Three Ways to Handle an Angry Client

As a photographer, you’re in the business of making people look and feel their best. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to make every single client happy. You’re inevitably going to encounter an angry client at some point in your career. Learning how to either defuse or compromise in that situation can mean the difference between losing and keeping a client or even avoiding a lawsuit. Here are three steps every photographer should use in those situations.

1. Breathe. Don't take it personally.

I get it. You are a photographer. You are a creative. You are an artist. You are filled with emotion. That’s okay. No one is judging you. Regardless of if you consider yourself logical or emotional, most of us handle those situations in one of four ways:

  1. Flight: Avoid the situation.
  2. Fight: Take offense to the situation.
  3. Freeze: Become physically and mentally immobilized.
  4. Fawn: Take the abuse with a smile.

Those are the natural reactions to imminent threat and are deeply ingrained into our nervous system as human beings. These are our natural instincts of survival. Study physiology and you’ll learn a lot more about these traits. I digress.

The point of all this is that everyone handles stress differently. As a creative, your work is your livelihood. You depend on your creativity as a source of income, and it feels extremely precious. Because of this emotional attachment, criticism can feel like a blatant attack. More than likely, that's not the case. Take a moment to step back and look at it from an outside perspective: someone is hiring you to produce images, and at the end of the day, you're providing a service. When you start realizing this, criticism will start feeling less and less like a blatant attack on your art. It's not personal. It's simply business.

2. Listen and smile.

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't stand up for yourself and should take the abuse. On the contrary, I would prefer that everyone stand up for themselves and not get bulldozed by an angry client. Remember that like anyone else, most angry clients are simply trying to vent their frustrations. Often, people just want to know that their complaint is acknowledged, whether or not they are right or wrong.

Be patient, and don't interrupt. Interrupting an angry person will often make matters worse, because they feel like you're debating. Any contradiction of their beliefs expressed in a fit of anger will only add to their displeasure. Focus on listening and acknowledging their problem.

3. Discuss and solution, and correct the issue.

This is the most important part of diffusing any situation with an angry client. One small wrong step and things will get blown out of proportion again. The first thing you'll want to do is summarize their complaint so they're aware you understood their frustrations. Ask specific questions on what you can do to resolve the issue. Once you feel that you have acknowledge all of their concerns, find a way to rectify the issue and agree on a solution. Once you've agreed to the solution, commit to it!

While some of these steps seem awfully redundant, I find more and more photographers vocally voicing their frustrations with clients on social media. I do not agree with them openly voicing their drama; I would rather provide them with a rational solution. I also have had photographers email me, asking me how to handle irate clients who simply were unhappy with the results of the images and threatened with lawsuits. I see more and more of those situations every single day.

I also want everyone to know this: While you can make 99% of people happy in this world, there is still 1% of the population who are just beyond pleasing.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Jeff Rojas is an American photographer, author and educator based in New York City. His primary body of work includes portrait and fashion photography that has been published in both Elle and Esquire. Jeff also frequents as a photography instructor. His teaching experience includes platforms like CreativeLive, WPPI, the Photo Plus Expo, and APA.

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Funny you bring this up today. How would you handle this douche:

Did you watch the video for Tip Number 3? You cannot make everyone happy. lol

On that note, I think that the client arrived a little "under-educated." He seemed more frustrated with a lack of clarity than anything else, and I think communication was the key factor that contributed to the whole scenario.

This is why I educate my clients with articles like this....

How do you convince your clients to read an article like that? 3/4 of the time the people I work with don't even read the 1-2 paragraph instructions I give them before a shoot.

Great question! It's truly about how you direct them to the article. When someone inquires about my rates, I always advise of day rates / licensing fees... which inevitably sparks more questions on their part. I then kindly directly to the article as a way to "save them time."

Yea, I was just at that article. I hope the photographer had a contract that was signed by both parties. But the jerks initial statement "I called you and I did not receive an immediate response" raises a flag that this guy will be a jerk. What if the photographer was driving when taking the call and wasn't going to risk his safety by sending an email while driving?
The subject is now blowing smoke about how important he is by the number of deals that he's done.
I don't think anything could have been done in regards with this jerk.

"Learning how to either diffuse or compromise in that situation"...
Shouldn't that be "defuse"?

I mean... If you want to be all grammatically correct about it. :P

I'm kidding. Thank you. :)

Before I went pro, I was a translator, editor, rewriter & proofreader. Old habits die hard.

Lol honestly? I'm deeply appreciative of people who can fix grammatical errors. I'd rather spend my time getting my thoughts on paper. Hiring an editor is definitely on my to do list this year. :)