Why not try this the next time you are in your bank’s branch: Demand from the counter staff that they write off your mortgage or your credit card bills. When staff politely respond that this is not possible, accuse them of giving you a mortgage or credit you could not afford – so it’s their fault! They might then look at you incredulously and try again to turn you down politely. If you stopped at that, all would be fine for all concerned. However, what if you insisted and started to shout and swear at them? Staff may now get a little bit stressed and hot under the collar. The bottom line is, you are not going to get what you want but that does not really help the staff who have to deal with your unreasonable demand.
Many staff dealing with the public find themselves in this position every day. Staff having to deal with patients not happy with the care they have received even after their case has been fully investigated, people wanting benefits they are not entitled to or properties that are not available, and others wanting to build skyscrapers in their back garden.
Customers have many reasons to make demands that to us can seem so unreasonable. They may have real basic needs such as shelter, food, or safety. They may have a need to rage at the world due to a perceived sense of injustice or unfairness. They may have a range of factors inhibiting communication and understanding such as mental illness, learning difficulties, or are so ‘full’ with day to day problems that they are barely functioning. It’s important to consider that factors such as these may lie at the heart of demands that seem reasonable to the customer but totally unreasonable to us.
So what can we do when faced with such demands or when we have difficulty trying to decipher what the person wants (they might just have called for company!). Firstly, be realistic and consider advice from those who work with people who, for example, have a mental illness associated with disorders linked to personality, anxiety, mood, development, etc. They recognise the difficulty of trying to manage and help someone with such a condition over many months and years, so what can we expect to achieve in contact lasting a matter of minutes?
Sometimes there is little or nothing you are going to achieve apart from managing yourself – how you respond and react. Don’t ‘beat yourself up’ because you should have done better, said something different or made the customer happy. This is the path to high stress levels.
Stay calm and in control because it’s easy to get frustrated when faced with someone who is not responding to what we see a reasonable. Getting frustrated with the customer will only make matters worse.
Slow up, take a bit more time and give the customer a chance to speak. They may not be operating at the same mental speed as you so don’t jump ahead thinking of possible solutions before you have understood the ‘problem’. Keep listening and trying to understand what they need and what they are feeling.
Not everyone who makes unreasonable demands has a mental illness. However, if for example, a customer telephones every week or 3 times a day (which happens frequently in many offices serving the public), they may have some ‘issues’ which may be beyond your (or their) control.So be flexible, calm, and respectful. Often that is a large part of what the customer really wants.