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The Fire of Anger: Communication Skills to Douse the Flames

Posted on January 25, 2012 by Leslie Dickson

At VoicePRO® we hear a lot of stories about relationships gone awry – an occupational hazard, I guess. But this one may top them all. One person’s short temper (and a big ego) went a long way toward destroying a company’s reputation. You can read the full, messy story online, but here are the basics.

A customer emailed the maker of videogame equipment to ask about the company’s delivery schedule, noting the date listed on the website had come and gone. The customer service rep (and we use the term loosely) sent a clipped and incomplete answer, so the customer sent a few follow-up questions. Another short, incomplete reply – this time with a dismissive undertone – sparked a more pointed email from the customer.

That’s when the customer service rep set a torch to the relationship – and the company reputation. He used phrases like: “you look like a complete moron” and “sometimes we get children like you we just have to put you in the corner with your ‘I’m stupid hat’ on.” Yes, really.

What the company rep didn’t know was that the customer was a well-known gaming blogger, and the whole fiasco went very, very public. The customer service rep was summarily fired, and a new one did a masterful job to win back customer goodwill. More about that in a moment, but first let’s talk about preventing the anger blaze in the first place.

I hope this level of anger management isn’t an issue for you – or anyone in your company.  But who doesn’t find themselves on the verge of an ugly moment from time to time? Here are a few ideas on how to handle yourself.

Breathe through the fight-or-flight response

Human beings are wired to respond – but don’t. Stop, breathe, and center yourself. The first 30 seconds can make or break the situation. Still fuming? It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m too agitated to talk about this right now. Let me calm down and we’ll talk in 10 minutes.” And make sure you do.

Examine your emotions

Are you angry because you feel attacked, disappointed, betrayed?  Frustrated because the problem isn’t your fault? Guilty because you know you had a role in creating the problem? Knowing what’s causing your anger is the first step in keeping it under control.

Focus on the issue at hand

Anger clouds your thinking capability. Put emotion aside and work through the problem. That requires really listening to the person who’s provoked you (rightly or wrongly) to be sure you truly hear and understand.

Turning anger to solutions

In the crazy case of the videogame company, we also find a textbook example of how to diffuse a bad situation. Their steps can help you, too.

Start with “I’m sorry”

Those two words are crucial to managing a heated situation. If you or your company is at fault, it signals that you’re ready to move forward. If you’re not in the wrong, simply saying “I’m sorry you’re upset” can reset the tone. And, if you lost your temper – even if you were in the right – an apology is in order.

Make sure your body language reflects your words

Look people in the eye. And watch out for aggressive stances – hands on hips or finger-pointing. For written responses, get a second opinion on how your attitude is coming through.

Take responsibility

Passing the buck doesn’t solve the problem, it just puts another wall between you and the solution. By the same token, don’t throw others under the bus. As a colleague of mine used to say, “Solve the problem now, assign blame later (or never).”

Answer questions directly and honestly

In the news story, the spokesperson went public and shared answers about what went wrong with product delivery, as well as fielding questions about what happened to the old staffer, how he got his job, why the company didn’t realize he was a problem, and on and on. He kept at it until all the voices were silenced.

Remember, anger burns everyone it touches.  Next time you feel a situation heating up, throw water on the fire, not gasoline.

For more ideas on being a powerful communicator, follow us on Twitter or contact us for more information

Image provided by The National Guard

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