- When facing a ‘difficult’ client, consider the underlying reality motivating the observed behaviour—emotional and psychosocial challenges, feeling invisible or unheard, and pain or other physical effects of the illness.
- As you re-frame the ‘difficult’ behaviour, you may uncover unexpressed ways to support your client as a healthcare professional. Understand that your clients are very courageous in reaching out for help.
- These realities can never be an excuse for any type of aggressive behaviours, verbal or physical.
Difficult clients can present themselves in many different ways—screaming, answering in short replies, consistently not showing up, etc. And, at times, difficult clients are simply not a good client fit for your company—values are unaligned, expectations surpass current mandates, etc.
The challenges associated with these customers often results in various impacts on the professionals they interact with. The most common impacts include heightened stress levels, higher demands on professionals, accelerated burnout rates, and wasted productivity time. Dealing with a client who is deemed ‘difficult’ has negative impacts on employees, teams, workplaces, as well as society as a whole.
Three Important Client Realities to Keep in Mind
Before labelling a client as ‘difficult,’ you may want to consider what motivates the behaviours they have adopted. The stories hidden behind the anger, sadness, indifference or any other difficult emotions may help you support your client.
Anxiety, fear and other mental health challenges. When facing life with a chronic or life-limiting illness, many emotions swirl up. Some clients note increased levels of fear, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health challenges. In living with uncertainly and trauma, different emotions surface and may make daily living challenging.
The emotional and psychosocial impacts of the illness are certainly considerable. Nevertheless, we often classify the reactions to these impacts (distress, anger, etc.) as ‘uncooperative’ or overly emotional. When facing a client who is experiencing emotional or mental health challenges, there may be an opportunity to offer some assistance. It may be appropriate to suggest psychosocial supports to your client.
Feeling invisible and unheard. The second reality to consider is the loneliness, physical or not, of individuals living with chronic or life-limiting illness. Ultimately, an illness can create extra barriers for individuals to feel heard and valued socially. At times, this causes mistrust in others. As trust is a requirement of any personal or professional relationships, interactions with healthcare professionals can then suffer.
To a healthcare professional, a client who is feeling invisible or unheard can appear to be combative, aggressive, frustrated or mad. If this is the case for one of your clients, you may be faced with an opportunity to learn from your client about the reality they face. As you client feels alone and unheard, give them the opportunity to listen before taking any sort of action.
Pain and other physical challenges. There are simply no words to describe the physical exhaustion experienced by individuals living with chronic or life-limiting illnesses. Even on a ‘good’ health day, these individuals may be uncomfortable.
This reality leads to limited energy reserves when dealing with interactions. Within these interactions, individuals may be viewed as unresponsive or, on the other end of the spectrum, obsessive. When meeting with a client who is having a difficult time interacting due to physical discomforts, take the opportunity to manage their side effects to increase their overall quality of life.
These realities can never be an excuse for any type of aggressive behaviours, verbal or physical. For clients who engage in unacceptable behaviours, it is important to set clear boundaries and expectations. If you are unable to manage the situation by yourself, enlist the support of a colleague or supervisor, a professional college or any other individual or entity with authority.
Recognizing the Courage of Clients
Having a chronic or life-limiting illness is certainly not easy. The various impacts of both the mental and physical strains of illness on an individual are difficult to manage and often add to the challenges associated with day-to-day activities.
It takes a lot of courage to show up when you face an illness. Nevertheless, we rarely notice the courage it takes to maintain some sort of normalcy in one’s life and care for yourself.
Next time your client shows up despite difficult circumstances, take a moment to recognize the effort it may have taken them to be present. Learn to appreciate the vulnerability associated with asking for help from a healthcare professional.
In doing this, you may come to understand that behind the ‘difficult’ client is an individual who is tired and, possibly lonely. In recognizing and acknowledging the courage it took for the individual to show up and advocate from themselves, you may have just unlocked the key to dealing with these ‘difficult’ clients.