Learn to deal with hostile and angry and difficult customersChapter II - Part 3

The Nature of Hostile, & Abusive Behavior

In this chapter, from Defusing Hostile Customers Workbook, we explain the purpose of customer angry and hostile behavior. We also discuss the needs of angry people, and the rules of the abuse game. To read all the free material from this book click here.

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This is continued from here

The Purpose of Hostile/Abusive Behavior

Now that we have explained where and when hostile behavior is learned, we can clearly see that its major purpose is to control, or manipulate the environment. Since we are talking about your hostile customers, we can say that the purpose is to control you, to influence your reactions in the almost naive hope that you will do

The more primitive angry/hostile behaviors that worked so well early in life reemerge in the normally rational, calm adult. So that's what happens with your hostile customers.

Understanding this helps us discover some critical principles of defusing hostility. The only one we will introduce now is the notion that we want to avoid being controlled, and that means we must avoid responding to nasty attacks in ways the attacker wants.

If we refuse to be controlled, and we refuse to react the way our attacker wishes, then we will be a good way to stopping the attack.

The Rules of The Abuse Game

If you deal with irate customers on an everyday basis, you may have noticed the similarities in terms of the attacks and tactics people use. In fact, some veterans of the customer contact arena have told us that they almost never hear anything new. They've heard it all before.

You are probably very familiar with the body language, tone of voice, specific words, and specific attacks used, since they tend to repeat. The truth is that there are only a finite number of ways people can be hostile. These attack methods are learned very young, and they can vary somewhat from culture to culture.

It almost seems that hostile behavior follows rules. Just like a game, the behavior that occurs in hostile situations is characterized by certain patterns that repeat over and over again. If we consider hostile interactions as a game, albeit a serious one, and understand that it has rules, then it will help us understand what to do when attacked. Before we discuss the two major rules of hostile interaction, we need to introduce the concept of "bait".

The Bait Concept

Recall that earlier, we said that the major purpose or goal of the attacker is to control you and your behavior. The attacker wants to take and hold the initiative, forcing you to react and respond to him, rather than the other way around. So long as the attacker can hold this control over the conversation, it is likely the interaction will continue. This isn't good, because if you are spending your time reacting and responding, you won't be able to help the customer, or even end the interaction in a positive way.

The primary technique the attacker uses to maintain control is the use of bait. Bait consists of behaviors (verbal and nonverbal) designed to get you to react, usually in an emotional manner. If you respond to the bait you hand over control of the conversation to the attacker, which is exactly what he/she wants. The bait is used to upset you enough so that you will be off balance, as a result of being angry or intimidated.

Take a look at the following brief dialogue.

Customer: What the hell is wrong with you. Every time I come here, you hassle me and give me the runaround If you knew what you were doing, this wouldn't happen. And, this is the last time you are going to do this to me.

Employee: How dare you talk to me like that. I do my best to help and you don't even see that we're shortstaffed ....

Customer: I can talk to you any way I want. I pay your salary! You work for me!

If you look carefully at the customer's first statements, what you will find is almost everything there is bait. The customer's comments are blaming, demeaning and threatening. And nothing in the employee's remarks is useful or helpful in solving whatever the customer's problem might be.

Now, look at how the employee responds. He responds with an aggressive remark (How dare you talk to me like that) followed by a defensive remark. But the important thing to note is that the employee has taken the bait, responded to the attacking remarks, and is being controlled by the attacker. By responding in this way, the employee is giving up control.

The customer replies with additional bait. In addition, the conversation is now going far afield. Whatever the original problem, it has now been lost. If this conversation were to continue, we would find that it would get more destructive, and perhaps even more abusive, as both parties will behave badly.

This is typical of situations where an employee takes the bait. The employee's reaction sends a few "submessages" to the customer. First, the customer knows he has found some gaps in the employee's armor and now knows that he can maintain control using this kind of baiting behavior. Second, the customer knows that he can upset the employee. The upshot is that the attacks will probably continue, since the customer is getting what he wants .... control over the employee and control over the interaction.

Now, let's take a look at a slightly different scenario.

