Pit Stop: Stay Calm and Effective

Oct. 22, 2020

Heed these communication tips for handling angry customers or staff.

Picture this: today, your speedy, 10-minute oil change has been more like a 15- or 20-minute service due to an influx of customers after COVID-19, and one customer in particular is not. happy. With all of the stress of the day eating away at you, there’s only one person to turn to for some advice: Eva.

Jan Fox, founder of Fox Talks, has been using the name Eva for years as a tool. Fox has worked with many companies and its workers for years, utilizing this tactic and many more for dealing with difficult conversations in the workplace.

As Told by Abby Patterson

Avoid the “Yeah, but…” phrase. As soon as you say this phrase in response to their frustration or concerns, it starts World War III. Basically, you’ve negated everything they just said and have not heard at all where they are coming from. Once you start the “Yeah, but…”, it just gets louder and louder between the two of you. You never want to do anything to stop their train of thought, so don’t cut them off.

When you need to slow yourself down, make your lips look like Angelina Jolie: big, soft, and closed completely. Aka, just stop talking and listen. This especially comes in handy when you’ve already responded in an angry way.

If you know they are stressed, anticipate their needs. Ask yourself: What’s bothering them? If you anticipate their needs ahead of time, you can practice a few lines going in that shows empathy and understanding. The more you anticipate, the more likely you are to meet them where they are and have an answer for them that they can use.

If you are in a situation where you can walk with them a little bit, take a walk and listen to them. When you do that, you are just two friends walking in the same direction and it creates an image that you are willing to listen.

Respond with EVA: Empathy, Validation, and Advocacy. We think listening to someone is just nodding our head, but it comes in three layers.

E is first. When someone is visibly upset and comes to you with a problem, let them speak and respond by saying “I understand” or,, “Wow, that’s tough,” instead of something like, “Everyone is going through this.” What we normally tend to do is after saying “I understand,” is following up with a “but”. Once you've said this, you’ve just cut off all possibility of helping in any way, shape, or form. If you keep saying “but”,  they won’t feel heard.

V is next: If you let them talk more, you’ll hear more of their concerns. Once they do that, you can say “I’ve been there too,” admitting your own fear or failures to them so they don’t feel alone.

A is last. When you give them validation, they will continue to talk more, and it will give you more clues as to what they want or a plan of action. Once you figure out exactly what they are looking for, state that you are willing to work with them on the issue, saying, “We can work this out,” or, “Let’s make a plan of action.” When you say “we”, they start saying, “Yes, we can! Let’s work on it,” because they know you’re wanting to work with them on fixing the issue at hand.

Practice tone of voice. Tone of voice is No. 1, right along with eye contact. Each of us has a tone of voice when we are speaking with different people—friends, kids, a significant other, your staff, etc. You use a different tone of voice with each. The same goes for your mood. When dealing with angry customers or staff, pretend every one of those customers is your old grandmother, whom you’d most likely talk to in a calm, sensitive voice. By thinking of each person you speak with as your grandmother, you have a better chance of coming out with a kind voice, and will set you on the right track to having a good conversation.

Respond in a calm manner. Avoid gestures like pointing your finger at them, making a brush-off motion, or putting your hands down on your sides. Your body language can easily intimidate them or make them feel like their concerns are not important to you. Instead, keep your hands and body open, and keep everything calm. Calm face, calm body, calm tone, and calm hands.