Monday the phone rings and my secretary answers, “Law firm. This is Kate.” For the next ten minutes, she’s cursed out by a client who is unhappy for some reason. Kate comes by my office later and tells me, “Ms. Smith called earlier. She was yelling at me for ten minutes.” I take off my glasses and I tell her, “If anyone yells at you again, transfer the call to me.”
I notice that sometimes people get a little confused about how the service industry works. Some people like to think that they’re entitled to be treated like royalty when going to restaurants, stores and other places because they are making a purchase. Sure, they are paying clients (and trust me, as your lawyer, I know exactly how much you paid me, or haven’t paid me, because I was the one who invoiced you.) But what they seem to forget is that they are paying for a service, not for the liberty of yelling at me or my secretary.
So what do you do when a service has frustrated you? How can you best stand up for yourself, when you did nothing wrong? Well, it all depends on the reason why.
When the words are coming at you
First, ask yourself if you’re at fault. If you did something wrong, then just admit you made a mistake and apologize. It doesn’t have to be long: keep it short, sincere and to the point. This should cause the other person to calm down pretty quickly and allow you to resume your conversation normally.
Were you actually right? Then I suggest you skip the apology and take control of the situation. Let the other person know that you are willing to help, but this conversation cannot resume as is. Something like, “I hear you saying __ and I can do ___ for you, but I think we’d work better if you calmed down.” Again, if the other person is reasonable, they’ll begin to chill out.
What happens if the yelling continues? It’s time to be a little bit more assertive. But remember: you are a professional. (Repeat it in your head if that helps.) Start by reminding the other person that you’ve already politely asked them to calm down. Then gradually add that: 1) they are being disrespectful 2) you do not appreciate being disrespected and 3) they need to stop cussing you out. If none of these things work, then inform the other person that you will transfer the conversation to your supervisor.
Before you cuss someone out
Take my law practice for instance: the services that I provide take hard work. As your lawyer, your problems become my problems. All. Of. Them. I strategize your case in my head all day, even when I’m home. I cancel my doctor’s appointments for you. I dream about your cases. My secretary also works hard, if not harder. I know she does, because she has to deal with me on top of my clients. She answers all of my calls and does everything I ask her to do. She deals with so much BS on behalf of me everyday; I sometimes ask myself how she does it.
So give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Let the other person know that there is a problem and you want your problem fixed. Think of what would make you happy, so you can offer a solution. This should facilitate the conversation and hopefully toward a resolution. The nicer you are, the more likely the other person will try to help you.
However, if you were intentionally treated badly, try to keep your cool. Again, let the other person know that there is a problem and you want your problem fixed. This time, you need to be able to better articulate your reasoning as to why there is a problem because you may need to educate the other person on why he or she is wrong. Then, explain what you would do if your problem is not fixed, e.g., you would speak to his or her supervisor, ask for a refund, write a letter to the company, etc.
Sometimes it’s good to be to reminded of basic, common courtesy: “Treat others like how you want to be treated.” Sure, I get irritated too when I feel like I’m not getting my money’s worth. But if someone is not screwing with me on purpose, then I can’t lash out for no valid reason… especially on someone who is supposed to be helping me. Do you want your waitress to spit on your food? No. Then keep your cool and take control of the situation.
Gloria is a patent attorney who works on her etiquette with her clients at a boutique firm in New Jersey. You can find advice, tips, legal practice pointers, and more from her on iprookie.com. She is also owner of the most beautiful dog in the world, Pamela Beasley, who also has a lot to say on etiquette.