by Jacques Werth
Many years ago I operated a company that waterproofed just about any sort of structure, including residential basements. Every time there was a heavy rain storm, about three percent of the jobs we did leaked. We stood by our guarantee, which means that we fixed these leaks as quickly as possible at no charge.
However, the leaks tended to all happen at once, which made it difficult to get them all fixed as quickly as some of our customers wanted. A few of our customers were very upset about this. I told my staff to send those people to me.
One day I heard a very loud bang and angry shouting coming from the front office. I went out to see. There was a large man holding a baseball bat high over his head in one hand. He looked and sounded enraged, irrational, and dangerous. Several of the office staff were cowering along one wall.
He shouted, “I said I want your repair crew out at my house today!” Then he added some mean threats and fowl language, followed by, “And I mean today!”
As I approached him he turned to me and yelled, “Are you the boss?” He was still holding the bat.
I looked him in the eyes and said in a conversational manner, “You seem very upset.”
“You’re damned right I’m upset. You people took my money to waterproof my basement and now it’s flooded and it’s going to ruin my carpets and paneling. I called to tell you to come out immediately and fix it. So you &%##*s tell me I have to wait four days. I want it fixed now, today!” With that he slammed the baseball bat down hard on one of the desktops, and then I knew what caused the bang I had heard.
I calmly said, “You still seem very upset.”
“Wouldn’t you be upset if you woke up to a flood in your basement?” he shouted, a little less loudly.
“You still seem upset,” I said.
“I wouldn’t be so upset if you just did what I wanted,” he said. He said this with a much calmer demeanor.
“Are you ready to talk to me in a cooperative manner?” I asked.
He let out a sigh, visibly relaxed, and said, “Yes.” I could see that his voice and manner were almost normal.
“The first thing you need to do is put that bat in your car. Then come right back here and you will have my full attention. We will go into my office and take care of this.”
When he returned, he apologized to everyone there. Then we had a productive conversation in my office, with an outcome that was satisfactory to both of us.
Situations involving angry people are a normal part of doing business, and of life. Most of the time, they are not as serious as the one in this story. Here are some key pointers about how to react.
- Listen to the angry invective, threats, and verbal abuse. Make sure all of your attention is focused on listening, and don’t get distracted. Do not avoid eye contact.
- Do not attempt to discuss the issues that the person is angry about until after they have completely finished expressing their anger and are calm.
- Do not react in anger, or with any other emotion.
- Wait for a pause and then say, “You seem very upset.” Say this as an impersonal observation, in a totally neutral manner, with no hint of judgment. Pay careful attention to your inflection, your tone of voice, and your body language.
- It is very important that you only talk about seeming upset. Never mention the word “anger”. Never even hint that you think the person is angry.
- Most will reply with something like, “You’re damned right I’m upset!”
- You will probably hear more angry language, but with less energy and a less threatening tone.
- Say, “You still seem upset.” Say it in the same calm, neutral, observational manner. If the signs of anger have not lessened at all, then say “You still seem very upset.”
- It may take several cycles, where the person expresses their anger and you say that they still seem upset, before they calm down. Having someone listen to their anger and acknowledge it in a calm manner is calming.
- Do not talk about anger. The person will often deny that they were angry, but just wanted to make sure you knew they were upset.
Note – This article was recently published at Ezine.com