Kill them with kindness.
The other day a client engaged me in a thoroughly pissed-off manner.
I’m not sure what had happened in the earlier part of his day but when he reached me he was already in a foul mood. In other words, he was like that when I found him.
He called looking for a quote on a project. A project I don’t do. “HR” and “management” are fairly broad topics covering a lot of ground. Because I’ve been around for a while chances are if you mention any part of these I’ll know a little about the topic. But that doesn’t mean I do it.
Market wage study with detailed compensation analysis? I’d rather rotate the tires on my car. By myself.
So, yes, I “do” HR but only in some areas. In fact, I’d be wary of any small shop claiming to do everything.
My potential client was unhappy and started the call that way. So I listened even though I knew I was about to exacerbate it by essentially telling him I wouldn’t do what he wanted.
Any seasoned HR pro knows the quickest path to escalation is to match the intensity and volume of another person until there’s an ever-increasing exchange leading to two very angry and polarized people, so I opted to just be direct yet kind.
I briefly explained I don’t provide the service he wanted. I didn’t “apologize” for not doing it – I’m not sorry at all: I don’t do that kind of work by choice. I didn’t prostrate myself making lame excuses wasting his time. Succinctly I answered his questions in a professional voice and let him vent.
And vent he did telling me more than once (more than twice actually) how it was “horrible” that I wouldn’t do this job. Yet at some point he was spent. He finished his rant and became semi-conversational.
He’d calmed down.
By not taking the bait and engaging in an adversarial verbal sparring contest we both came out better off. He ended up with referrals for people that do the kind of work he needed and I ended up with peace of mind and my integrity intact.
Perhaps professional life would be easier if our customers and contacts were always reasoned, mellow and balanced when they interacted with us. But that’s unlikely and maybe a little scary.
People ride emotional waves and part of our role includes helping to stabilize those highs and lows dampening out the extent of the cycles.
So the next time someone starts a conversation laced with ire and vex, try a little tenderness.
The life you save may be your own.