Work Productively With Irrational Clients

by Certified Life Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

Imagine you’re sitting in your office about to meet with a client. Your brain is on overdrive with thoughts about submitting business in time for the next commission run, worries about covering payroll, your secret fears about your shameful debt and a nagging feeling that you haven’t been home enough. You are in an irrational state of fight or flight (the Lizard)—the deeply instinctive physiological response to something you perceive as a threat (real or imaginary). Your heart is pounding, your breathing is shallow, you are feeling very black and white about things and your anxiety is through the roof. You really need this client to finally take action. She has been dragging this process out for more than a year. With Operation Issue upon you, you need this business to close and you need it TODAY.

Now, your client walks into your office quickly, clutching a stack of papers. She has a worried look on her face. Her mind is racing with fears about saving for both retirement and the kids’ educations. She is thinking you might judge how much debt she and her husband have racked up since your last meeting. She is dreading the conversation about their long overdue life, disability and long term care insurance needs because she was sure they should be able to afford it by now but it’s not looking so good. She desperately wishes she could just turn around and walk out of this meeting. It was a mistake to agree to it. You can feel her energy of fear and edginess.

Given this scenario, what outcome might you predict? Do you relate to aspects of it? Notice where the Financial Representative's (FR) attention is—on himself/herself. Let’s say this is you. In this scenario, are you in a place to provide a safe, calm environment that will allow the client to freak out and then regain balance knowing that you can hold the space for her? Are you leading the meeting from an energetic standpoint? What message is your nervous system sending (all is well or alert!)? Most likely you are both feeling a lot of fear and anxiety. Alert alert alert!!

In all likihood, the client is looking for the exit door through your meeting in the form of objections, dragging out the process (needing more time to think, consult others, research things on her own, etc). You might be speculating that she distrusts you. (Based on your own Lizard brain needing to fill in a story.)

Working productively with irrational clients starts with YOU. Here’s how to guide this meeting to a successful close.

1) Manage your own nervous system short term. In the short term, hold a power pose for two minutes before every meeting. This will decrease your cortisol (stress) hormone level by 20% and increase your testoserone (boost your confidence). You do this by either standing like Super Woman (wide stance, hands on hips, shoulders back, chin up) or sitting in the CEO pose (lean back, weave your fingers together, cup your head with your interwoven hands). This is based on the research of Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy who shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

While holding the power pose, do three 7/11 breaths (inhale for 7 seconds/exhale for 11 seconds)

Next, think of 5 things for which you feel gratitude

Last, feel the sensation of loving someone or feeling that person's love for you for 10 seconds

2) Manage your own nervous system long term. This will benefit your practice and also your personal health! You can download an app on Google Play or iTunes called Stress less TRE for $9.99. TRE is a simple technique, developed by Dr. David Berceli, that uses exercises to release stress or tension from the body that accumulates from every day circumstances of life, from difficult situations, immediate or prolonged stressful situations, or traumatic life experiences. This app is designed to teach you more about TRE, take you through the exercises with step-by-step instructions, and provide you with tools to track your progress.

3) Once you are calm, safe and grounded you are in a better position to help your client. Here are some tips:

  • Get them talking. When people are in an irrational state, it will do no good to try to present your client with rational points, more spreadsheets and analytical reasons they should act on your plan. Stop and become curious about your client’s objections. When s/he uses verbal skills to identify her/his emotions and expresses them s/he will naturally begin to use more of his/her rational higher mind. (That’s why talking things out with your family and friends when they are upset works!)
  • Ask the question “What are you feeling?” (note, not “How are you feeling?”). Hopefully this will prompt the client to truly identify what s/he is feeling and be able to articulate it. For example: "Now that you have learned about Long Term Care insurance, what are you feeling?” Stop and wait for the response.
  • Use pauses throughout every meeting. Slow down. Do not rush. Keep your voice calm. Wait until your client speaks and do not fill in the silence.
  • If you become activated into fight or flight during the meeting, take a sip of water. Take a deep breath. Leave the room for a moment. Do not power through it. You will know this is happening if you feel like you want to escape the meeting, fight with the client or act anxious or pushy.

Working with irrational people starts with you! Develop the most grounded nervous system in the room and you will have the ability to lead courageous conversations, help guide people through their fears and to action that serves them well.