Knowledge Centre – Conflict Management Training

Fixed price for up to 15 delegates anywhere in the UK. No additional costs. Click here to enquire about training.
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Managing conflict is no laughing matter!

A friend of mine recently flew over to Germany to visit some relatives. Being an adept of ‘travelling light’, she had only brought cabin luggage with her. But in that one small suitcase, she had tried to sneak through a jar of homemade jam. Now, this friend knew full well she was taking a risk; she knew of the strict ‘no liquids above 100ml’ regulation but she counted on the following: 1. Maybe naively, that the jam jar would not show up as ‘potentially dangerous’ on the x-ray; 2. If it was spotted, she could argue that jam is not…

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Are you road-rageous?

A participant on one of our conflict management courses once admitted to fits of full-scale road rage including on occasions jumping out of the car, making rude gestures and intimidating other drivers. He then added rather sheepishly that the only times he managed to curb these seemingly uncontrollable eruptions were when his young son was sitting in the back of the car. Interesting, how a simple change of perspective (‘my son is watching and learning from me’) can bring about such a change of behaviour (‘I’d better get a grip and calm down’). So how is it for you behind…

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What angry customers want

During this current credit crunch the public need their banks and money to be safe (our primary want). In theory then, if our financial institutions are safe, we should all feel satisfied. Unfortunately for the banks, we also have some other, secondary wants that are not being addressed and are causing a lot of disquiet. It would be nice to know for example, who is responsible? Are they going to explain what happened? Are they going to apologise? The same holds for angry customers; they usually have a primary want (the payment, repair, delivery, or other service). However, if they…

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In fear of the customer

Conflict management training can help staff to live less in fear of the customer – and customer complaints in particular. Staff can be intimidated by the power of the customer – ironically often the more progressive the organisation, the more fear staff can feel. The Conflict Training Company promotes the adage that ‘the customer is always right’, but what happens to staff when the customer is always right? Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961), often referred to as the mother of American Journalism, was quoted as saying “Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live”. Staff and organisations living…

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What are your customers trying to tell you

Any angry conversation has three aspects we need to be aware of in order to contain and resolve the conflict – the subject, the feelings, and the intensity of the feelings. A customer will usually convey the content of the issue (“my boiler is not working”), his feelings about it (“this is ridiculous”), and then often display the intensity of his feelings (shouting, swearing). In a well-intentioned bid to solve the issue as quickly as possible and put an end to the awkwardness of the situation, staff can tend to concentrate on the subject by offering a solution. The problem…

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You just have to get angry to get things done?

A debt collector said on a recent course that ultimately he had to get angry to get his point across. Some of the clients he telephones will deny they purchased goods even though he has their signature on an order form. Worse still, they can deny ever having spoken to him when he knows he has spoken to them on several recent occasions. It is understandable that dealing with clients who are ‘trying it on’ is very frustrating but what is achieved through engaging in angry behaviour towards them? If you do, you are now working with a client who…

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Supporting staff who challenge difficult customer behaviour

Who is responsible for creating angry customer behaviour such as swearing, being patronising, sexist, sarcastic, aggressive, condescending or rude? This question can often be baffling for staff. Frequently they answer by saying they themselves or their organisation create the behaviour. The logic operating is that if we provided the service properly the customer would not react in this way. In other words, we are responsible for the customer behaving in this way. This assumes that the customer does not have a choice about their behaviour, so if we disappoint them they are entitled to behave in this way. Is this…

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Solving conflict needs thinking space

Angry interactions are characterised by rapid reactions rather than considered thinking. When customers have lost the ability to deal with their angry emotions, they have difficulty hearing and registering anything said by staff. The more information they have to deal with in this state, the more they tend to react. Trying to get them to understand our point of view, justifying ourselves, or defending our position is often met with instant hostility. Adrenaline has been coursing through their system and in a sense they have been hijacked by their emotions. Either by using their own internal resources or with our…

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When is it wise to apologise?

Last week David Hartnett, the UK’s top tax official, refused to apologise after his service took the wrong amount of tax from six million people. Asked if he would say sorry to those facing unexpected bills, Mr Hartnett told BBC Radio 4’s Money Box programme: “I’m not sure I see a need to apologise”. He has now locked himself into a battle with the nation, led by the press, demanding an apology. He may hold out in the face of anger from his customers but he may have to endure a great deal of stress before the situation calms down….

