Dealing With Angry Citizens

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Some people are just plain angry. Fear of change as well as rumors, misunderstandings and outright lies can leave developers confronted by angry, distrusting residents who do not want to listen to anything you have to say. 

Usually, these situations can be avoided with proper planning and outreach but every developer will encounter angry citizens sometimes. Remember that in this digital age, mistakes, lies and unfulfilled promises made today will live forever and impact your credibility on every future project. 

Here are some basic rules to remember when you are alone on the front lines taking one for the team.


  1. Do not lose your temper!
  2. Always be attentive, sensitive and concerned. Listen carefully, and ask sympathetic questions.
  3. Never be sarcastic, arrogant, or dismissive — no matter how silly the complaint may seem to you.
  4. Explain clearly and patiently, in layman’s terms, why you have done things the way you have. This gives the citizen a chance to see that you’ve been reasonable and sensible in your design. If you did things a certain way in order to comply with the law or local bylaws, say so — and give the citizen a chance to speak in favor of your variance at the next hearing.
  5. Try to find out what it is they really want (which may have little to do with the stated complaint). Then, address that issue sympathetically and reasonably.
  6. Offer a reasonable, sensible, fair solution — and then ask the complaining party to agree that it’s fair. Once he agrees, he’s happy. If he doesn’t agree, ask him what he thinks would be more reasonable and fair.
  7. Always be ready to compromise — but also explain clearly the downside of the compromise: “Yes, we can close at 11 p.m., but many young parents and people who work at night have asked that our stores be open 24 hours, so they can pick up baby formula and diapers, for example. Is there some way we could stay open, to be fair to them, and still address your concerns? Maybe if we turned off the parking lot lights nearest your house after 11 p.m., you’d have less concern with glare. Do you think that might work?”
  8. Keep your promises — on time, in full, without fail.
  9. Don’t be sneaky, underhanded, or duplicitous with citizens or neighbors.
  10. Always observe the utmost courtesy, and always thank the citizens and neighbors for their input. 

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