Anger can be a very strong and sometimes scary emotion, and it’s usually uncomfortable when someone directs their anger towards us – especially when they’re someone we’re trying to help.
As the founder of Brave Thinking Institute, I’ve helped a lot of coaches navigate this delicate situation.
Why do clients get angry?
Often, it’s because you’ve pushed them beyond their comfort zone, and they’re reacting to that.
When they find themselves outside of that comfort zone, there’s a feeling of insecurity and not knowing what’s going to happen next, and sometimes clients respond to that discomfort by becoming angry with you.
Now, we don’t know for sure what happens in that moment. It could be that a past wound has been triggered, and they’re reacting to that.
Or maybe, they’re turning their feelings of fear, doubt and worry into anger, and then projecting that anger at you.
When a client directs anger towards you, it’s important to avoid this very common mistake…
If you have a client who is angry, it’s important to handle the situation in a way that restores their trust and your connection to each other, so that you’re a safe place for them to work out what’s going on inside.
This can be the difference between really helping them continue to grow and evolve, keeping them as a client, and helping them to build the life of their dreams…
…or losing them forever.
A common mistake that people make when dealing with someone who is angry, whether it’s their life coaching client, a family member, a friend, or a work colleague, is to become defensive and say,
“Wait a minute, I didn’t do that! I didn’t mean that!”
Becoming defensive is a natural response, but it communicates all the wrong things
When someone is accusing you of something, especially when deep down you think it’s unjustified, it can feel like an attack – and you naturally want to defend yourself!
But when you become defensive, you’re communicating three things:
- You’re more focused on defending your actions than on hearing the other person out.
- You don’t really care enough to hear them out, you just want them to stop talking and stop blaming you.
- You don’t believe that their anger is legitimate, which can cause them to shut down.
So, what should you do when a client gets angry with you?
I recommend you follow these three steps:
1. Start by thanking them for their honesty, and ask them to “tell you more”
Sometimes, you may feel there’s a grain of truth in what you’re hearing from the other person.
Perhaps you have done something to legitimately upset them without realizing it.
Other times, their reaction won’t feel like it belongs to you at all. Regardless of which situation you find yourself in, just the act of being the kind of person who will allow someone to tell you what they’re really thinking and feeling, whether it’s justified or not, builds a bridge of connection, and that connection is essential for a solid, life-giving and ongoing life coaching relationship.
So, in dealing with a client who is angry with you, the first step is to acknowledge that it’s not always easy to tell someone else when you’re angry with them, and that you appreciate the risk it took for them to tell you that they’re angry.
Saying this may feel like an admission of guilt, but it isn’t.
Next, you can say three powerful words: “Tell me more.”
What you’re doing here is giving the other person space to feel their emotion…
…and to actually recognize that you’re a safe place for them to talk about something that’s scaring, or hurting them.
You may also want to consider saying,
“If there’s anything else I’ve done or said that I’m not aware of, please let me know.”
By communicating in this way, you show them that you care and that they can talk to you, and that they can trust you to honor and respect their feelings in the future.
1. If there was a misunderstanding, explain your true intentions
If you believe that their anger is based on a misunderstanding, you could say:
“I can see how what I did or said could have come across that way, but that wasn’t my intention. My intention was actually [insert your intention here]. In any case, I’m sorry. I think we have a basic misunderstanding here. Can we talk about it and explore this a little bit more?”
Opening yourself up to their honesty, which may feel like criticism, takes internal strength, but it’s important for opening the lines of communication and healing any hurt feelings.
3. Ask them how you can best support them in future
After you’ve heard them out and the connection has been re-established, consider saying the following using your own words:
“You know, in order for me to fully support you as your coach, when I notice that you’re engaging in certain thoughts or actions that I can see are holding you back from the life you want, it’s my job to let you know.
So when I see something in your life that isn’t serving you, in what way would you like for me to bring it to your attention, so I can convey it in a way that would actually be helpful for you? How can I help you in a way that you would like to be helped?”
Now, your client doesn’t see you as an enemy. Instead, you’re working together to fulfill a common goal, and that’s what you want as a life coach!
When you feel that angry energy coming at you, imagine it’s just moving past you
When someone’s coming at you with anger and it feels like it’s not justified, you may find yourself saying,
“Where on earth is this coming from?”
Remind yourself that they are reacting to something inside of them that has been triggered.
Chances are, their reaction may have nothing to do with you!
So, rather than thinking of what they’re doing as an attack, think of this as a person who’s entrusting you with their deep and vulnerable wounds.
They’re entrusting you with what’s going on in their inner world, and yes, they’re projecting it onto you!
Be curious about what’s really going on for them.
Great life coaches turn attacks into curiosity, an opportunity to create a closer connection and to grow.
This person is revealing how they’ve been hurt, and that knowledge is going to help you to help them in a way that a less informed coach could never do.
And now, here’s a question for you…
What’s one of the biggest insights that you gained from watching this video or reading this article?
Or, what’s YOUR experience been when it comes to dealing with a life coaching client that may have felt triggered or angry?
Share your thoughts with me in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!