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What to listen out for to solve conflict

Have you ever had a conversation like this? Child: ‘We never go on far-away holidays’. You hear: (We are poor, I have failed). Child may actually mean: ‘I feel awkward when my friends talk about their holidays’. The resulting conversation is probably going to focus on your perspective rather than on the needs of the child. Most conflict is sparked not by the actual words spoken but how we interpret those words. The message we hear is often not what is said. This is often compounded by the other person not being clear about what they are trying to say….

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Breaking the cycle of customers’ anger

Customers often have great difficulty containing their emotions so it is important that we don’t add our own into the mix. When people’s anger erupts, they have used up their internal resources to solve the problem so they are projecting their emotions outwards to see if someone else can solve the problem. At this point staff tend to make one or more of the following mistakes: They focus on trying to justify their position (‘The reason we did that is…’); or they tell the customer that they should not feel the way they do (‘There is no need to be…

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How to support staff who manage customer anger

The key tenet of health and safety law is that employers must not put staff in situations which pose a risk to their health and wellbeing. This concept is well understood and practiced where employers recognise physical situations such as not exposing staff to faulty equipment or to the possibility of slips and trips. It is less well practiced when the health and wellbeing of staff are put at risk from exposure to customers’ aggression. Managing the impact of customer aggression seems less clear cut than managing the risks to staff from equipment failure. However the impact of being constantly…

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When attack is not the best form of defence

One factor that can turn a pleasant conversation into a raging argument is when a customer verbally attacks our carefully built and well preserved view of ourselves. Our ego is hardwired to protect our basic belief that we are smart, moral and competent. Therefore any indication that we are not, especially in an area that is very important to us, (e.g. our competency, morals or judgements), can cause intense discomfort which we try to avoid at any cost. The irony is that in order to sustain this dearly held idea that we are smart, moral and competent, we often end…

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Missing the point of customers’ anger

Recently whilst running a course for electric metre installers we were asked why such a simple task as installing a metre is often accompanied by a great deal of customer anger. Think about it: electric metres record units of electricity used, which translates to money, and money (or lack thereof) generates fear and anxiety. Putting it another way, the angry behaviour (shouting, swearing) is often driven by feelings of fear and anxiety. ‘Do you mean to say that I am dealing with a customer who is frightened rather than angry?, asked the delegate’. He got it in one! His next…

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Chandler from Friends had the right idea

I asked a group of parents recently: when would you discuss your teenager’s school performance after a parents’ evening where teachers had made complaints? They said they would not even wait to get home! Guess what they said when I asked them how they thought the conversation would go…?! As Chandler from the popular Friends TV series said in an episode – “All right, look if you absolutely have to tell her the truth, at least wait until the timing’s right. That’s what deathbeds are for.” Chandler had the idea. Timing is crucial to managing conflict, enhancing relationships and achieving…

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The willingness to meet customers’ needs

On the spur of the moment a friend and I went for lunch recently. Unfortunately, as we discovered, our enthusiasm to eat was defeated by the fact that we were on the wrong side of lunch time. We entered the first restaurant after a quick glance at its appetising menu outside. A staff member approached us smiling and apologised that the kitchen had closed and although normally they could accommodate some late arrivals the Chef had to leave promptly that day. An apology… I find those very seductive; I was beginning to warm to the place. “Although no one is…

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Understanding unreasonable customers’ demands

Why not try this the next time you are in your bank’s branch: Demand from the counter staff that they write off your mortgage or your credit card bills. When staff politely respond that this is not possible, accuse them of giving you a mortgage or credit you could not afford – so it’s their fault! They might then look at you incredulously and try again to turn you down politely. If you stopped at that, all would be fine for all concerned. However, what if you insisted and started to shout and swear at them? Staff may now get…

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What if the customer is wrong

I was recently sent an MP3 recording of a staff member dealing with a client where it looked like the customer was in the ‘wrong’. The customer was calling the managing agent for the block of flats she lived in. Some work had been done recently on the water mains and the water pressure had increased substantially. The customer was trying to establish if the leak in her flat had happened as a result of the increased water pressure. The conversation started as a reasonable request for information. The customer was calm and reasonable at the outset and did state…

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Working with potentially violent people

