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22. Stop powerlessness - stop customer complaints

Written by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute, accredited user of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and international leader in emotional intelligence coaching.

This article looks at one specific emotion – powerlessness. You may not have thought much about it before but feeling powerless greatly influences what people do especially in customer service, complaint handling and employee-employer relationships.

Emotions drive behaviour and your emotional intelligence drives your response to those emotions. 

How emotionally intelligent are you when it comes to managing someone who feels powerless, and angry as a result?

Find out if the strategies we have listed match those you use.

Emotional intelligence tip 1: Deal with the emotions.

When people are feeling powerless you need to manage their emotions, and manage them well. In fact you need to be able to turn off customer's feelings of powerlessness and transform them into something more constructive.

Facts seldom achieve this. Facts are not an emotionally intelligent response to powerlessness, in most cases.

If you have customers who are feeling powerless and are making complaints, and all you do is give them facts, figures and rational logic, the feeling of powerlessness is going to stay.

Powerlessness fuels anger and agitation and it takes a very emotionally intelligent person to listen to rational logic when he or she is furious at someone or something.

If you can soothe their feeling of powerlessness and shift it to something less destructive then people are far more likely to hear your explanation. In other words put emotions before facts when dealing with someone who is feeling powerless. Emotions first. Facts second.

When you soothe the emotions you are preparing them to listen to your answers. It is no good complaining that, "They are not listening to me" if you haven't done this. All it does is result in two of you feeling angry or powerless.

Want to know what levels of emotional intelligence you have and identify areas of possible improvement and receive coaching from a top emotional intelligence coach? Sign up to have the MSCEIT conducted and receive coaching on your results. It could change your life - for the better. Click here to find out more.

Emotional intelligence tip 2: Validate the feelings.

One way to help people let go of feeling powerlessness is to help them know that you understand their feelings. This is not done, and I stress "not", by saying, "I understand how you feel".

A far better way to validate people's feelings is to specifically name how they feel. e.g. "So you feel cheated because you think we've ripped you off", or "So you feel frustrated as no one seems to be listening", or "So you're furious that this has taken so long to be dealt with and feel you have no say in what happens".

In other words articulate not only the feeling word but also what it relates to and what has caused it to arise.

Emotional intelligence tip 3: Get them to "yes".

When people are feeling powerless they feel unable to control what is happening to them, their bodies, belongings or money, for example. They may feel that their rights have been taken away or that they are banging their head against a brick wall. Powerlessness is a very unpleasant, negative emotion to feel.

If you therefore ask their permission to do something and get them to respond positively with "Yes", you have already moved them away from powerlessness. It doesn't necessarily have to be something huge that you offer, it might be something as small as, "May I send you an email with the details in it?"

If your reaction to using the phrase, "May I?" is one of being too subservient or over polite, you're not. You are simply giving the person the option to take control back and move them to something more positive. Just think, "How can I get them to yes?".

Emotional intelligence tip 4: Don't be defensive.

If you become defensive you in no way help people's sense of powerlessness to reduce. Instead, all you do is increase the likelihood that their powerlessness, anger and irritation will increase, because all you are doing by becoming defensive is demonstrating that you are in fact not listening at all to their point of view. This is probably what their complaint is about in the first place!

You need to be open to listening to people who are feeling powerless, to suspending your own ego, and, if you have done something wrong, being able to apologise.

Apologies can go a huge way to helping people feel understood and validated. Feeling understood and validated are both antidotes to feeling powerless.

Want to know how well developed or lacking your emotional intelligence is? Have the MSCEIT conducted and receive coaching on your results. Click here to find out more: www.theeiinstitute.com/professional-tests/mayer-salovey-caruso-emotional-intelligence-test-msceit.htm

Emotional intelligence tip 5: Give them choice.

If a person is feeling powerless they will be thinking that they have no choice about what happens. If you can, even in some small way, give them choice then this will help reduce the feelings of powerlessness. Again it doesn't have to be a big thing you offer; it is the way you offer that matters.

For example, instead of saying "I will mail it out to you" which just means, even if the information is useful, that you are in control and they are not, offer them a choice, "Would you like me to pop it in the post to you or email it to you?".

A similar example from a medical interaction, might be that instead of saying, "We will send the test results out to you" you could say, "Would you like to wait for the test results now or for us to send them out to you?".

Similarly, If you are discussing the payment of a rates or other bill you might say, "Would you like to pay that in installments or to pay it all now so it is out of the way?". This is instead of saying, "You can pay it in installments or in one go".

These are subtle differences and they are important. They also require emotional intelligence to implement them. Do you have what it takes?

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