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Blog Post - August 18, 2020
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Defusing Anger

Customer Care logoThree easy to remember steps to defuse anger

It is often the case that sales and customer service professionals have to deal with angry customers. Anger can range from mild annoyance or irritation to rage.

Whenever someone is angry, it is because they feel they have lost something or are in danger of losing something. It is this loss, real or imagined, past, present, or future, that causes the anger response. Anger produces the energy and strength to fight and overcome that which is threatening their ability to achieve or retain what they want.

Once they are experiencing anger, it is challenging for them to move on to more productive feelings until the anger dissipates. Trying to solve angry person's problem is the wrong first step! Problem-solving is the third step.

Angry people want three things:

First, they want to be understood. They want their feelings recognized and respected. You do this by pausing, listening actively to connect with them, and then calling the emotion by name. 

For example, "I can tell this is pretty upsetting to you . . ."

And always, always, err on the side of higher intensity. If you want to upset someone even more than they already are, just say something like, "It's not that bad!" Don't do it.

When you call it by name, you will often sense at the moment the customer recognizes you understand, the energy goes out of the emotion.

Second, the customer wants to know you care. The customer will now move into a state of sadness over the potential loss, and they want to know someone cares.

A common way to show you care is by using a "no fault" apology. For example, "I'm very sorry this happened (to you or anyone)."

You could combine and even reverse the first and second steps, but only if they are connected without a pause or break between them. For example, "I'm sorry that happened, you must be terribly upset over this. I know I would."

Third, they want help preventing further loss. When they reach this stage, it's now time to engage the person in problem-solving.

Again, problem-solving is not the first step when anger is present.

Trying to engage a customer in the problem-solving process before they are able to access that part of their brain usually prevents them from fully accepting any solution.And if you do, you wind up with an angry satisfied customer; "I'm glad they fixed it, but it shouldn't have happened in the first place!"

Problem solving then, is the third step in the process not the first when working with an upset customer.

Think about this, you know there is some level of anger anytime the customer is or is about to experience loss, real or imagined, past, present, or future.

Only after the person has released enough of their anger and has calmed down enough to regain access to their rational thinking capabilities are you able to problem-solve.

For example, "Ouch! That's got to be frustrating. Okay, let's take it from the top." That's it. When said with spontaneity and sincerity, that's all that's usually necessary.

Other ways to introduce the problem-solving step could be saying,

  • "Let's see what we can do to clear this up."
  • "Let me get some additional information so that I can dig deeper into how we can help fix the problem."
  • "Let's look at the options we've got to fix this."
  • "We'll figure this out."

An example of combining the steps could be, "Let’s get to the bottom of this very upsetting set of circumstances. This isn’t right and shouldn’t have happened. I’m sorry. Let’s figure this out.”

The steps to help them release anger then again are to:

  1. Recognize the emotion by naming it.
  2. Apologize without taking any blame to show you care.
  3. Solutionize by problem-solving with the customer to find a solution.

Use these rhyming words to help remember the steps:

  • Recognize, Apologize, Solutionize.
  • Recognize, Apologize, Solutionize.
  • Recognize, Apologize, Solutionize.

You can practice by yourself by imagining a situation in which you experience an upset customer. Try different ways to complete these three steps. Put yourself in their shoes and feel what they feel. Imagine the last time you were upset. How would it be different if the person you confronted would have used these three steps?

Remember, angry people can’t listen to reasoning. Access to that part of the brain is blocked by any strong emotion. Learn to use these three steps to quickly and effectively defuse another person’s anger so they can engage in rational thinking which is necessary for productive problem-solving.



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