How To Empathize When Telling Clients “No”

The Carewrightbusiness coaching

“Consequently, there’s this ill-conceived notion that “respect is earned.” Right? You either deserve it or you don’t. But is that really true?”

Business Coaching Client Empahty

3 Ways to Say “No” To Clients Without Alienating Them
Part Two

In our first post on this series we discussed the notion that “immediate is too soon.” It’s the idea that even when you know the answer is “no” you should hold-off telling your client. But what if you don’t have the luxury of time? What should you do when a client needs an immediate answer?

We’ve all seen firsthand what some people are inclined to do. Put on the spot, some people will get defensive and presume an air of superiority. They want to immediately squelch the problem. Instead of listening to their clients they just regurgitate why the reason is “no.” In short, they disrespect their clients. And their clients feel rejected and angry. We’d all do well to keep one thing clear: clients who are disagreeable or upset with us still deserve our very best. They’re not subordinate or inferior to us in any way. They’re merely at a disadvantage in a transient point of policy or trade. While we can tell a client “no” they’re the ones who can decide not to do business with us.

Taking The High Road

So what is respect? Or – more to the point – what, ontologically-speaking, should it be?

“Respect is understanding that someone is important and should be treated in an appropriate way.” Excerpt from Webster’s Dictionary

The true reason why we should convey respect to someone is frequently misunderstood. The confusion often arises from placing an economy on people. Consequently, there’s this ill-conceived notion that “respect is earned.” Right? You either deserve it or you don’t. But is that really true? Certainly “thinking well of someone” is a matter of personal, accrued experience. But should there really be an arbitrary calculus applied to the importance of a person? The answer is no. Rather than “being earned” “respect is due.” Respect is due, by the very virtue of our shared humanity. This “understanding” is the place where true relationship begins.

Affirming Trust

Conflict makes people uncomfortable. Clients in the act of complaining can feel vulnerable – they have a lot of emotion invested. And all that emotion carries a risk of rejection. Being “out there” and emotionally invested can be scary. That means client’s take a risk when they complain or challenge you. This is absolutely crucial to understand. It’s crucial because implicit in a lot of risk is the corresponding act of trust. When a client risks something in front of you, they can also be placing their trust in you.  They’re trusting that you won’t reject them. It’s not so much a transient point of trade or policy that’s of concern to them at that point, i.e., 10% off, a refund, etc. it’s them, themselves. More often than not, it’s the thought of rejection or not being taken seriously that’s of primary concern to them. If you can alleviate that concern, you’re much more apt to make them happy. Disrespect is one of the highest forms of rejection because it devalues the person. Respecting your client will go a long way in diffusing the situation and making them happy. If you thoughtfully listen to them, let them get it all out, you’ll be starting out from a position of respect

Empathetic Listening

So how do you address the concern of rejection while saying “no?” You’ve already accomplished the first step of empathetic listening by being respectful. The second step is identifying their main, underlying concern and validating it. Let them know you understand. You can then apologize, if need be, while giving your rationale for saying “no.” In this way, you’ll affirm the value and importance of what your client is feeling. This immediately makes the interaction client-centric and relationship-based. This in turn will make them more likely to be receptive to you.

That said, be very careful not to confuse sympathy with empathy. Sympathy is an act of the intellect while empathy derives from emotion. Sympathy usually alienates clients. Your client, more often than not, will view sympathy as a contrived, inappropriate intrusion into their private, emotional life. If they even think this is occurring, they’ll feel manipulated and demeaned.

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