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a blog by Don R. Crawley

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Those of us who work in IT, especially in technical support, often have to deal with people who are losing their cool. Maybe a printer failed at the worst time, maybe the network went down right in the middle of an important project, maybe a computer blue-screened right in the middle of a client demonstration. Maybe what happened wasn’t really that big of a deal, but the end user or customer is really angry. Maybe the other person isn’t even a customer, perhaps they’re a co-worker or a boss. Regardless of what happened, you’ve got someone who is really angry and you’ve got to deal with them. Here are ten tips to help you keep your cool when everyone around you is really hot (or angry).

10 Ways to Keep Your Cool

  1. It’s Not Personal Conflicts with customers and co-workers are not usually personal. Don’t take it personally. Sure, sometimes that’s hard to do, yet it’s important for you to maintain your cool even during such a conflict.
  2. Pause and Breathe First of all, pause for a moment. You’ll need to acknowledge what was said: “I hear you and I understand (state the problem).” Then, state that you’re going to pause: “I need just a moment to process this.” Give yourself four or five seconds to take a deep breath (or two) and think about the best way to respond. Then, respond. Remember the stop light metaphor which we’ve discussed before. When you encounter an emotionally charged situation, first go to red, which means stop. Then go to yellow, in which you consider your range of options. Then, finally, go to green in which you choose the best option in terms of achieving a positive outcome for yourself, the other person, your co-workers, and the company.
  3. Use Empathetic Words and Phrases A sincerely offered phrase, such as “I’m really sorry that happened to you.” can go a long way toward defusing an emotionally charged situation and heading off an exchange of angry words. Just make sure you can say it sincerely.
  4. Paraphrase When you respond, paraphrase what you just heard. You might even say something like “I want to make sure I understand you correctly, so let me paraphrase what you just said.” Then, summarize what the other person said to you and ask something like “Is that it? Do I understand you correctly?” There are three benefits to paraphrasing: First, you ensure you understand the other person correctly, second, you stay connected to the other person when you feel fighting with them, and third, paraphrasing provides another pause…an opportunity for a cooler head to prevail.
  5. Gather More Information After you paraphrase, gather more information from the other person. Use phrases such as “Tell me more about what happened.” or “Help me understand how this affects you.” In addition to gathering more information, you’re showing interest in the other person’s problem.
  6. Remind Yourself to Keep Your Cool Constantly remind yourself to keep your cool. Consider putting small signs in places where you’ll see them reminding you to keep calm. During World War II, the British Government even produced a poster which has recently become popular. It read “Keep calm and carry on.” Good advice.
  7. Think of What You Can Control Think about what is within your control and what you can’t control. Deal with what is within your control and let go of that which is outside of your control. If you have no control over it, what’s the point of getting upset about it?
  8. Take a Timeout Depending on the nature of the problem, perhaps you can take a break from the confrontation and revisit it later when emotions aren’t so raw and neither of you are so fired up. Try saying something like, “I’m pretty upset right now, so I wonder if we could take a few minutes (or a day or longer) to let me calm down and then discuss this at a later date.”
  9. Focus on the Bigger Picture Remember that your job (and the other person’s job) is about accomplishing the goals of the company. Be intentional and think about how your words and actions might impact the company’s goals and your career.
  10. Take a Break After dealing with an emotionally charged situation, give yourself a short break. Go to the restroom and splash cold water on your face, take a brief walk outside, or watch a funny YouTube video. Give your mind and body a chance to recover.

Keep Your Cool for Your Career and Your Life

Your ability to keep your cool when everyone around you is hot will serve you well in both your professional and your personal life. Use these ten tips to maintain your cool in emotionally charged situations at work and in your personal life. You will gain the respect of your bosses and co-workers and family and friends, you will keep your stress levels under control, and you will dramatically improve your quality of life.

For More Ideas on How to Improve Communication and Customer Service Skills

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Discussion

  1. Don Crawley says:

    Kevin, you’re absolutely right in your observation about the problem with harboring anger and resentment. I didn’t mean to suggest that anyone simply sweep issues under the table and ignore them. Rather, the best way is to deal with issues as they come up in an assertive, but not aggressive, manner. That means that you stick to the issues and avoid getting personal with name-calling and value judgments. Psychologists recommend using lots of “I” and “me” statements in which you talk about how the issue affects you, instead of using “you” statements in which you point fingers and blame at the other person.

    There’s probably not much you can do about your boss who has anger issues. I’ve never been very successful at changing other people. The only thing you can do is control how he affects you. It may be time to look for a different job if your boss can’t control himself.

    The key is to find a way to deal with issues calmly and factually without letting your emotions control you. That’s sometimes easier said than done, yet as you pointed out, it’s a mark of maturity and emotional intelligence to be able to control your temper. Not only that, it’s better for your health!

    Thanks for your comment. Good luck with your situation.

  2. Kevin Anderson says:

    I have no doubt that not keeping your cool is completely counter productive. The problem I have is that when I “keep my cool” I harbor that anger and resentment and it creeps out at a later time. There is such a temptation to be snarky. I think IT people are the kings of passive aggressive.

    You know my boss has a real anger problem. For some time he had a laptop that had a concaved keyboard from his pounding it with his fist. When I get angry I think about that laptop and consider that as destructive as what he did to that laptop was, doing the same thing verbally to a person is far worse. I always say that a man who can’t control his temper is no less out of control than one who can’t control his tears! One is just more socially acceptable than the other.

    Never the less, after you have been mature and held your tongue, often the matter that caused the blowup still remains and must be addressed. The most difficult question is how to deal with an issue when it is all you can do to not let your anger creep through the cracks!


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