In Transformational Leadership, one of the tools we think is important, whether in our work world or as a coach or in our home, is to know how to handle someone who is angry and upset. Why? Because sometimes we run into people who are really upset, and we need to know the best way to handle that situation.
Let me share with you a seven-step process that helps you know how to deal with the situation and also helps the person who is upset and angry.
#1 – Remain silent. When someone is expressing anger, just be silent. Don’t try to respond. Even when a person has finished expressing their anger, still be silent and don’t respond. Why? Because their epinephrine has probably not yet run its course. He or she probably isn’t finished unloading on you yet, so the best thing to do is to remain silent.
#2 – What’s step two? Remain silent. Yes, that’s right. Remain silent. When the person comes at you again, remain silent because they are probably going to continue their angry outbursts because their epinephrine is still releasing.
#3 – Remain silent. Yes, again, just be silent. We intentionally made the first three steps in this process the same because it’s a way we can emphasize the importance of staying quiet when someone is angrily expressing themselves. People often ask me why it is that you tell us to remain silent for so long and how do we know when not to remain silent. The way you’ll know how long to be silent is by the person’s intensity level and duration of their anger. The intensity and duration of the person’s anger will go down as the epinephrine runs its course. As you see the intensity go down and the duration of the outbursts getting shorter, you’ll know it’s time for you to respond.
If you give a response too soon, the person will probably cut you off. I’m sure you’ve seen this happen and have experienced this before. You probably have even done it. The person cuts you off, starts going again, and won’t even remember what you said because the rational part of their brain is still inhibited at the moment. So, the best way to save time and the relationship is to remain silent until the angry person is not angry any longer.
#4 – Thank the person for the feedback. Once you notice that the person’s intensity level has subsided, your first response should be to thank them for their feedback or for sharing their viewpoint. Then you can say to the person, “It’s this kind of feedback that helps our organization to improve.” Or, you might say, “It’s this kind of feedback that helps me to improve as a leader.” Then quickly add, “May I repeat that back to you to be sure I understand?”
#5 – Repeat back what you have heard to be sure you fully understand what the person is saying. When you do this, there is a good chance the person will say, “I didn’t say that” even though you know they did. Don’t get mad. Don’t get offended. Don’t assume the person is lying. They probably don’t remember saying it because the rational part of their brain wasn’t functioning at its full capacity at the time. That person isn’t necessarily lying. They just don’t remember saying it.
This is one reason why many large companies record customer service interactions. Neither the customer nor the agent can get away with saying they didn’t say that. The recording will verify exactly what was said.
When you repeat back what you heard the person say and the person says they didn’t say that, just ask again. “Would you please say that again to be sure I understand?”
#6 – Make a commitment and follow up once you have a full understanding of what was said and both of you agree that’s what the person was saying, This step has two parts: first, make a commitment to action and, next, follow up on that commitment.
What’s the difference between these two steps? The first part of step six is that you must make a commitment to act on what the person has shared with you. For example, let’s say a customer is angry at one of your employees, but the employee the customer is upset with isn’t in the office. My commitment to the customer would be this: “I’ll call you back in 24 hours. That person will be back in the office tomorrow, and I’ll call you back within the next 24 hours after I talk to them.”
The second part of this step is that you must follow up on that commitment to act. Maybe the employee got stuck in a place without cell phone coverage and can’t get back to town. Well, within 24 hours, you still must make the call to the customer and fulfill the commitment you made.
#7 – Make a commitment and follow up on the problem once you have all the details from all the people involved at your end. Once you get all the information, you need to make a decision. You must make a commitment to act in order to make it right. If your organization was wrong, the best thing you can do is to apologize. After you have spoken with your employee, the person who made the mistake should do the six-step apology.
This can be a great training moment for the person making the apology, and you are also making sure that the employee isn’t being thrown under the bus with a customer by you making the apology.
Making a full and effective apology is a simple process. First, the person making the apology needs to state the offense, what they did that was wrong. Next, they need to say they were wrong. Then they should say they are sorry. The fourth part of the apology is to ask the person if they will forgive them. Then, the person making the apology should ask the other person to help hold them accountable for not doing that same thing again. And, finally, the apology should end with the question that asks the other person if there is anything else that they need to apologize for. And, if there is something else the customer is upset about, the employee needs to start at the first part of the apology and proceed through it again.
After the employee’s apology is completed, the next part of step number seven is for you as the employer and the one who took the call to tell the customer how you have improved, that your organization was wrong in what you did, and that you are sorry. Then, ask for forgiveness. Explain that the person is a valuable customer and that you want them to hold your organization accountable to always do what you say you’ll do. Then, ask if there is anything else your organization has ever done for which you need to apologize.
Winning a Customer for Life
As I have continually told those who work with me in the organizations I’ve owned or consulted with, you are going to make mistakes. I am going to make mistakes, too. I tell them, though, if you’re going to make a mistake, please don’t make one so big that it puts our organization out of business.
However, if you or someone in your organization makes a mistake with a customer, this process will enable you to win a customer for life. Not only does this process work with an upset customer, it also works with an upset child, spouse, employee, friend, or boss. Remain silent. Remain silent. Remain silent. Let the person’s epinephrine run its course. Thank the person for his or her feedback. Repeat back to the person what he or she said. Then, make a commitment to find a solution. If the customer, you, or your employee were in the wrong, explain the wrongdoing and move forward with the solution. Then, follow up to make sure the solution is implemented.
If you or your organization were not in the wrong, the solution may not necessarily be that you need to apologize.
Statements like “the customer is always right” and “the customer comes first” have been common adages in the business world. Yet, those statements are not true. To your employees, they make no sense, because the customer is not always right. We feel that the customer is not always right but is always the customer.
Putting the Right People First
I believe fully in these two statements: The customer is not always right but is always the customer. The customer comes second. If you put your employees first, you won’t have to worry about your customers. And if you can deal with angry customers in a healthy manner, you’ll have a better chance at winning them as a “customer for life.” When a response to an angry customer is done well, you’ll have customers for life and also employees for life.
The person outside my home does not come first. My wife comes first. And if she comes first, I won’t have to worry about our relationships outside the home. My spouse is going to know she comes first in my life.
The other kids in the neighborhood don’t come first. The teacher doesn’t come first. My child comes first. However, the teacher is always the teacher, and the coach is always the coach, so I’m going to treat the teacher and coach with honor and respect. But my kids are going to know they come first in my life.
The seven-step process discussed here will help you deal with angry people in a way that can restore the relationship and also enable you to keep a customer for life, keep a spouse for life, maintain a strong relationship with your children, and keep your friendships intact.
Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.