De-escalate Tense Situations through Listening

25.06.2018 |

Episode #3 of the course How to serve upset customers by Jeff Toister


Yesterday, we explored the fight-or-flight instinct. Our natural reaction to an angry or upset customer is to argue (fight) or get away (flight).

Were you able to recognize or recall a situation where you felt that instinctive reaction?

If you aren’t careful, you can find yourself saying or doing the wrong thing. Of course, it’s our job in customer service to help upset customers feel better.

Today, we’re going to talk about how listening can help de-escalate someone who is angry or about to boil over. This may seem straightforward, but there are a few potential pitfalls you need to be aware of!


Barriers to Effective Listening

The first is that fight-or-flight instinct. Even when we know we should listen to an angry customer and let them vent, the fight-or-flight instinct urges us to do the opposite. That’s why recognizing the instinct and taking a deep breath is often critical.

Another pitfall is something called emotional hijacking. In his classic book, Emotional Intelligence, psychologist Daniel Goleman described how intense emotions can cause the emotional part of brain to hijack our rational thinking. This can lead people to stop listening to reason and overreact to the situation.

Does this sound familiar? There’s a good chance you’ve encountered a customer whose emotions are so intense, they become unreasonable. It’s difficult to rationalize with someone in that situation. The best thing we can do is help them cool down. That’s where listening comes in.


How to Listen to Angry Customers

One of the best things you can do when serving an angry customer is listen. Let them tell their story without interruption. This process can naturally soothe their emotions.

There are a few obstacles you’re likely to encounter in these situations, and it’s important to be aware of them:

• We instinctively don’t want to listen to angry people.

• We often feel rushed for time and can get impatient.

• We can become overeager to just solve the problem.

There’s another instinct that can cause us trouble in these situations. Rather than explain it, please allow me to give you a demonstration.

Cahnecs are, you can esaliy raed tihs snetecne eevn thuogh the lteters are jmulbed.

Many of us can read the sentence above because our brains are naturally adept at recognizing familiar patterns. The formation of the letters and the context in which they’re presented is a familiar enough pattern that you were probably able to read the line even though the letters were jumbled.

That same pattern-recognition feature can become a liability when serving an upset customer. Our brains instinctively stop listening when we detect a familiar pattern!


Improve Your Listening Skills

Here’s an exercise you can try to help improve your listening skills.

1. Ask a friend to tell you a story.

2. Listen carefully to the story without interruption.

3. Try to determine why this story is important to your friend.

At the end of the story, give your friend a recap of what you heard and explain why you think the story was important to them. You’ll know you were using good listening skills if your friend says you got it right!

If you happen to encounter an upset customer between now and tomorrow’s lesson, try to use those same skills to listen to them. Focus on de-escalation before you try to solve the problem, and you’ll often solve the issue faster because the customer ends up feeling less upset.

In tomorrow’s lesson, we’ll take things a step further, and I’ll show you a technique you can use to make the customer feel like you are on their side!


Recommended book

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman


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