The difference between responding and reacting to angry customers

Angry Reaction

Angry ReactionMost of us have experienced somebody behaving badly towards us – perhaps someone unpleasant in our personal lives or for those of us who run businesses, an irate or irrational client in our business lives.

Only recently I spoke to one of my clients – an IT business owner – who called me to share a customer issue he was experiencing. He shared with me that one of his customers had spoken to him in a totally unprofessional and frankly unpleasant way over what amounted to a trivial matter. He described how this person had talked down to him, used profanity and shouted. In his own words, my client also shared how he had “bitten his tongue” and let this person vent his anger before taking a moments pause and then talking to him calmly and professionally to resolve the immediate situation the client was upset about.

In short, despite the unpleasant way in which he had been spoken to – he had chosen to respond to his customer professionally, rather than simply react to their unprofessional attack.

Responding vs Reacting

In the fact of such unpleasant abuse from his customer, I don’t think anybody would have blamed my client for reacting. When somebody shouts at us or behaves unpleasantly, most of us do react – it’s our natural instinct to defend ourselves.

But reacting to someone in this way often leads to the situation becoming even worse. Tempers are flared. Voices are raised and the situation can go from bad to worse very quickly as each party reacts to the other.

Reactions of this nature – giving “as good as you get” – are based on emotions.

Responding, on the other hand, is based on logic, not emotions. It might mean you take a deep breath and putting your own ego to one side to help the person in front of you. It might mean you take time before responding to an angry email, or it may mean you ask for advice and a third party perspective before responding to someone behaving unprofessionally.

Practice responding instead of reacting

Professional BusinessmanBy taking a deep breath and calmly responding to a difficult situation rather than reacting, you’ll have more control over the situation and how you handle it. It’s rare to find an unpleasant situation in which your emotional reaction yields better results than a logical response. When dealing with customers, this is nearly always the best course of action.

I don’t pretend that it isn’t difficult to respond rather than react. I make the mistake of reacting rather than responding a lot – and I’m consciously trying! Most people aren’t even aware they are responding rather than reacting.

One good way I’ve found to practice is to check your responses whenever you receive bad service when you go shopping, or find yourself speaking to disinterested or uncooperative “customer service” person on the telephone. Most of us are used to poor service in these situations and so we “react” accordingly, speaking down to the person or making threats. The result? The person we’re speaking to, in turn, reacts and are even less likely to share with us the result we desire. Both parties lose.

In these situations, I practice responding rather than reacting. Sometimes it works and I win the other person around to a win-win situation. But even if it doesn’t work, I go away feeling better for keeping my emotions in check rather than reacting and making the situation worse.


When faced with a difficult or unpleasant situation, a knee-jerk reaction is based upon your emotions – and this often leads to the situation getting worse. In situations where one person reacts to another, quite often nobody wins.

However, taking a deep breath and responding to the situation calmly and logically gives you the best possible chance of resolving the situation properly. I’m not just talking win-win situations here, but holding your head high and acting professionally even when others are not.

It’s always worth remembering that while people around us may act unprofessionally, or even downright nastily, we personally have a choice on whether we react or respond to them.


photo credit: HeyThereSpaceman. via photopin cc
photo credit: reynermedia via photopin cc


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