Honestly, you'd like to beat the other person over the head with your briefcase.
Possibly, you walk out with a sliver of dignity, promising yourself you will never put up with that sort of abuse again.
Actually, you force a smile, avoid eye contact and tell the client, through gritted teeth, that you look forward to getting their feedback.
Ideally, you detach for a moment, taking in the measure of the man, smile graciously, extending your hand and saying you'll be interested to see how things progress. You walk out feeling that you have demonstrated grace under pressure, maintaining your dignity and your status.
I do a lot of work around status and how it impacts our interactions in the workplace and recently had the pleasure of reconnecting with a client, now based in China, for whom I had worked when she was heading up Leadership and Development at one of Hong Kong's busiest hotels.
She and her GM were concerned by high staff turnover and the low satisfaction results coming out of the hotel's most recent employee survey. "Our staff, particularly those working on the front desk, is under extreme pressure," they told me. "This is a busy hotel with very demanding guests and we would really like to provide our people with something that will help them cope with the stress and build their self confidence."
My sense was that a lot of the problems had to do with the employees' perception of their status. There is a natural pecking order in any group of people and it doesn't necessarily have to do with their position or title, it has to do with their attitude towards the other characters. Confusion around status is the source of many problems. In theatre, for example, we often find that when a scene isn't playing truthfully in rehearsals, it is because the status relationships between the characters have not been defined for the actors.
You have to begin with some kind of understanding of what status actually means. In my work, I define person's status as his or her estimation of self worth rather than the estimation placed on that person by others. It is a personal and internal judgment and as such is completely-self controlled — nobody can 'make' you feel unimportant. They can certainly 'act' in ways that are either consciously or unconsciously designed to 'raise' their own status but only you can lower your own status.
I applied this definition in a series of improv game sessions including Augusto Boal's "Colombian Hypnosis" and the old standby, "Please the Queen." After playing the games, we discussed how we could take what we learned from them and apply in practical situations in the workplace.
The idea that took hold with this group was the notion that only high status players were able to 'pardon' another person's rudeness. In role-play with actors who performed as rude, unreasonable guests, we found that once participants identified that the other person was behaving badly and then silently, internally chose to pardon the person for their rudeness, they were not only able to comfortably deal with the situation but found they came away feeling rather proud of themselves for way they had handled it.
To give this idea a concrete form, the participants laminated and put on the front desk (where only the staff could see it) a little sign that simply read: I forgive you.