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The Emotional Homeowner 4: Dealing With Anger

How to turn a client’s upset into opportunity
By David Lupberger
October 22, 2010

In some kitchen and bath projects, homeowners will get angry. Sometimes you, the designer, are responsible for their upset, and sometimes homeowners just get fed up during the process and they take it out on you. Home improvement projects are a lot like life, which is full of surprises, some pleasant and some, well, not so much.

When homeowners vent their frustrations at you, especially if it’s over something that really isn’t your fault, it’s important to learn not to take it personally. You have to separate yourself from the drama unfolding before you. Step back and say, “This homeowner is going to be emotional at times. They may be even irrational.” Try to stay above the fray and to provide a calming influence.

Doing so will gain you points for maturity and control, and from that angle, emotional explosions—if properly dealt with—can be a blessing in disguise for you. Let me explain what I mean.


THE ZEN APPROACH

When homeowners explode, chances are they probably had a terrible day. And when they come home, they may be expecting to see evidence of the project having reached a different stage: A kitchen sink was supposed to be installed, the cabinet installation finished, or something else was supposed to happen. But when they walk in the door and their expectations aren’t met, suddenly all of the emotions of their day may transfer to you. Add to that the fact that you’ve already been in their house for several days or longer and they’re tired of it. As a result, they just unload. They walk up to you, call you a jerk or worse, or they start with a laundry list of the things that have been bugging them and building up slowly, most of which you may not have even heard before.

When homeowners unload like this—and usually the bigger the project, the more likely it is to happen—try this unique response: Don’t defend a thing. Don’t explain what happened. Just listen. When you don’t provide an upset homeowner with any resistance, they’re likely to run out of steam in 10 minutes or less.

This is what is meant by the “Zen approach” to dealing with their anger. Let the anger pass over you like a wave because, after that, it’s gone. Sometimes, when clients feel the need to vent, your home improvement project may just provide the opportunity to do so, whether it’s merited or not. By showing a willingness to listen, however, and by refraining from putting up any kind of fight, you’ll help diffuse the situation and your clients will eventually regain perspective and their composure—at which point, they may stop and say something like, “Look, I'm sorry. I just had a bad day. I know it wasn’t your fault.”


LET THEM OFF THE HOOK

After a brief calming down period, let them know that things like this happen and you’re not offended by it. You can tell them that getting upset during a home improvement project is not unusual. In other words, show some mercy. Let them off the hook and allow them to—as the Chinese would say—“save face.”

If you feel really bold, you may even add that the situation may happen again. Show empathy by letting them know that you understand there will be times when they resent your presence in their home. After all, they’ve packed up their clothes and can’t find the things they need. And living with perpetual dust in the house and not having a kitchen can be extremely trying for anyone, especially if they’ve had a bad day at work and they were hoping to find relief by coming home to their castle. Remember, for the time you’re in their home, it no longer serves as their retreat and a kitchen remodel can be a difficult process. Convey that you understand all of this.


BRASS TACKS

Upsets can provide opportunities for you to bond tightly with your clients. Such opportunities are infrequent, and helping them through a difficult period is certainly the fastest and, in the long run, the cheapest way to do so. When handled well, it can create a phenomenal relationship. You become family friends and you may even trade holiday cards. Even better, these same clients will provide you with a steady source of referrals for years to come.


—David Lupberger is ServiceMagic.com’s Home Improvement Expert. He draws on more than two decades of experience in the residential remodeling field, working with remodelers to develop proven business systems. More than 90 percent of Lupberger’s work came from repeat and referral business, demonstrating the trust he developed with clients. That experience led him to write a book called Managing the Emotional Homeowner, which has become one of the bibles of the remodeling industry. Lupberger’s “Ask Dave” column on Proconnection.ServiceMagic.com is a tremendous resource for professionals.


Missed the earlier installments? Read from the beginning:

The Emotional Homeowner

The Emotional Homeowner 2: Building Trust

The Emotional Homeowner 3: Communication

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