A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
Telephone Tip: How to Handle Irate Callers
Dear Sue: We are a trauma based surgical specialty practice.
We often receive phone calls from patients that are rude, demeaning and
insulting. We are called names and cursed at occasionally. We do realize
that many of the patients calling are in pain and may just want our
help, and some are very frustrated they are not getting exactly what
they want. I am looking for suggestions for my phone staff to help them
not get burned out by the difficult patients and motivate them to
maintain professionalism and empathy to the rest of the patients. Do you
have any advice?
Sue Says: I asked Petra Marquart, author of The Power of Service
to help answer your question. Part of the reason it is such a touchy
situation is because of what happens inside the brain during traumatic
times. People get literally stuck in the right hemisphere of their
brain--the emotional side-- and physically can't get to the logical
rational side--even if they want to.
Petra says the most important factor during these calls is the call
receiverís tone of voice. People need to know the person they are
talking to cares about them and this must be emphatic and clear. The
call receiver must deal with the caller's emotion before they can get to
the facts. Using an exaggerated (but real) calm, caring voice and words
is the first step. Once the person has calmed down, then the details of
their situation can be discussed.
When someone continues to be abusive and will not calm down, the
person taking the call should have a place to send a difficult caller
and be able to transfer the call to someone highly skilled in dealing
with abusive people.
Being prepared to handle difficult callers will make it easier to
deal with an angry caller when it comes and having someone to talk to
after encountering an angry caller will help that person move on. A
strong support system in such an environment cannot be underestimated.
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at
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