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Ask Sue
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 asksue@suemorem.com or visit her web site at http://www.suemorem.com

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