Whisper it! In the complex world we live in there is often no perfect solution. Some roles just don’t allow you to give out free vouchers or money off. For example, when the customer is not entitled to the benefit but they still demand it, flight boarding has closed and the planned holiday is in ruins, or the patron is late for the opera and has to wait for the interval to get into the auditorium. We hear similar examples daily on our Conflict Management Courses.

It’s very frustrating for clients but also very challenging for us as staff; particularly if the customer decides to take their frustrations out on us. We want to help, we can understand the reasons for their frustration, and frequently we can empathise with how much emotional energy they have invested in the situation (e.g. organising the holiday, show, event, etc). We are keen to help their distress but often our options are limited. That can be very frustrating for us; and when we are frustrated it may change our behaviour for the worse.

Let’s see, how do people behave when they are frustrated? They can be gruff, demanding, impatient, short tempered, rude, etc. And that’s just us! In customer conflict, the customer and staff member can actually be feeling similar frustrations and emotions, as a result of not being able to sort the issue. If staff are not careful they can become irritated and let their feelings show: – this will not help the situation. So, what options do we have to manage our frustration when there are limited options available to satisfy the customer?

First, take an instant to notice how you are feeling physically. Bodily sensations are a great indicator that something is not right. If your heart rate is jumping, your shoulders are tensing or your hands are sweating, there is a good chance your behaviour might be tensing too. If you become aware of how you are feeling you can make instant adjustments and stay in control (e.g. take a pause, a breath, relax your shoulders, etc).

Take a brief moment to notice what you are thinking. If for example, you are thinking ‘he is winding me up’ or ‘she’s wrong’ your words and actions may respond accordingly. By being aware of what you are thinking you can change to thinking about something more positive (e.g. ‘let’s see how we can keep this calm’).

Develop a phrase that can help to reduce your own frustration and reactions, such as ‘I am responsible for my behaviour’, ‘speak calmly and relax’. If you don’t have a positive phrase at the ready you may have lots of negative phrases swirling around in your head, which might cause you to react.

Manage your tone of voice and speed of speech. When customers are frustrated and angry their conversation tends to speed up. This adds adrenaline to their blood stream and heightens emotional levels. Try to speak normally rather that at the fast pace of conflict. This will help to keep your own adrenaline levels under control.

Remember if you have to repeat yourself, do so in a controlled tone of voice. Do not get frustrated because the customer is not accepting what you say. At some stage they will have to if there are no other options. Be empathic and use a calm tone of voice regardless of how many times you might have to repeat something. Your behaviour is within your control.