Not everyone who calls you is doing so while
thinking how wonderful you are. Some are calling to argue, complain, or just vent. How do
you handle difficult conversations? You have some choices. You can argue with an upset
personand not get anywhere. You can refuse to talk with that personnot the
best strategy. You can take the abuse, get all upset, andno, forget that. What can
you do? Or, suppose you need to confront someone. How do you get what you want? Lets
First, start with goodwill and respect. You are not the
enemyshow this (unless you want to be the enemy. Remember, in a hostile
situation, expectations are low.
If the IRS returns a phone call, what do you do? Jump all
over that person? No. This is another human being at the other end of the line. Thank the
person for calling. Address the person by name, and let him or her know you are going to
give undivided attention. "Thanks for returning my call, Mr. Jones. May I call you
Paul? Let me (shut off the TV, close this file, close my door, turn the radio
offwhatever), so we can talk. Just dont fake this. You have to realize when
someone from IRS calls you, that person may actually be trying to help youits less effort
for them simply to seize your assets than to take a verbal pummeling from you.
If it is an
angry customer, fineyou get paid to handle such calls whether you work in Customer
Service or not. Think of each such call as an opportunity to turn an enemy into a friend,
and be glad for it. Just dont try to fake this attitude. People can spot a phony
(no pun intended), and phoniness will hurt you.
If you have to write a note like "My
callers are all potential friends and allies" by your phone, do so. If this is a
face-to-face situation, you may have to interrupt the person and say, "I want you to
know that I want to make this right for you. Im on your side. Now, what is the
problem in a nutshell?" You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegarlet
the sweet side of you show right away. Smiling isnt always appropriate, but it
If you are the one doing the calling, say, "I know you are busy and Im
probably interrupting you. Is now OK to talk?" If you want this persons
attention, dont call just before lunch or just before quitting timethats
disrespectful and mean. If someone calls you at such a time, you may have to say,
"Let me get the really short version for now. Can I call you back at 10 AM
tomorrow?" Then make sure you make that call at 10AM. Not 10:01 AM.
Second, get to the point. "Fred, you and I have a problem. Its not a
personal problem, but I am starting to get irritated with you. I have to review your work
before including it in the project each month, and you always turn it in a day late. This
means once a month, I have to work until midnight because of what you do. I am sure this
is not what you intended. How do you think you can help me with this?" If you start
off with a bunch of side issues, Fred will not be listening by the time you get to your
point. Notice how brief this was?
Dont digress. A laundry list of arguments or complaints will result in a
defensive reaction. Going on to tell Fred about every perceived slight since the day you
met him will undermine your purpose in having the discussion. My ex-wife used to do this,
and I referred to it as the "barrage attack." Its a manipulative way of
communicating frustration, but it makes zero progress toward resolving any problems.
Dont blame, accuse, or guess motives. Assume the other person does not lie
awake at night dreaming up ways to frustrate you. Assume, instead, the other person is a
victim of some circumstance he or you can change. Do not tell the other person something
accusatory like, "You never did like me" or "If you wanted to be a good
employee, youd do this." Stick to the problem you can solve. Make sure you
dont exaggerate with terms like "constantly, never, forever, and always."
Listen. Fred might have a very good reason for being late. "I have to wait
for you to give me the resources to do my work, and youre always late. I can help
you if you help me." Or maybe hell say, "Its this computer
program" or some other resource. You can then volunteer to help correct the perceived
underlying problem (or find someone who can). At the very least, this will allow Fred to
save face and motivate him to keep up his end of things.
Ask for action. "OK, Fred, please tell me what you would like me to
do" is more effective than "Why dont you tell me what you want me to
do?" The second question can get an answer like, "Because I dont want to
tell you." The first question assumes the person can and will come up with a
Go away with something. What is the point in having the discussion at all, if
you dont make any progress? Get agreement. You can agree to think about it and meet
again. "I can see we cant agree on what the problem really is. However, I am
sure we can agree to discuss this after weve had some time to think about it.
Youre smart and will probably figure it out, but I am willing to give it more effort
if you are. Would next Wednesday at 10 work for you? How about if I send you an e-mail
with my thoughts on Monday?"
Dont take abuse. You can ignore personal abuse and keep coming back calmly
to your goal. "Look, Fred, I know you are thinking I am being entirely insensitive to
your situation, and you know what? Were both unhappy. Surely, two people as sharp as
we are can come up with a solution. How about if we sleep on it and talk again tomorrow?