A person walks up to the counter at a fast food restaurant and places their order. The cashier rings up the proper amount. However, he shorts the customer $5 in change. The customer holds up their hand and asks the cashier… “Where’s the rest of my change?” The cashier, with a confused look on his face, stares at the person’s hand for several seconds and says nothing. The customer in a louder voice repeats the question… “Where’s the rest of my change?” The cashier continues with a confused look on his face saying nothing. The customer now in a very loud voice says… “I gave you a $20 bill and I want the rest of my change!” The manager hears the now angry customer, comes over to the cash register and pointing her finger at the customer says… “Calm down.” The customer, points their finger back at the manager saying in a yet louder voice… “I gave him a $20 bill and I want my correct change.” With finger wagging, the manager repeats her command… “Calm down.” Like a scratched record, this exchange repeats itself several more times with the customer’s voice getting louder with each repetition.
What’s wrong with this picture? Is there any possibility for this exchange to end well? Slim and none and Slim just left town. It’s guaranteed that the business will lose any future business from the customer… forever. Other customers in the area may be turned off as well taking weeks or even months to return. The reason for the shorting of the change will likely never be learned. Was it just a simple mistake? Was it due to incompetency? Or, was the cashier dishonest and trying to pull a fast one? The manager lost the opportunity to better understand the situation, identify and correct the reason for shorting of change, and preserve the customer’s goodwill and future business.
When someone is upset or angry, it is usually because they feel they have been wronged. They need to be heard. Telling them to calm down will only inflame them more. Telling someone to calm down is another way of making them wrong. Even… “Please calm down” may continue to enrage them.
The best approach is to let them know that you are listening and better yet empathize with what they are feeling. This can be accomplished using one of two simple sentences. The first is a question that clearly conveys that you are listening and that they have your empathy. That question is simply… “You really are upset, aren’t you?” In the alternative, you might say… “If that happened to me, I’d be upset (angry) too.” Either of these sentences defuses the person’s upset or angry feelings and clears the way for positive communication.
Your next sentence should be the simple question… “What can I do to make this right for you?” You will most likely notice a lessening of the person’s emotions as well as a softening of their position. Whatever they then ask for, your response should be to try to do that for them. If their request is unreasonable on its face, suggest an alternative that is fair to them followed by the words, "That seems fair, doesn't it?" If their request is reasonable but not within your capability, say so and let them know you will try to get them to the right person. If there truly is no better person to provide a solution, tell them that and express your personal empathy and sense of frustration for their issue. Truth has a power all its own.
Until you have defused their anger or upset feelings, positive communication is not possible. It is never, ever, ever good business to leave your customer, supplier, partner or employee in an angry or upset emotional state…even if they are in the wrong. It's an offense against your own humanity when they are in the right.