Handling (Negative) Client Feedback (ep. 29)

Episode 29: Handling (Negative) Client Feedback

Feedback is welcome – when it’s positive. But as you scale your business, some negative client feedback is almost inevitable. In this powerful episode, Pamela walks you through knowing how to navigate that situation with skill and calm, so both you and the client are well-served.

In this episode, you will:

  • Discover the 3-step process for handling feedback with grace and ease.
  • Learn the #1 thing to do FIRST whenever you get feedback from a client.
  • Identify the ‘hidden request’ under most client feedback.

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Timecode Guide:

02:22: Discover the 3-step process for handling feedback with grace and ease.
10:18: What’s the #1 thing to do first when you get feedback from a client?
12:27: Let’s talk about the hidden request under most client feedback, and uncover the meaning of an “unanswerable question.”

Resources Mentioned

Want to know more about how to attract your ideal clients online? We’d love to chat! Grab a Breakthrough Session with one of my coaches to learn how to create real impact and income online.

Podcast Transcription

Episode 29: Handling (Negative) Client Feedback


Intro (00:00):
You’re listening to ‘A Profitable Impact.’

Pamela (00:02):
Some negative client feedback is almost inevitable as you grow your business. So knowing how to walk through and navigate that situation with skill and calm, and grace and ease so you and your clients are well-served – that can be tricky.

Gene (00:16):
Welcome to ‘A Profitable Impact,’ where every single week we help experts like coaches, healers, course creators, and other online professionals to expand their reach, increase their impact in the world, and be well-paid for their extraordinary skills and talents. My name is Gene Monterastelli, and I am the lead coach in Pamela Bruner’s Impact Accelerator coaching program. And now, please welcome my friend, my colleague, and the CEO of Attract Clients Online, Pamela Bruner. How are you doing today, Pamela?

Pamela (00:42):
I’m doing great! But we are handling a tough conversation today. And yet, it’s such an important conversation because it’s all about how to handle negative client feedback.

Gene (00:53):
Yeah, these conversations are so tricky simply because we are dealing with the person who is in front of us, but we’re also dealing with our entire business at the exact same time for how we move forward. It’s great that people want to give us feedback, we just want to make sure we’re getting it in a helpful way.

Pamela (01:07):
Exactly. Usually, we think of feedback as welcome – when it’s positive. But as you scale your business, some negative client feedback is almost inevitable. And so, we’re going to walk you through knowing how to navigate that situation with skill and calm so you and your client are well-served. And today, we’re going to talk about a simple but effective three-step process for handling feedback with grace and ease, and the number one thing you need to do first when you get feedback (especially negative feedback) from a client, and how to identify the hidden request that’s under most client feedback. And when you understand this, responding to the feedback in a powerful way is so much easier.

Gene (01:51):
As you listen to our conversation today, and as you recognize places in your business that you might not be comfortable managing just quite yet, we would love to be able to help you to do that in a more successful way. And to do that, we’d love for you to have a free conversation with one of our coaches. All you need to do is go to BookMyBreakthroughCall.com, that’s BookMyBreakthroughCall.com. Get on the calendar of one of our coaches. We’d love to help you out as you are continuing to grow and expand your business.


How to Handle Feedback

Step 1: Deal with the Defensive Reaction

Pamela (02:22):
Let’s talk about this three-step process for handling feedback with grace and ease. The first thing to do when you get any kind of negative feedback. If somebody says, “I didn’t like this coaching session,” “I don’t like your system,” “I think you want to change X, Y, Z about what you do,” it’s very natural to feel defensive, possibly angry, possibly just hurt or ashamed. And the first thing you want to do is deal with that defensive reaction. Because whether the feedback is on the mark and helpful or it’s coming from a place that we’re not really to serve the client in that way, or the feedback is unhelpful or it’s not accurate. Either way, we need to address our own reactions. So, tapping is our favorite emotional regulation modality – that’s quite a mouthful. Whether it’s calm breathing, whether it’s meditation, whatever technique you use, you want to be able to take the sting out of that feedback to be able to deal rationally with responding to the person. So, be aware of your own triggers, as well. Do you have triggers around a service, or project, or something like that?

