Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Dealing with angry people shouting at me on the telephone

Unfortunately, I sometimes have to deal with angry people shouting at me on the telephone. I understand that their anger probably is due to frustration with Priority, when they are apparently unable to perform some function. I get the feeling that my usual reaction - that there is no real problem - only increases their frustration. Whilst I am good at solving problems in Priority, I am not so good at calming people down, and I tend to begin shouting back at them ... which solves nothing.

I often tell these people to send me an email, telling me what the problem is, along with full details. Sometimes this is sufficient, but frequently those who shout at me tend not to be able to write very well - which is why they phoned me in the first place.

I lack the tools to deal with these people on the phone. Should I let them rant at length until they get tired, and then ask a pertinent question? It is my experience that these people don't answer the question that I ask, but continue ranting.

Obviously, I had a case like this today. Someone (a Russian) called me, full of frustration, saying that he couldn't update a warehouse transfer. As I was in the middle of something when he called, I asked him to send me the number of the transfer. About ten minutes later, I received his email and checked the transfer: it was at a status which allows updates, and I even changed a few values to be certain that there was no other problem (I changed them back to their original values). I wrote and told him this. 

A few minutes later, he calls me back, even more enraged. I try to ask him something - more rage. I try to explain (not being very successful in holding back my own rage) that it would be better if I ask questions and try and help on the basis of the answers to those questions. He reluctantly agrees, but after I ask my next question, he continues ranting. I don't bother answering; I hang up - which should be inexcusable, but seems to be the only thing that I can do.

I then send another letter, explaining again that the transfer is editable, and that he should cite the part number which is giving him problems. I have yet to receive an answer (this was several hours ago). I would like to think that he tried to update the transfer and discover that he was able to, and so felt no need to communicate with me further. I should point out that this is someone with whom I have very little contact and is geographically remote from me.

It often happens that people say to me (calmly!) that they have a problem; when I talk them through whatever they are doing, the problem magically goes away. I call this the 'white coat syndrome', after the strange effect that a doctor's white coat has on patients' blood pressure. Practically, it comes down to paying more attention when doing something. But the frustration often causes less attention, which leads to more problems....

Again, my problem is how to calm these people down sufficiently in order to talk them through what needs to be done. I inflame their anger instead of dousing it. Maybe I would be better at this if I had more practice! I should ask someone to make angry phone calls to me every day ... but then of course, if the anger is faked, then my attempts to defuse the situation will be ignored.

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