In a recent review of the TUF Online Training program the writer was pleased that I did not advocate zero tolerance: not letting customers swear or show any kind of aggression. Organisations with a zero tolerance policy towards customers tell people not to swear. If the customer persists in swearing they terminate the call or stop serving them and ask them to leave the premises.
In a recent review of a book by Benjamin K Bergen What the F: what swearing reveals about our language, our brains and ourselves the reviewer quotes “Profanity is the type of language we use to communicate our strongest emotions. It’s reflexive rather than reflective.” The author says that swearing says a lot about our “transient emotional states. I’m angry, I’m frustrated, I’m overjoyed”.
What the TUF Thriving Under Fire program teaches is that when someone shows emotion, the most effective thing you can do is to acknowledge that emotion. When someone swears they are expressing some form of distress, they are emotional. If you acknowledge their emotion and ignore the specific words they use they are more likely to calm down because their distress has been acknowledged. You will go a long way to forming a strong positive relationship with that person and be more likely to give them good service.
The author did note that swearing in road rage incidents does not seem to help the angry driver. This could well be because there is no one to acknowledge their distress. They are ignored by the other driver, who may be oblivious to what they have done, and so become even more frustrated.
Difficult people are emotional. No matter what language they use to express this emotional state they need to ‘feel felt’. When you acknowledge their feelings you will help them calm down and engage with you as a customer, a colleague or a friend.