How to Have Calming Conversations With Upset Clients In This Pandemic

The coronavirus-related market turbulence is making a lot of clients nervous.

Some are probably calling you demanding answers. Some are highly emotional and the incoming intensity feels intimidating. You didn’t sign up to be a therapist. But you have to do something, say something to try to calm them down. But what? You don’t want to blow it. You don’t want to feel helpless, not knowing how to respond. If this kind of highly emotional stuff is not exactly in your lane, a few tips about what works and doesn’t work are in order.

Here at, we are fortunate to have an experienced psychologist and a nurse-attorney to offer you some guidance. What to do with very emotional clients is definitely in our wheelhouse. Imagine this: the client who is sometimes a problem anyway calls you in a frantic voice. He’s, well, freaking out. Your default setting is to start giving him a logical explanation of the facts. He gets even more emotional when you do that. You feel bad. He hangs up in a huff. Has he lost trust in you over something that’s not your fault? Here is an important thing to understand about those very emotional folks who call you and blast you with it: logic at that moment is lost. Fear makes people go to the automatic “reptile brain” response to fight or flee. At that point, reasonable explanations are useless because the client can’t take them in.

What are you to do?

First, listen. Listen without interrupting, with your undivided attention. Speak slowly. Repeat what the client has just said. It sounds like this: “Jack, I hear you saying you think you’re going to lose all your retirement investments and you feel pressure. Did I get that right?” Then you might ask Jack if there is anything else going on right now. Maybe he’ll tell you some of the other things he’s worried about. As he does, you do the same thing, which is to keep listening. The fact that you heard him and communicated that actually has a calming effect. It works. There are a lot of things that are fine at other times that don’t work in this highly tense time of uncertainty. One example, related to logical explanations, is to get out the graphs and charts and attempt to show the client how markets historically have recovered. This can only be effective with some clients, likely those who respond to reason and history lessons. For the ones who are being irrational, that is not an approach that works, at least initially.

Getting the client calm with the way you offer reassurance and emotional support must happen first. Getting to the next point, which may take more than one conversation, you can ask “Jack, can I show you some things about how markets have recovered after multiple crises, over many decades in the past?” If he’s willing, go ahead. If he’s in no mood for a history lesson, save it. You will probably be able to do that later. Learning the art of (virtual) hand-holding is not so complex that you can’t pick up the basics fairly quickly. For most people with your job, these techniques do not come naturally. They are not part of an advisor’s training.­ You can avoid mistakes and making clients even more upset when you know the right approach.

Here’s some practical help we offer a 22 minute tutorial to guide you on what to say or not say. You can get it here, anytime. We cover the Five Do’s and Five Don’ts for dealing with those highly emotional folks you may encounter in this time of crisis. There is a bonus with it: a quick 10 point summary, you can keep for reference and reminders.  You will soon have the skills you need so you can have those calming conversations. CLICK HERE now.

If you have a particularly difficult client you don’t want to lose, and you need some private individual guidance so you can deal with it skillfully, you can get that at too. Your own confidential advice session with us will get you through it smoothly and smartly.

Related: What, Exactly Does "Undue Influence"​ Mean?