Frequently when running conflict management training courses we hear vociferous complaints from staff who feel vulnerable because they have to visit potentially dangerous people; often with little or no advanced information about the people they are visiting. One gets the impression that organisations would never expose their staff to common health and safety risks but often have a blind spot when expecting staff to visit people who are in known high risk groups. The alleged reasons for this are: It’s ‘part of the job’ It’s against the Data Protection Act to hold information on potentially dangerous people There is confusion…

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Needs – The best kept secret in managing conflict

There is much discussion in the media during these chastened financial times about the difference between what we want and what we need. It is apparent that for most of us a great deal of the goods and services we wanted in recent years may have been in excess of what we actually needed. The credit card companies’ profits would be in serious jeopardy if the idea of buying what we needed rather than what we wanted was to catch on. Want versus need is also at the heart of understanding conflict. An angry customer is keen to convey what…

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Anger – The tip of the emotional iceberg

I visited a High School last week and witnessed the following interaction in the reception area… Parent: ‘I have come to pick up my daughter. Receptionist: ‘What’s her name?’ Parent: ‘You should know, you contacted me’ (said with an angry tone of voice). Receptionist: ‘I didn’t call you!’ Parent: ‘Well, somebody here did.’ Receptionist: ‘Well, it wasn’t me.’ Whilst this interaction was taking place the receptionist wrote out a Visitors Pass and pushed it across the desk so hard the parent failed to catch it and it landed on the floor. I was expecting an onslaught from the parent at…

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How to Think rather than React during conflict

How many of your New Year’s resolutions are still on course? Some I hope. Here is one to add to your list that could have a profound impact on your most important relationships. Give it a go! Think of the last conflict you have been involved in, in December, or during the festive period perhaps? Come on, be honest! During the conflict, were you using words and a tone of voice that encouraged the other person to think, or to react? Let me guess, there wasn’t a lot of clear thinking going on but probably a lot of reacting. The…

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Managing conflict by avoiding ‘absolutes’

Recently, as I was queuing in a branch of a major supermarket chain, I overheard the following conversation between a customer and the checkout assistant. Customer: (handing over her car park ticket for a refund) “Please may I have a refund on that?” Assistant: “You need the other part of the ticket” Customer: “But this one has the price on it” Assistant: “You still need the other part of the ticket” Customer: “Why? This one has the price on it” Assistant: “I cannot refund on that part, I still need the other part of the ticket” Customer: (walking away) “That’s…

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Managing unpredictable behaviour

With normal everyday behaviour, we can predict a great deal. We say ‘hello’ and we expect someone to say ‘hello’ back. There are many social conventions that all ‘normally’ behaving people comply with: if I enter a waiting room in which you are already sitting, unless I know you I will sit with at least one empty chair between us; if we are strangers, then I don’t expect you to come up and hug me; etc. Being able to predict gives us a certain measure of control over situations; if we have a fair idea of what is going to…

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Dealing with conflict during change

When dealing with colleagues or anyone else who may be coming from a different perspective to us, there is always potential for conflict. Clashes of personality, styles, and expectations can lead to anything from innocent misunderstandings to inappropriate behaviour and open hostility. In a context of organisational change, with staff having to adopt a new working style or job-role and possibly fearing the ‘sack’, general ill-feeling can more easily turn into full-blown, department-wide conflict. Yet in many situations, this scenario could have been avoided if individual members of staff had invested a bit of time in building good relationships with…

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Handling difficult people

The bully, the gossip, the misery, the know-it-all, the procrastinator, the silent presence, the ‘I want to be everyone’s friend’… We’ve all met them. In fact, if we are totally honest, there’s probably a little of these in all of us! Let’s get one thing straight from the start: we can’t change other people. We can only change how we behave towards them, which in turn will influence their behaviour. Here are some strategies that can help! Become aware of how you react in different situations. For example, when someone is angry with you, is giving you feedback, or when…

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The simplicity of listening well

I had a soup and a roll in a hotel restaurant recently. Half the roll was rock hard, practically unbreakable. The soup was nice so I ate it along with half of the roll. On my way out of the restaurant I decided to speak with the manager regarding my bread roll (it wasn’t a major issue, I just wanted to let them know how they could improve in the future). Knowing the difficulty people can have in our culture with receiving feedback I tried a gentle approach. Showing her the roll I said in a friendly tone “Hello, I…

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Fixed price for up to 15 delegates anywhere in the UK. No additional costs. Click here to enquire about training.
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