Civic Leaders is an exclusive local government web-interview series hosted and operated by Springbrook Software, produced by the VOLSTA Media Network, and syndicated on ELGL.org. Each month the show shares a candid look into the challenges and triumphs experienced by passionate public employees that are committed to their calling.
The Angry Resident
By Bert Lowry, Springbrook Software
Recently, while I was speaking with a group of local governmentmanagers about customer service, someone said something that really floored everyone: A Finance Director at a medium-sized city explained how she didn’t like the person she had become.
After years of dealing with customer complaints, she said she changed from a happy-go-lucky people-loving-person to a battle-hardened cynic. Symptoms of which, even bled into her personal life. This had to change–as she desperately wanted to get back to the person she loved being.
It turns out her experience is not uncommon for people who work with the public. So here are 3 tips that can not only help you work with residents to solve problems better, but also keep a healthy sense of who you are and how you want to work.
Tip #1: Listen– “What I hear you saying is….”
When it comes to complaints, you’ve heard them all before–a 1000 times, but for the resident speaking with you–this is a big deal. Empathy counts, and empathy works. Try putting yourself in their position by using using active listening, repeating back what you’re hearing. It ensures that you understand their unique situation while helping them feel validated, acknowledged and heard. This alone may help ratchet down a confrontation. The take-away: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Tip #2: Stay Calm
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Here are some tactics to help you keep your cool: Lower your voice, and slow down. It not only keeps you calmer and more professional, it prompts the other person to do the same. You could also imagine that you’re a host on live TV, responsible for your yourself, your guest and the audience–keeping you on your best, most productive behavior.
Tip #3: Proactively Accommodate
Now that the emotional pitch is lowered, the stage is set for a solution. While it’s important to describe what needs to happen next, it’s more important is to take the time to explain how the solution will help resolve their concern. If it’s appropriate, you can even offer to assist them with the next steps.
If they’re still not satisfied, asking for their ideas helps move the conversation toward a collaborative solution. If all else fails, try saying this: I’d like to hear what would make YOU happy. If it’s in my power, I’ll make it happen. If not, let’s work on a solution together.
In the end, the key is turning the situation away from confrontation and toward collaboration.
With these tips in mind, the next time you find yourself talking with an unhappy resident, seize the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. Because, as strange as it seems, jointly working through conflict makes both people happier and friendlier than if there had been no problem to begin with.