Gene (03:37):
And so for me, when I’m kind of investigating those triggers and I’m trying to deescalate before I figure out how I’m going to respond, and if I’m going to respond, I ask myself a question. I’m going to assume for the moment that the feedback that they are giving me is true, and then I then asked myself the question, “Why is it hurtful for something like that to be true?” Because when someone makes an accusation against me, my emotional response is as if it is true. And this gives me an opportunity to kind of figure out what is that thing that is underneath and why am I taking this beyond just someone critiquing my work so personally, as I’m getting into a place that is super, super emotional.

Pamela (04:18):
Such a great question to ask yourself: “If this were true, what would be uncomfortable about this?” Or, “if this were true, why is it hurtful?” I love that.

Step 2: Write Down the Facts

Pamela (04:27):
So once you’ve dealt with the emotional charge around this and you feel calmer about it, then I’m going to suggest that you write out (step two), write out what they are factually saying without the emotion involved. So they may say something like, “you know, I felt really hurt when you X.” And what that means is that X is the only important part of that for now. So if they say, “I believe that you should give me a couple of extra coaching sessions,” or “I believe that this part of the work wasn’t clear,” or something like that, you sit down and write, “they want two extra coaching sessions,” “they believe X, Y, Z isn’t clear.” And so you’re separating any of the emotion in their writing from the actual facts of what they’re requesting or what they’re complaining about.

Gene (05:18):
One time I was going through this exact process, Pamela. I received a piece of feedback where a client of mine had said that because she had heard pieces of ice clinking in my glass when I was taking a drink while she was saying something that it was clear and obvious that I was not paying attention to her and I was completely distracted in that particular moment. The circumstance of that particular call was I was working in an environment where it was 104 degrees outside, I had a really loud air conditioning system, I’d turned off the air conditioning system, and I was literally just sitting here in my shorts so I could be fully present to her, and that’s why I was drinking ice water. But by being able to look at factually what was going, it gave me the opportunity to understand where they were coming from so I could respond to that, but also could figure out why I was so emotionally triggered because I could see, well, this is what they are stating, and this is how far it is off from what is actually going on in reality.

Pamela (06:13):
One of the nice things about these first two steps, dealing with the defensive reaction and then writing out what they’re factually saying, is that I find that when those two things go together, you can end up with a lot of compassion. And I’m fond of saying to my team, and they’ll be surprised, you know, we get complaints very, very seldom, but occasionally if we get feedback like this, they’ll say, “Well, I can’t believe that this person said that,” and I’m like, “You know what? I remember 10 years ago when I was coaching with somebody, I felt this way too.” So often, I think if our triggers are down and we’re really just writing out what they’re factually saying and separating it from the emotion behind it, we can have some compassion about where they’re coming from.

Step 3: Vet the Request

Pamela (06:56):
The third step is vetting the request. So how many people are making these requests? I love your question, Gene, that you always ask when you say, “what is the sample size?” So if you’ve had 10 or 20 clients go through your system and one of them said something, that’s very different than, “I’ve had three clients go through my system and two of them said the same thing.” So, how many people are making these requests, out of how many? And that is vetting the request based on the idea of, “is it a request that I hear a lot?” “Is it something that might be a systemic problem of my work in some way?

Pamela (07:34):
The other way to vet is by what you know. So for example, last podcast, we talked about the difference between one-on-one and group coaching, and I’m actually a big believer in both. I think one-on-one can be very valuable, I think group coaching can actually be more valuable than one-on-one in many cases, depending on what you’re teaching or helping people with, because the people in the group learn from each other, which can’t happen in one-on-one. So if somebody says, “Well, I don’t like group coaching at all,” I will often push back on that in terms of feedback, or in terms of talking to them about how they might learn or how they might transform, because group coaching is so valuable in a group. So if somebody says, “group coaching is terrible, this ought to be one-on-one,” if you know your work, vet against what you know. And know that there will always be people who want something more or something different than what you are offering. And that doesn’t mean that what you’re offering is wrong, and it doesn’t mean that you have to change your system or your offer, but it is something to just consider.

Gene (08:40):
And I think it’s also important when we’re doing that vetting piece, that there’s, I guess, three lenses that I look through, or three types of things that can come up when I’m vetting something. The first piece of feedback is feedback that as I’m vetting it, I recognize that it’s not a valid piece of feedback either because of sample size or what is going on. I one time had a client complained to me that I had frozen her pipes in her apartment because of the nature of the work we were doing. That was an actual complaint that I received from a client. Obviously, that was a pretty easy one to vet and go, “Oh, Nope, that is not it.”

