7 Tips to Calm Angry Constituents

by Betty Lochner on January 11, 2012


They’re Back!

This week, our State Legislature returns for a brutal budget fixing session.  It’s a challenging time for everyone – legislators trying to do the impossible and make unpopular decisions, staff trying to support the legislators do the impossible, and constituents who don’t agree with the decisions and want to be heard.

Put that all together and you can guarantee there will be lots of angry constituent calls.

Taking angry calls is stressful.  Much of that stress is because we feel like we don’t know how to handle them well or fear we will make the situation worse.  On one hand, we want to be helpful, and let constituents be heard. On the other hand, people can be down right mean and obnoxious. They can make us defensive, frustrated and exasperated.

Taking an angry call doesn’t have to be a recipe for disaster.  Learning to calm angry constituents is a skill that will serve you well in all areas in your life.  In fact, in the job market, it is a sought after skill.  Oh, and it may also save your sanity at work.

Here’s how to get through angry calls like a pro:

1) Stay calm:

The best way to defuse the situation is by calming the irate caller with your positive and professional behavior.  Breathe. Remain calm and cool headed – no matter what.

2) Stay positive:

Even in the worst of circumstances, try to adopt a positive approach and mindset. This will help you to manage stress more effectively so you are not weighed down by the hostile attitude of the constituent. If you decide to engage, try to express your point of view without offending the caller.

3) Be patient:

Although it is not easy to control your emotions when a constituent is being unreasonable, it’s best to remain professional, friendly and cooperative. Having patience will go a long way in winning over hostile callers. They may not always remember what you say, but they will remember how they were treated.

4) Listen.

Listen more than you speak. If you respond forcefully to someone who starts out angry, the situation will almost certainly escalate. Let the caller get it all out of his system. As he talks, occasionally indicate that you are still listening. The more time the caller spends airing his grievances, the more time he has to calm down.

Allow the constituent to express his opinion and communicate his feelings without judgment. Step in only if the constituent becomes directly abusive towards you.

5) Don’t tolerate abuse.

If the caller is abusive, maintain your personal integrity.  Calmly say something like, “I appreciate your frustration with the situation, however attacking me (or the legislator, or your boss) does not help.”

If the abuse continues say, “I will not allow you to be to abusive to me. I am hanging up now.” Then hang up.

6) Show that you care:

Once the anger subsides, there will be a short interval when the caller pauses for breath and that’s when you have an opportunity to express your sympathy. Make sure the constituent knows that you understand his frustration. Recognize his feelings about the situation and if possible, try to imagine how it must feel to be the constituent.

When people are angry and yelling, it is a plea to be heard. I’ve had constituents thank me for listening to them even when I never in a million years would agree with their positions.

7) De-stress yourself:

Don’t let it get to you.  It’s important for your own health as well as constituent relations that you learn how to de-stress yourself. Don’t take it personally or dwell over it. Instead, take a coffee break, get up and walk around, listen to music for a few minutes, or talk with a friend. Meditation and breathing exercises could also help. Find what works for you.

Good luck! It’s going to be a wild ride!

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Betty LochnerBetty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home.  She is also the director of Washington’s 529 Prepaid Tuition Program.

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