Some very sound advice by my friend Adam Sargant. The article is about 15 years old but still entirely relevant. Adam has a background in mental health nursing, then hypnotherapy, and is now a storyteller by vocation.
For many years I worked as a nurse looking after mentally disordered criminal offenders. Frequently, this meant dealing with people that, for one reason or another, were angry. Just as frequently, these were people who wouldn’t hold back on expressing their anger.
I trained to become what was called a Control and Restraint Instructor. This involved physically restraining a violent individual. I did not train because I enjoyed a macho power relationship, but because I hated it. If I did have to restrain, I wanted to know I could do it well.
I became interested in the different rates of restraint different people got involved in. I can say with pride that out of many confrontational situation over seven years, only 3 required restraint… I’ve met nursing colleagues who will notch that up in a week. As I started to do more training focussed on the interpersonal aspects of managing anger, I started to clarify what I believed were the essential aspects of communicating succesfully with an angry person.
I publish them here because I believe they apply to any walk of lfe, including dealing with customers or clients. Hopefully, you won’t be in a position where you need to consider restraining your clients, but just think about it… a dissatisfied client who has been turned around may well then go on to become your greatest testimonial!
So.. Adam’s 7 rules for dealing with the aggressive or angry client:)
1. Be clear about what you want to achieve. It is unlikely to be enough just to want to be rid of the angry customer (although this can be a natural response). It is usually more satisfactory (and satisfying) to set out to have the other person satisfied that their complaint has been dealt with in the best possible way.
2. Never, ever promise what you can’t deliver. It may make them feel better now, but tomorrow…
3. DO take responsibility for what you can. There is nothing more irritating than someone who says “There is nothing I can do about that… it’s company policy”
4. Validate the customer’s feelings. In their world, they have every reason to be angry. It’s OK to tell them that you can understand why they might be angry, as long as you are seen to be seeking a solution.
5. DO get as much specific information about the customer’s perception of the problem as possible. Not only does this communicate interest, it will help you in resolving the problem in a manner satisfactory to the customer.
6. Stay calm and focused on the desire to resolve the customer’s problem. When confronted with anger and aggression, the normal response is to prepare for fight or flight by producing adrenalin. If you have to, pause and take a slow breath. Do not allow the customer’s anger to provoke you.
7. If you have time (e.g. between taking and returning a call), there is a valuable exercise that is useful in all sorts of conflict situations.
a) Take stock of yourself. In your imagination, put yourself in the confrontational situation, and simply notice what it is that you are feeling, experiencing and thinking.
b) Put yourself in the other persons shoes. Imagine yourself seeing through their eyes, feeling their feelings, and if it is a face to face confrontation, see yourself as they would see you, hear yourself as they would hear you.
c) Step out and step back. See the whole interaction with the both of you present. Observe this as an impartial observer, with the scene at eye level in your mind’s eye. If you feel emotional at this stage, simply imagine “switching” that emotion into the body of the person it would be most appropriate for.
d) And come back. The valuable thing about this exercise is that it enriches your understanding of the communication between you, giving you greater choice and greater objectivity, while allowing you the opportunity to empathise with someone in a situation where empathy could otherwise be difficult.