Gene (09:14):
Another way that we’re vetting it is sometimes you’re making a request for something that is outside of the scope of what we are doing, and we need to, re-establish the scope. Inside of the program that I work inside for you, Pamela, one time we had a client get on the line and go, “Gene, I want to work on my love life, and we need to do some tapping about that particular thing, and I think the program should be helping me in that way,” and I’m like, “Well, that’s outside of the scope of what we’re doing.” So the complaint was a scope issue. And then the third time as we’re vetting the feedback, sometimes it’s good feedback that is hard for us to hear. I had a client of mine recently who’s like, “Well, you keep sharing the basics with me and I already know the basics. I don’t think we’re using our time very well.” And when I heard that it was hard to hear because I might not have been doing the best job possible, but because the nature of that sophisticated client, it was actually a really good piece of feedback. And so looking through the lens of, as we’re vetting the feedback seeing, “Is it valid? Is it true? Is it inside of the scope of what we’re offering?” is going to help us as we figure out as we move into these next steps of being able to respond appropriately.

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What To Do First-Thing with Client Feedback

Pamela (10:18):
What is the number one thing to do first when you get feedback from a client? Well, I said, “deal with your own defensive reaction.” But one of the things that I think is helpful is to buy yourself a little bit of time, whether you have dealt with your defensive action or not. Because most of this feedback comes via email and that’s great, or it comes via a voicemail message or something like that. And so you’re going to respond in a way that does not put you in a conversation with a client, and I believe you should acknowledge the communication, but not the request and not the emotion.

Pamela (10:56):
So one way to do that is to say something like, “I’ve received your communication and I’m taking time to give it a thoughtful response,” which doesn’t put them in the wrong. It doesn’t put you in the wrong. It doesn’t say that you’re going to give in to their request, or that it’s a good or bad request, or anything. It just says, “I’ve received your communication. I’m taking time to give it a thoughtful response.” And usually, an acknowledgment like that will buy you, I would say, at least 24 to 48 hours, plenty of time to deal with your defensive reaction and to go through these exercises that we’ve talked about with writing down what they’re saying and vetting what you know, and that kind of thing.

Gene (11:35):
In addition to validating that they have been heard, which I think does all the good things that you just said, I have also found in a couple of circumstances when I’ve responded in that exact way very quickly I hear a response from that going, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I was really caught up in the moment, and some of my feedback and criticism was not fair.” And if I would have come back very quickly and maybe even come back hot emotionally, I would have escalated something. But by acknowledging that they were heard and saying, “Great, I want to think about this,” in subliminal ways and giving them the opportunity to think about it as well. And in some circumstances, even before we get a chance to give some feedback and some response to it, they go, “Oh yeah, you’re right. I should be thinking about it this way,” even though I haven’t said anything, but their process of evaluating it more transformed the way they want to respond.

Hidden Requests in Client Feedback

Pamela (12:27):
So now let’s talk about the hidden request under most client feedback because one of the things that we teach from a mindset standpoint is what I call the “unanswerable question.” And the unanswerable question is usually, “Am I lovable?” “Am I good enough?” Or, “am I safe?” And this is an unanswerable question because it can only be answered within a human being. It can not be answered from an outside practitioner. Yes, I can tell a client they’re good enough. I can tell them they’re lovable. I can tell them they’re safe, and it will not sink in unless they do the work to get the answer to that question.

Pamela (13:05):
And so, a lot of client feedback has some kind of hidden request under it. They may have a request that’s, “I want to feel taken care of.” I remember many, many, many years ago I had a high-level client who was furious that I had not read her multi-hundred-page book in a week when we started working together. And she said that was completely out of line, and I should have read it, and demanded her money back, which I very happily gave because it was part of her underlying, “I want to feel safe. I want to feel like you’re taking care of me. I want to feel like you’re going to go above and beyond,” and that kind of question you can’t answer.
So, one of the quotes that I have down here (and I’m not suggesting necessarily that you say this, this will resonate for some people, not for others) is, “I’m offering results, not therapy or friendship.” And that’s a great thing if you’re a coach or healer or something like that, to say that.

