Communicating Better in Difficult Situations

Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 10:22AM
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By Joan Matochik, JM Communications,

Whether you are communicating face to face or on the telephone, it can be a lost business opportunity or a successful one, even in difficult situations with angry or irritated customers, clients, vendors and co-workers.  Making the best possible impression is critical to establishing good interpersonal relations and to developing a profitable business.

Creating this favorable impression not only translates into satisfied individuals and increased business profitability but also less workplace stress and frustrationﲠyou and others.  As author Eric Maisel writes in his book, 20 Communication Tips at Work, 嶥r treat work communications cavalierly襮 you are at work, all communications are meaningful and important.祠should not take our routine communications with others for granted.  Every single communication situation can be a win-win opportunity if we know and apply effective communication skills.

Three Stages of Anger

It is no small task to handle irritated and angry individuals.  But with some helpful strategies to remember and utilize and a determination to remain professional, calm and self-confident, employees can surmount this workplace obstacle.

There are there stages of anger often seen in individuals, characterized by the acronym MAD:

  • Miffed㰡n class=GramE>An individual is irritated.  For example, a customer complains about a business overcharge on his account or a late product shipment.
  • Aggravated㰡n class=GramE>An individual shows more than simple irritation but attacks you or business, saying something like, ﵠcanय anything right.쯺p>
  • Destructive㰡n class=GramE>A person࡮ger is very intense, and may even be threatening.  The individual may say he will close his account, sue your company, want you fired, or demand to talk with your supervisor.

Most individuals are at the 馦ed㴡ge.  Remembering the Golden Rule, ⥡t others as you would like to be treated,㨯uld never be forgotten in all communication situations, particularly difficult ones.

Eight Steps to Diffuse Anger

When you exhibit professionalism, it is helpful in alleviating anger in others.  Throughout all situations, remember to stay calm and do not display heated emotion.  Keep the tone of your voice caring, helpful and empatheticﴠcold, indifferent or hostile.  Speak slowly, while lowering your voice pitch slightly.   This technique will encourage the angry individual to calm down more quickly.

These eight steps will also help you successfully in handling difficult individuals:

1. Donࢵy into the anger. Take the anger professionally, but not personally.  Remember to separate the problem from the person, and focus on the problem.

2. Listen to understand. Hear the individual out without interrupting, as this makes people even angrier. 

3. Show empathy. Impress an individual that you genuinely care about his problem or issue.  Acknowledge his feelings and restate the facts.  Often, it helps to ask yourself, ﷠is this person feeling?p; Annoyed, disappointed or frustrated?  Try to use the appropriate descriptive word when you restate the problem.  For example, ࣡n imagine how frustrated you are that your product shipment hasnࡲrived on time.  I will see what I can do to expedite the shipment.ﺰ>

4. Identify the other஥eds and wants.  Ask appropriate questions, both open-ended ones to gather additional information, and closed-end ones to confirm information with a one-word or 峯no᮳wer.  Verify your understanding of the person튰roblem by restating the facts.

5. Offer options.  Aim to be positive, not negative.  Tell individuals what you can do for them, without emphasizing what you canय.  It is helpful often to use the ﮤition/benefit毲mula, for instance:  根ou provide me with your invoice number, then I can check on your order.ﺰ>

6. Find a positive solution. Try to come up with suggestions to rectify the problem and ask the individual for his input. Having the individual become involved in the problem solution will make him feel better about you and your business.

7. Thank the person.  Express appreciation to the individual for bringing the problem or issue to your attention.

8. Follow up on any commitments.  This is vital for maintaining and building better interpersonal relations.  Be sure to check back promptly with the individual to confirm that the necessary action has actually been completed.  Your professionalism will assuredly stand out if you do this last step.

Raising our voice, using threatening or abusive language and displaying derogatory gestures and other body language never help to make any communication situation better. Simply, they accelerate another࡮ger and, therefore, should be avoided.  By applying this eight-step approach, employees can turn a difficult situation into a highly successful communication encounter.  Calm, confident and professional: Every communication situation can be a win-win opportunity when we demonstrate these qualities.

Joan Matochik, president/owner of JM Communications,, has been a professional business training instructor, coach and consultant for over 17 years. Currently based in northern Virginia and formerly in New York State, she teaches ﭭunicating Better in Difficult Situationsᮤ other oral and written communication workshops.  She can be reached at Joan Matochik.

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