No one in the coffee shop could doubt that the fellow in the three-piece suit was having a bad day after hearing him berate the barista for the poor quality of the crema on his espresso. Then it got really outrageous when the barista slammed him back. Had both individuals been a little more self-aware, this public ugliness could have been avoided.
Customers, co-workers, and bosses can, and will, be angry, demanding, rude and short-tempered. (Hopefully, not all the time!) Yet giving in to the urge to respond in kind results in a battle of wills that goes nowhere – fast.
So what should a hard-working guy or gal do when faced with these situations?
5 Ways to Defuse Unruly Others (and Yourself, too)
Recognize but don’t respond to the anger. Seth Godin offers some great advice. “Acknowledge the anger. You don’t have to agree with it, but in order to have a chance at making it go away, you need to empathize with the person’s anger. You cannot negotiate with an angry person.”
Manage your response. The Mayo Clinic suggests taking ”a break from the person you’re angry with until your frustrations subside a bit.” Go to that happy little place in your mind for a moment. (I have a friend who pictures cuddly puppies when dealing with irate customers.) Walk away. Ask a colleague to finish the transaction especially if you’re at the breaking point.
Don’t fan the flames. If leaving the situation temporarily isn’t an option, speak slowly and softly to the upset individual. Be friendly, not condescending, so the situation doesn’t spiral out of control. Bacal & Associates, specialists in customer service, says, “Escalation doesn’t have to happen. It is important that you be aware of your own behavior in contributing to this cycle, particularly because you will suffer any fallout that a crisis brings. When the situation moves to crisis, probability of violence increases, as does the probability that the person will cause unpleasantness after they leave.”
Avoid the urge to offer advice. Resist your desire to tell the upset individual to “just calm down.” Angry people aren’t looking for or willing to listen to advice. Your well-intentioned help could actually escalate the already difficult situation.
Monitor your body language. Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, notes that our facial expression accounts for 55% of how our spoken message is communicated. Avoid activities like frowning, making a fist, placing your hands on your hips or sighing as they can send negative messages which further irritate an already angry person.
What other things have worked for you when confronted with angry customers or colleagues?