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As a customer service provider, I’ve used these strategies below to help keep from owning the emotions of difficult people, while focusing on the problem at hand. I use them in the most anxiety-inducing conversations. All have helped me keep calm under their pressure. I have found these to be most effective when confronted with an angry email or phone communication.
- Assign Codes to Common Responses
When encountering an angry or offensive person, it is common to feel raised anxiety and the belief that he/she is personally attacking you. As a result, you may be tempted to get angry in response, which only makes matters worse. Anger responses from difficult people usually fall into about five common categories. Separate your emotions by assigning codes to these common anger responses. Call them by number in your mind as you hear them. Code 1: You always_______ Code 2: You never__________ Code 3: I’m going to tell___________ Code 4: You did ___________, so I’m going to (or not going to) ______________. You can add more codes to other common responses you encounter. Predicting responses ahead of time will help ease your anxiety. Calling them by number helps separate them into something that feels less personal.
- Reward Yourself Through Their “Punishment”
Start a Guilty Pleasure Jar such as a martini or chocolate fund in response to a difficult person. Attach dollar amounts to the codes described above. For instance, Code 1=50 cents. Code 2=50 cents. Code 3=$1.00. If it is a threat to call your supervisor because they are not getting their way, but you are remaining calm and respectful, add $2.00. If it is a threat to call the media or a lawyer, add $2.50. Code 4=Any amount ranging from 25 cents to $1.00 depending upon how much you value what they are going to take away from you. The more anxiety their response causes, the higher the amount you add. Place the actual money or a note indicating the amount in a jar. This approach helps you mentally listen to their anger while turning it around to something positive for yourself. This is especially effective if the caller is mean and insulting and just doesn’t care about the feelings of others. It will ease your anxiety in the moment with an award that awaits you in the future.
- Anger Begets Anger
Rise above the situation instead of getting back at the difficult person. Think about how you would treat someone if you had a similar problem. Don’t sink to their level of anger. Some people think that the more angry or loud they get, the more people will listen. I’ve witnessed countless scenarios where the person feeling stress would have been more successful if he/she treated the employee with respect. Chances are they have built up years of stress over this issue that has nothing to do with you at that moment. People are like mirrors. They reflect back what they give. If they respond in anger and you respond with calm, a vast majority of reasonable people will calm down.
- Record Their Responses
If you have an angry teen or adult yelling at you about stress over which you had no control, start typing or writing every word they say. This is more effective if they are not right in front of you. This strategy will help you separate yourself from the situation. If they ask what you are doing (and they might), tell them that what they have to say is important to you and you want to write everything down to be sure you get it. Ask them if they want to hear what you have written. If they have been swearing at you, read that part out loud too. People who are upset often move to another dimension and have no clue how they sound. I found that my anxiety lessened as I typed or wrote their comments. Unless you genuinely want to hear their concerns, this approach can backfire. Be sure to be respectful and keep focused on your honest desire to hear their concerns and help resolve them.
- Create an Anger Chain
Create a paper chain or purchase plastic chain links. Chain them together to represent the number of complaints or difficult people you expect in a specific period of time. This is particularly helpful for high volume calls over one scenario, or just prior to a high anxiety project. For instance, if you expect 20 encounters, make a chain of 20 links. 25? Chain 25. After dealing with each complaint, remove a link. If the links are made of paper, throw one away after each encounter (it can be therapeutic). If you are using a purchased chain, place each link in a container after each encounter to save for the next period of time. When I did this, I was surprised to find that I had chains left. The situations (or year) didn’t turn out as bad as I had expected or feared. If you are really looking forward to adding to that guilty pleasure jar, reward yourself and assign $3.00 to each chain remaining. You deserve it.