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Tips for managing emotions

In most cases you can work with your financial services provider to resolve a problem and a third party like FOS will not be required. Sometimes feelings can run high when we are trying to get a problem fixed and this might get in the way of finding a solution. In her article Getting Steamed Up When You Make a Complaint? dispute resolution expert Nina Harding provides a guide on how to keep focused on getting a result.

Getting Steamed Up When You Make a Complaint?

Sometimes emotions can get in the way when we are trying to get a problem fixed or when we have a dispute. Waiting on hold, listening to the on-hold music, having to tell your story several times or speaking to someone who doesn't seem to understand can lead to feelings of frustration and even anger.

Expressing how you feel, By saying 'I am angry or disappointed or frustrated or feeling powerless', can help the listener understand what is really happening for you. Indeed if you can describe how you feel in a non-threatening, non-aggressive way sometimes the other person will try even harder to resolve your complaint. But strong negative emotions can be very unhelpful and can result in traumatised complaint handlers and unsatisfied customers.

Most complaint handlers in call centres are trained to deal with high emotions from callers but sometimes those emotions can cloud the issues. Complaint Handlers can miss the real reason for the call because they are focused on dealing with the high emotions. If you focus on negative thoughts such as 'they don't believe me', 'she doesn't seem to care', 'I'm not important' your real concern about your Service Provider (perhaps a bank or insurance company) may not get the attention it deserves.

Also, if you focus on past bad experiences that you have had with Service Providers, this might stop you from focusing on your complaint, from explaining it clearly or considering options. It is often the case that the more anger you express the less effective you become and the less you are really listened to and understood.

Phone calls

Here are some thoughts on ways to manage your emotions during a phone call:

  • Before the call try to make a list of the most important things you want to achieve (e.g. let them understand how bad the service is, get it fixed before next week, try to get a refund)
  • Remember the person in the call centre wants to resolve your problem and didn't personally cause the problem. They have feelings too.
  • Think about what you might do if you can't get a satisfactory resolution (I could contact the Financial Ombudsman Service)
  • Before you make the call think about what the Service Provider might be able to do that you could live with (they might not provide compensation but they might waive a fee or provide an explanation for why something happened or commit to fixing the service)
  • Make sure you have sufficient time to make the call
  • Don't call when you are already really angry
  • Be aware of the changes in physiology when you get angry (you might breath more rapidly, your heart might speed up, you might tense up) and try to use some calming techniques when you notice these changes
  • Stay focused on the problem and try not to make it personal, don't make an enemy of the person who is trying to help you.
  • Think about what works to calm you down (deep breathes in and out, telling yourself that you need to relax or stop, having a cup of tea that you can sip, ending the call and calling back later, etc)
  • Imagine someone is there watching you make the call (your Mum or your best friend)
  • Ask someone to call on your behalf and stay in the room while they make the call.

Sometimes we give ourselves permission to get angry and yell at someone. We have all done it once or twice. Most of the time we try not to because it is not socially acceptable. However, occasionally the situation overwhelms us and we do yell, make threats or become abusive.

Here are some tips for what to do when this happens:

  • Try to recognise the physical signs before you have an angry outburst. Choose to not get angry and instead focus back on the problem and its resolution.
  • If you do get angry an apology goes a long way, eg. 'I'm sorry about that, I am very upset that this is taking so long'.
  • Tell the other person that you need to take a break and ask if you can call them back. Take a walk, have a break and resume a positive conversation when you can.
  • Recognise that your anger is not helping to resolve your complaint.
  • Try to avoid blaming the Complaint Handler and instead focus on the issue you want to resolve.
  • Try to identify what is pushing your buttons (perhaps the way the other person speaks to you, or perhaps you feel like you are being blamed). They may not mean to make you feel this way. Try to focus on what you want to achieve rather than how you feel about the problem.

Good luck! It isn't easy to manage emotions but if you can you will be able to have more constructive conversations and hopefully resolve your complaints.

Nina Harding has over 15 years experience in resolving business and community disputes. She regularly speaks at conferences and has taught thousands of people how to resolve conflict more effectively.