Emotionally hijacked people—and how to deal with them [step 4]: 5 Steps to Diffusing an Angry Customer
I vividly remember a customer, I honestly can’t remember her name, but we’ll call her Sarah. She brought a phone to one of my technicians, and it wouldn’t turn on. The technician discovered that the phone was liquid damaged, and he told her that the phone would need to be replaced. At that moment, Sarah flipped and began yelling and causing a scene—obviously the technician was shocked and felt blindsided and the customers were looking at her with an uncomfortable stair.
At this point I entered the interaction and calmly said, “Ma’am, I’m just stepping into this, so I have no idea what has just happened, but I do know my technicians here want to do whatever we can to help you. We’re not interested in telling people ‘no’. However, I cannot allow you to treat my people like this, so for us to continue working together I need you to lower your voice and treat my people well.”
At that moment, her tense shoulders softened and her angry face turned sad. She then kept saying things like “I’m sorry…I’m sorry” and even said that her husband passed away a couple weeks ago. She had photos of the last couple weeks of his life on her phone. She kept thinking she needed to find a way to back them up, but didn’t know what to do and had been in too much of a funk to figure it out. She was angry with herself about that. On top of it, she was frustrated with herself that she dropped the phone in the toilet and now will need to buy a new phone. Then she even said something to the effect of, “my husband usually takes care of all this tech stuff.”
Sarah was emotionally highjacked.
“Emotional hijacking is a state when an individual’s cognitions are overpowered by his/her emotions. It is usually referred to in the context of aggression or fearfulness.” Life and Psychology, Emotional Hijacking.
First impressions aren’t everything. Realize that sometimes, life sucks…bad. The people you meet, might be in the middle of darkest part of it. They don’t need someone to argue with them, they need someone to lean on and help them. But it’s never okay to keep up with abuse. If you haven’t already, read last week’s post on keeping cool with angry customers. This post will have a lot of overlap with it.
It’s not okay to put up with any abuse (verbal or physical), but people that are emotionally hijacked are incapable of thinking logically. Sometime so emotionally traumatic has happened that they’re actually operating in their primitive/survival part of their brain. So, attempting to logically reason with them often does not work.
– Ask them questions.
– Try to give a detailed argument or reason
In this scenario, I told her what she was doing (treating my technicians poorly) and told her exactly what she needed to do (lower her voice and treat them nicely). In this emotional state, they are unable to think for themselves, so you have to think for them. After that, the adrenaline in their brain lowers, and then after a few moments they can being thinking and reasoning again.
Word of caution.
Lets have an imaginary conversation between a technician and an emotionally highjacked customer named Carl that recently came out of one of the previously described episodes:
Tech: Ok Carl. I will need to do a repair on your computer, but I want to make sure you have all of your files backed up. Do you have a backup or know what that is?
Carl: I don’t think I have one, and I’m not completely sure what that means.
Tech: A backup is a second copy of your stuff on this computer. That way if something happens during the repair, there’s a second copy of all your stuff that’s safe with you. Would you happen to have something called an “external hard drive?”
Carl: No, I don’t have one.
Tech: Ok. Here’s what we should do. I think this hard drive would be the best for you [the technician picks out the drive], after that, I’ll help you backup your files.
Carl: ok. I can do that.
Remember, even though they are in a better place. They still are under some emotionally troubling times. So trying to put too much on them and make decisions for them will be very difficult. You also don’t want to hit another breaking point where they go back into that emotionally unreasonable state.
So here’s what you do…tell them what you think is their best option and making them feel like they’re making a lot of decisions. Also, use the word “we” instead of “you” as much as possible. If you have to get them to make a decision, make it as simple as possible, and still guide them every step of the way. Do it gently, so that the person doesn’t feel “controlled” and they have a chance to ask questions or make another decision if they want to. You don’t want to order them around, but you should say things like “I think we should do….” This will allow them to lean on you instead of going back into that survival mode.
Being skilled at working with people is probably the most hirable skillset. Most businesses would rather hire someone that works well with people and train them on their technical skills rather than the other way around. It’s so rare, and it’s the most important part of the job.
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