DIY

Coping with rude callers, part II: addressing the issue


We all deal with rude callers. Last week, I detailed an unpleasant encounter I had with a guard at an apartment building lobby and drew parallels between that experience and ones we have at the help desk. I now continue the story, because my actions can inform your own actions following an encounter with a rude caller.

After arriving home, I wrote a letter to the chief executive officer (CEO) of the non-profit organization that runs the retirement apartment building. Here's what I said, in summary:

  • I was disappointed by the way I was treated
  • The guard behaved and spoke inappropriately
  • I could have been a potential resident, and the actions of the guard could have cost the company a customer

Let's look at each point.

My focusing on myself ("I was disappointed...") makes my statement sound less accusatory. The last thing I want is for the recipient to become defensive about what I was saying. If that were to happen, the recipient is less likely to hear what I have to say.

I commented on the BEHAVIOR of the guard, not on the guard himself. I didn't say he was a bad person, or even a rude person. I said that his behavior was inappropriate -- a big difference. By focusing on behavior, I keep the discussion objective.

By mentioning that I could have been a potential resident, I remind the CEO that there are serious consequences for the guard's actions.

How can you apply this incident to your own situation? Here are some tips.

  • Speak up immediately

As soon as the caller starts speaking inappropriately, address it. However, talk about the words, not about the caller. Instead of saying, "You're speaking inappropriately," consider "I'm sorry, but that language is inappropriate." At the same time, tell the caller that his/her language is making your job more difficult. For example, you could say, "I'd really like to help you, but this language is making it hard to do so." This statement reminds the caller of the benefit of being civil and the consequences of failing to be so.

  • Give the caller a warning

Let the caller know that you are prepared, if necessary, to end the call. Say something such as "Unless this language is stopped, I will have to end the call."

Try not to respond in kind to the caller. You are much better off if you "keep your cool." In the words of Proverbs 12: 16, "[a] fool shows his anger at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult." No one benefits if both of you become upset with each other.

  • Discontinue the call

At this point, let's suppose the caller is still using inappropriate language. Say to the caller a phrase such as, "I'm sorry, but I am ending this call. I hope we can resume it at a later time, in a more civil way." Once again, the focus is on the actions, not on the caller. I would advise AGAINST saying, "I hope we can resume it later, when YOU are more civil." See the difference?

  • Notify your manager

Let your manager know what happened, because you know that caller will be doing the same. Get your side of the story in first.

Rude callers are never pleasant, but these steps can help you maintain your composure.

Do you have questions, comments, suggestions or concerns? You are welcome to contact me at csun@calvinsun.com

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

2 comments
Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

Hi, thanks for your interest. He did write back. Did I mention that someone in that organization (a minister), who reports to that CEO, was formerly a board member of my church? That probably had something to do with it. At any rate, the CEO apologized for what happened. I was impressed with the letter.

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