So, how can you handle angry employees' complaints without adding more stress to your day or opening the organization to legal liability? Use the following "Six A's" to deflect employee anger:
1. Abstain from interrupting. Let the other person have his or her say. Eventually, the employee has to take a breath, which helps you move to the second step.
2. Agree to the extent that you can. You don't have to agree on who's right and who's wrong, but you can agree that a problem exists or at least that the person is upset. Examples: "I can see that you're upset," "You sound angry about what's happened."
3. Acknowledge the problem. Even if you think the person is overreacting, it's important to validate his or her perception of the situation.
Show your empathy and concern by saying "I can understand why you're upset" or "I would be angry, too, if that happened to me."
4. Apologize to the extent that you can. Know the difference between accepting responsibility and offering a sincere but blame-free apology.
For example, it's not your fault that the company's health insurer denied the employee's claim, but you can still express your regret.
Example: "I'm sorry that happened to you."
5. Act within your authority. If you can solve the problem, promise that you will ... and follow through.
In other situations, you may not have the power to change anything. But you can offer your understanding and forward the complaint (or direct the employee) to the appropriate person in the organization.
6. Assess the outcome. Take time later to reflect on the confrontation. Was the person calmer when you finished, or more upset? What did you say or do that helped the situation or made matters worse? Reflecting on your words, actions and outcomes will help you be more effective next time.
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