Copied and edited from this post by Seth Godin.
When an employee calls you up, furious, in mid-tantrum, it’s tempting to placate or to argue back. That’s the tantrum pressing your buttons. Instead, ask them to write down everything that’s bothering them, along with what they hope you’ll do, and then call you back. Or even better, meet with you tomorrow.
Engaging in the middle of a tantrum does two things: it rewards the tantrum by giving it your attention, and makes it more likely that you’ll get caught up, and say or do something that justifies the tantrum. That’s the fuel the tantrum is looking for – we throw tantrums, hoping people will throw them back.
Tantrums can be frightening. Whether it’s an employee, a customer or a dog out of control, tantrum behavior is so visceral, self-defeating and unpredictable, rational participants want nothing more than to make it go away.
And so the customer service rep or boss works to placate the tantrum thrower, which does nothing but reinforce the behavior, setting the stage for ever more tantrums. Consider three ideas:
- Listen to the person, not the tantrum
- Tantrums want to deal with tantrums
- Create systems to avoid it in the first place
The most basic way to decrease tantrums is to find the trigger moments and catch the tantrum before it starts. By creating a way for people to raise their hand, send a note, light a signal flare or otherwise highlight the problem (internal or external) before it leads to a tantrum, you can short circuit the meltdown without rewarding it.
Unfortunately, just about all customer service organizations do this precisely backward. They don’t escalate to a supervisor or roll out the kindness carpet until after someone has gone to Defcon 4. They decide that it’s too expensive to be flexible, to listen or to treat people fairly, and they wait until the costs to both sides are really high, and then they give an empowered person a chance to solve the problem.
When the cost of throwing a tantrum is high and when the systems are in place to eliminate the triggers, tantrum behavior goes down.
Thanks for listening!
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