6 ways for legal professionals to defuse tense situations

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Due to the nature of the work, the legal industry carries a high potential for anxiety and tension. When working with upset clients, it can be a challenge to represent your firm with the utmost calm, composure, and professionalism.

Promote clear communication and avoid costly mistakes with these six different ways to defuse tense situations with clients and coworkers.

#1 Practice active listening

Simply feeling heard can make a difference for people who are feeling angry or frustrated. Active listening is important for acknowledging another person’s words, and for truly understanding what you need to do in response.

Demonstrate your complete attention to their situation by turning off computers and phones, giving good eye contact, and repeating their statements back to them. Remember, you don’t have to agree with someone to validate their feelings and let them know they’ve been heard.

#2 Meet in person

A call from an angry client can be confusing and chaotic, where the distance of the phone combines with the passion of their fresh frustrations to create a difficult-to-follow—or resolve—conversation.

Instead of trying to reassure from afar, invite the client to meet with you in person. This shows them that you are taking their request seriously, plus the extra time gives them space to think through their complaint more rationally. It also means you can look into the specifics of the case and discuss details with anyone else in the office who might have insight before going any further.

#3 Acknowledge mistakes

Thomas Jefferson famously said, “If you have to eat crow, eat it while it’s young and tender.” If you or a member of your firm did make a mistake, admit it early on so everyone can focus on finding a solution without dwelling on what went wrong.

#4 Focus on solutions

Once you understand the issue and have thoroughly discussed the particulars, end the back and forth of what happened and switch to problem-solving. It can be easy to fall into a debate about who was right or wrong or most at fault. Continue to guide the conversation to what can be done in the here and now in search of resolution.

#5 Thoroughly explain

As a legal professional, you understand the need for certain costs, inconveniences, and delays. For anyone unfamiliar with the industry, however, it might be challenging to understand why they haven’t yet seen the results they want from your firm.

This is your chance to patiently explain why they do need to continue paying for legal counsel, and that your firm is still working hard on their behalf—even when it seems as though there hasn’t been much progress. You could even empathize with them on how long it can take for the gears of the judicial system to grind on.

#6 Be responsive

Knowing that you have to have a difficult conversation with someone can put you off any interest in prioritizing the discussion. But unresponsiveness and inattention can easily make any situation worse. Do your best to address dissatisfied customers sooner rather than later, and the discussion isn’t likely to get worse. If you do have to delay, make sure to let them know you’re aware of their concerns, and that you will get back to them soon.

With these simple strategies, you can keep a calm head and encourage your clients to do the same. Remember, take time for yourself, even if you have to briefly excuse yourself from a meeting to get your equilibrium back. Your reputation—and your firm’s—depend on presenting yourself with extreme professionalism, even when dealing with angry and upset clients.

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