We all love finding solutions. Whether it’s our problem or someone else’s, we get a positive kick from getting it sorted. Of course the sooner we get to that solution the better – or is it?
Research has demonstrated that we only remember between about 25% and 50% of what we hear. Furthermore, what we actually hear correctly in the first place is determined by how good our listening skills are – and research also shows that most of us tend to overestimate those!
So there is a lot of information we are missing out on. This can lead to, assumptions being made, misunderstandings arising – or us attempting to offer solutions to problems we haven’t fully understood. In conflict situations this can result in escalations of already difficult conversations – something I observed recently while listening in on a telephone call between call centre worker and an already frustrated and agitated person who had rung up to complain about something.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this customer service advisor really wanted to help this caller, but unfortunately they were a little too eager to help. While the caller was still explaining their situation, the advisor interrupted and provided what they thought was the solution. Well, the friendly advice wasn’t quite received as the advisor expected; “What the hell do you mean? Are you not listening to me? That’s not going to help……” And the situation was lost; the rapport was broken, the trust the caller had in the ability of the advisor to help had evaporated, and the volume levels were now raised. Rather than a happy customer, the advisor now had a hostile customer and a difficult conflict situation to deal with. All because the advisor tried to offer a solution too quickly – before they had taken time to fully understand the situation.
Eventually he retrieved the situation, but it was a lot harder work than was needed. I had a quick word with him about how to avoid this situation in the future. My advice included the following tips:
1. Listen and acknowledge but don’t interrupt.
Even if you think you already know what they are going to say, take time to hear them out. There is every chance that the situation may not be exactly as you guessed.
2: Remember people are trying to tell you how they feel
Customers want a solution but they also often need to tell you how they feel about the situation. Give them the space in a conversation to do this. Try not to force people to shout in order to express how they are feeling.
3. Provide feedback and check understanding.
Once they’ve finished explaining, feedback what you’ve heard and check your understanding. Then ask further questions to avoid making assumptions about the details.
4. Park your solution.
When you do have a solution, don’t just blurt it out. How can it be best phrased? Is this what they want to hear? Do you need to be tactful? Is there an alternative solution as well? Remember, the first solution you think of isn’t necessarily the best one!
When someone offers a solution to us that doesn’t seem to tally with what we feel the issue is it can feel very frustrating – and it’s not surprising that occasionally this can lead to conflict escalation. Put the simple tips above into practice and you too can avoid rushing to a solution to the wrong problem!