Communication: Count to 10…Or maybe longer?

cropped-cropped-frustration1.jpgAloha all,

We all have bad days and good days. Customer service and communication skills training tells us that the minute you walk in the door, you leave it all behind. But let’s be realistic, that doesn’t always happen. And sometimes, your bad day happens at your business.

So the rule of thumb is: count to 10 before you respond. What happens if that isn’t long enough? Some people say it’s the 24 hour rule, but that doesn’t work if you’re right there in front of the person who is the potential cause of your bad day. And you can’t just say “I’m sorry, you’re pissing me off, I need to walk away and come back in 24 hours to answer you”. Where’s that “Easy” button when you need it?

So, what to do?

Here’s a few recommendations. Some are easier to do than others. Most will take practice. But all are effective and can become second nature if practiced often.

  • Focus on the complainant’s words and make mental notes (or actual notes). This often acts as a deterrent to an emotional response and gives your brain something to do in the background (coming up with positive solutions).
  • While listening, tell yourself that the person could be having a bad day for other reasons that are contributing to their reaction to the current situation in an unreasonable and over-reactionary fashion. This makes the situation somewhat bearable and allows you to focus on possible things that may have happened to that person. Plus it allows your mind to transfer into an empathetic state, so you can be more aware of keywords that might help tone down the emotional side of the discussion and focus on solutions.
  • When the other person takes a break from talking, quickly and simply summarize the main points they were making. Ask them if this summary seems correct or accurate. This often fizzles the emotional input by confirming to the other person that you are listening and that you care about what they are saying and the issue they have.
  • Breath. Believe or not, breathing does help. If you feel your temper and blood pressure rising, and your instinct is to fire off something that most likely will not help, stop and breathe. You can focus on breathing and still listen. Resist the temptation to retaliate. It won’t end well.
  • If you feel that the conversation is straying from emotional control, and straying from the facts, and is starting to venture into a non-reality based blame or accusation session, acknowledge the person’s grievances and very politely ask if you could continue the conversation at another time when you are both calmer. Make sure you have another time in mind, that is within 24 hours, and that you set up a specific appointment and location. This will provide the complainant some minor satisfaction and may allow them to calm down some as well.
  • Remind yourself that a bad day in your world may be someone else’s good day. Sometimes, even though this is cliché, it helps. I know when I’ve had what I consider to be a really bad day, I’ll take a call from a vendor or client who is having a miserable day, and it really helps to put things in perspective.

These tips should help diffuse many situations. Feel free to customize these to your own style and communication skillset.

I hope this helps.


Lynn Herkes


About Lynn Herkes

Lynn Herkes has over 26 years experience and education in customer service, production, process improvement, quality control, and engineering. She has a broad industry background including aerospace, tourism, travel, hotel, restaurant, property management, customer service, equestrian training, scuba instruction, business and project management, operations, and ownership.