Pamela (14:09):
So client feedback is often, not always, but often, at least partially seated in some kind of fear. And it may be a fear that I won’t get taken care of. It may be a fear of time. I won’t have enough time. We’re wasting time. We’re not getting it done. I’m not going to get the result.
So if you perceive in that request that there’s some kind of fear, especially a fear of not getting the result or not getting it in time, then just note that as you’re considering how to respond. Remind the person who’s worried that the time and structure that you have is there to help them move forward. So, you want to serve them, your overall goal is to help them, and part of this is having a commitment to work on this and a time structure to help them uphold the commitment they’re making, not just to you, but to themselves. So if their comments or anything about the time or the structure or something like that, say, “I’ve structured this to support you,” and that’s a bit of the sort of trust-the-process conversation.

Pamela (15:10):
And also with your program or service, if they feel like it doesn’t have all the components they need or something like that, it’s not a library and it’s not training for a rainy day. So this is a conversation to have about empowering them. Do you give them enough tools to do the work, but not so much that you are doing the work for them? And I’m speaking in this point directly to transformational entrepreneurs because I really believe that you empower people to transform rather than there’s something you do that just does the transformation for them. And you always have the ability to give more time. So look at, “is there a fear under the client feedback?” “Is there some kind of need that needs to be met within them, but it’s not going to be met within your program?”

Pamela (16:04):
You know, I have a couple of clients actually who do work on infertility. And I said for those clients, probably the unanswerable question is, “When will I have my baby?” That’s not a question that anyone can answer, so it’s an unanswerable question in their feedback request. Or if you help people find their soulmate, an unanswerable question is, “When will I be partnered with someone?” That is not a question you can answer as someone who helps people with relationships. So look for those kinds of unanswerable questions underneath the feedback.

Gene (16:34):
And inside of that, I don’t know if it’s like the flip-side of fear or it’s another articulation of fear, but anytime I have someone who is passionately responding to the way that the program is going, part of that is rooted in how desperately they want the outcome of the work that we’re doing. And it might be a fear of missing out on that or a longing and a desperation to have it faster, and that’s the reason why they’re responding in the way that they are. And so, when I’m engaging with people in this particular level, sometimes I’m going to affirm the fact that like, “I really appreciate that you want this to work out. I know from the conversations we had, as you were enrolling in this program, why this is so important to you and when results are not coming as fast as we’d like, it makes a lot of sense that there is a sense of impatience and desperation that comes from that because this is something that I know you want at the core of who you are.” And so by acknowledging in some capacity where they are coming from sometimes can make these conversations easier to have.

Pamela (17:35):
Yeah. Great point. So, in summary, respond to and acknowledge the communication, deal with your own defensiveness, sort out factually what they’re looking for, and then look to vet the request, and look underneath for a hidden request in the client feedback.


Gene (17:56):
So as we are working with more and more clients and we start to get client feedback like this, it’s just one of the many growing pains that we go through as our businesses continue to grow and expand.
If you were in a circumstance where you’d like to be able to move through these growing pains in a more graceful, faster way, so you can have the success that you’d like, we’d love for you to have a free conversation with one of our coaches to help you to do exactly that. All you need to do is go to BookMyBreakthroughCall.com, that’s BookMyBreakthroughCall.com. Get on the calendar, so you can have one of those free conversations with one of our coaches so that you really can make the impact that you want with the business that you are running and you are creating.

Gene (18:35):
If you enjoyed the conversation we had today, we’d really encourage you to pass it along to a friend. Help someone else out who is in a circumstance where their business is continuing to grow and they’re bumping into new challenges.
If you have a question, a comment, or a topic that you’d like us to cover on a future episode, please, please, please reach out. All you need to do is go to AttractClientsOnline.com, click on that ‘Contact’ link. In the message, just put that it is a question for the podcast so we can get to that at some point in the future.

If you have not done so already, you can Subscribe to ‘A Profitable Impact’ everywhere you get audio, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music. All you need to do is search ‘A Profitable Impact,’ click ‘Follow,’ click ‘Subscribe,’ and make sure you turn on those Notifications so when a new episode comes out, you’re notified right away.

For ‘A Profitable Impact,’ I am Gene Monterastelli. Until next time, I hope you have an impactful week.


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