Customer: What the hell is wrong with you. Every time I come here, you hassle me and give me the runaround. If you knew what you were doing, this wouldn't happen. And, this is the last time you are going to do this to me.

Employee: Mr. Smith, you sound really upset about this.

Customer: Damn right I'm upset. What are you going to do about this?

Employee: I need some information from you so I can help. Can you give me your file number?

Customer: It's B05949.

Note the difference. The employee does not take the bait dangled by the customer, and is working to reassert control over the interaction. He does this by acknowledging the person's anger, but NOT exploring any of the bait remarks. At the end of this short dialogue, the customer responds to the employee. This second conversation is much more likely to be shorter, and more productive.

The key point is that the attacker expects you to take the bait ... it's in the rules of the hostile game. The psychological rule the attack uses goes like this:

If I use bait, the other person will react to it in ways that will allow me to maintain control.

So, you want to break this rule of the game. After all, why should you play this game, which is defined by the attacker. You are going to set up a new game, with a different set of rules, and the first step is to not play by the attacker's rules, on the attacker's turf.

The key point about bait is that you don't take it. Recognize it for what it is, an attempt by the other person to control and irritate you. Later on we will talk about specific responses you can make that take you out of the hostile game, but for now remember that bait hides a nasty barbed hook. Stay away from it.

More Rules

There are a few more rules about hostile interaction you need to know. The reason you need to know them is they are the rules for the game the attacker is playing, and you don't want to play that game.

When you are attacked the rules specify that you will respond, almost on a gut level, with one of two expected responses. You are expected to react quickly and without thought, since you unconsciously learned these things when you were very young.

Rule 1: When attacked you will respond defensively.

This rule specifies that when attacked you will attempt to defend yourself Often this defense will consist of denying the charge levelled at you. Common defensive responses would be:

• I only work here

• I try the best I can

• We are shortstaffed

• I am treating you fairly

• I know what I'm doing

• We don't lose files

Defensive statements almost always have the word "I" in them, or the word "WE".

Rule 2: When attacked you will counterattack.


This rule specifies that when attacked, you will counterattack, making remarks or comments about the attacker. Common counterattacking remarks would be:

• You have no right to talk to me like that.

• You don't know what you are talking about.

• Get out

• It's too bad your parents didn't teach you manners.

Counterattacking remarks almost always contain the word "YOU" in them, although sometimes the YOU is implied (e.g.. Get out).

The two rules above define what the attacker EXPECTS from you, according to the game the attacker is playing. It is very important to realize that if you play this game, by the attacker's rules, you will ultimately lose. You will lose time, and you will encourage the attack to continue. Although the above responses may be natural, gut responses to attacks, they almost always make things worse.

So, to summarize this section:

1. Stay away from responding to bait. That attacker wants you to take the bait, and dangle on the hook inside.

2. Avoid responding with defensive statements, no matter how tempting. If you use a defensive statement, you are playing the attacker's game by the attacker's rules.

3. Avoid counterattacking for the same reasons stated above.

Remember that when you do what the attacker expects, the attacker will continue to attack without skipping a beat. The key, as you will see later, is to respond to attacks in UNEXPECTED ways, to force the attacker to think.

Other parts of this chapter and other excerpts
| Part 1 | | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Read Preface | Back to Main Book Page |

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Special Help: Prevent and Master Angry and Difficult Customers


Don't let difficult, angry customers control you. Learn to take control, stay cool, and remain professional in the toughest situations
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Reviewer Praise From Amazon Readers

Bacal nails it! While more are messing with the entanglements of Customer Satisfaction which leads to no where...he addresses the specifics head on and focuses on the greater picture and ultimate goal of the Customer Experience which leads to Loyalty. Excellent job! (Macy in Oklahoma, 2013)

One of the best things I learned from this book is how to turn a negative experience into a positive one. Using the tools from this gem of a book I have calmed people down, turned bad situations into good, and kept customers who would have otherwise left us and written ten nasty reviews in their wake. It is so empowering to be able to do that, rather than feel awful and abused. This is a must buy, must read for people who work with customers day in and day out. Do it for your own sanity, and to help improve your own job performance and satisfaction! (E. Meehan, California, 2012)

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