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Diffuse Tension Between You and Your Customer

10 Jan, 2006 By: Robert Abbott imageSource

Diffuse Tension Between You and Your Customer

Let’s face it, sooner or later
you will find yourself in a one-on-one confrontation with a customer who is less
than friendly. Regardless of the cause of the customer’s distress, there is
something you can do to diffuse the tension you both are experiencing.

Priority one is understanding what not to do—mainly resisting using the usual,
ineffective methods.

• Do not be condescending by diminishing their degree of discomfort. For
example, telling them things are not that bad, or apologizing and asking them
what you can do to help. They are not some helpless child who needs a little
encouragement after suffering a boo-boo.

• Do not invalidate their perceptions. You are stepping on their reality. You do
that and you add to the tension.

So what to do?

Four simple steps will always work for you: listen, affirm, paraphrase, and

1. Listen

Customers share with you the facts as they know them. This is data. Listen
carefully for detail. When they get to an emotional pause or break in the
conversation, where it appears they are finished, which they are not, ask,
“And?” They will always continue with more of their story. This is what you
want. The more they share, the more trust is built. Trust cannot coexist with
tension. Tension exists as an energy that hangs in the air between you and your
customer because they do not trust you yet.

2. Affirm

Now that you have more information from someone who feels “heard,” explain how
you appreciated them sharing their experience and you want to make sure you got
it all clearly. Ask them if that is alright. They will always say yes. By asking
their permission to validate your understanding of their story, you in fact
validate them. This creates a subtle bond that further diminishes tension.

3. Paraphrase

Restate what you heard them say and do it in your own words. You do not want to
sound like a parrot. Be honest and authentic in restating the facts you heard.
Do it with neutral emotions. This is just an effective summary of the essential
facts. This part of the exchange also creates a further subtle bond between the
two of you. They are being heard once again and further validated because you
are “getting it.”

4. Confirm

Allow the customer to clarify anything you did not get right. Finish this
exchange by closing with a very brief summary of the discussion and the facts.
Let them know that you “got it.”

Once again, tension cannot coexist with trust. Your customer will not feel
tension when they feel heard, validated and understand that you understand.
Additionally, you will not feel tension when you are really listening to them.

Tension drains positive energy from a potentially beneficial exchange between
you and your customer. Give this a try the next time you find yourself
face-to-face with a customer who is tense about something that they care about.
You will be rewarded handsomely.

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