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Don’t let ticked-off co-workers shoot the messenger (you)

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in Career Management,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Workplace Communication

Issue: How to stay calm and collected while handling complaints from angry employees.

Benefit: Deflect anger without taking the blame ... or adding stress to your day.

Action: Apply the six A's listed below.

Think back to the last time you argued with a 3-year-old. Did you win the argument? Probably not, even though you're older, wiser and certainly bigger.

Whether it's an accounting assistant who's upset because your health insurance carrier denied her claim or a department manager who's livid because you've told him not to fire a worker on medical leave, angry people can act very much like little kids: stubborn, irrational and even insulting. It's impossible for you to communicate as adults because of their behavior.

But you can bring these "little kids" up to adult level so you can talk calmly about the issue at hand, by using these six A's:

  1. Abstain from interrupting. Let the other person "tell her story" or "have his say." After just a few moments of listening, you may be ready to interrupt with a logical solution. But the "little kid" doesn't want to hear from you yet, so let him talk. Eventually, he'll have 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. Example: "I can see that you're upset."
  3. Acknowledge the problem. Even if you think the person is overreacting, it's important to validate his perception. 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 insurer denied the claim, but you can still express your regret.
  5. Act within your authority. If you can solve the problem, promise that you will ... and follow through. In other situations, you may have no power to change anything. But you can choose to offer your understanding, empathy and support.
  6. Assess the outcome. Take time later to reflect on the confrontation. Was the person calmer when you finished? What did you say or do that helped the situation or made it worse? Reflecting will help you be more effective next time.

by Jean Gatz, CSP

Jean Gatz,, is a keynote speaker and workshop leader. She specializes in communication and career management, and is the author of "How to Be the Person Successful Companies Fight to Keep" (Simon & Schuster).


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