the hostile situation. You’ll often find that you’ve dug yourself into a bigger hole by hastily promising to do things that are not in your best interest.


A very effective way of handling yourself during a confrontation with a hostile customer is to imagine that all your clients are in the same room, watching you. This idea immediately calms you down because now you’re playing to a bigger audience, and you’re less likely to give in to emotions that will compromise your credibility in front of them all.

Try it. It really works.

At the end of the day, nobody likes to do business with hostile clients. But they’re real, they’re there, and the only control you have as a business-owner is to make sure you manipulate yourself into a position where you always have the psychological upper hand.



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Mastodon Media is a fully integrated advertising agency based outside Seattle, WA. With more than 30 years of experience, Mastodon is one of the leading ad agencies in the region, offering a full-service approach and customized ad solutions.