When visiting with owners & managers, I like to ask them how they got started in their business.  The stories I hear are diverse & interesting but typically most of the reasons they give have some commonality to them.  For example, some started their business because they saw a need in their community, others began because they were passionate about the product or service they provide, and some simply stumbled into it!  However, in the all of these conversations, I have NEVER – not once – heard someone say they started their business because they had a desire to deal with employee issues or difficult customers!

We’ve all had (and will have again!) situations where customers or employees are being emotional, difficult or completely out-of-line.  It can happen anywhere — at the parts counter, outside in the parking lot, in the service department, on the phone or on the showroom floor.  Emotions are flaring, words are flying and it’s up to you to manage the situation.

Here’s what you need to understand when dealing with difficult customers or employees:  You can’t out-logic emotion. Think about it.  There is no amount of logic you can use to convince someone who is emotionally distraught that they are wrong.

It is important to not become emotional, along with the customer or employee, in a heated situation.  You must stay calm and assertive and lead them away from the emotion they are experiencing.  Have you ever seen two dogs who are out of control?  When that happens, you have a dog fight. No one will win. Your job is to not join that dog fight and you do that by controlling your emotions as well as the tone & pace of your voice as well as your body movements in order to de-escalate the situation.   If you get angry, you lose. You will lose credibility, you will lose influence and you will probably lose the employee or customer.

So, how to do you control a situation when emotions are flaring?

-Help them understand you are on their side. You want to get to the bottom of the problem and you can only do that if they help you understand the issue. Use phrases like, “I hear what you are saying…”, Or “I appreciate your situation…”

-Move to a neutral location. Moving physically can deescalate the situation in a way that helps the customer move to a more calm and logical state.

-Get a pad of paper and take some notes. Write down some of the key points of what they are telling you.   This shows the customer that you are listening and slows the situation down.

Your goal is to help the customer move from an emotional state to a logical one, and, for that to happen, you must remain calm and in control.  Role play some scenarios with your management team and work through appropriate ways to handle challenging situations.  With some practice, you will be prepared to handle challenging and emotional situations when they arise.