Controlling Complaint Conversations

A Volunteer approaches you with a problem. You may know this Volunteer, or have been vaguely acquainted or know nothing about them. All you know is that they are unhappy, angry, miffed, ticked and now they wish to place their problem firmly on your shoulders.

Our typical first reaction is to take a deep breath, exhale and say ‘Tell me about this issue’. And, now we are off to the races.

The Volunteer will give you snippets of ‘factual’ information all mixed in with their own emotions and dragging in what they say others have told them. It’s a lot to unravel and can be super time-consuming if you don't control it.

Here are your quick tips to being a better listener and sorting through ‘provable facts’ from emotions and hearsays.

1. Stay neutral. Don’t react with any gasps, agreements, assumptions or condemnations of the other party. This is the number one pit that most people fall into, we are trying to be empathetic, however, in doing so, and we sound like we are agreeing with the Volunteer and that can only cause more problems for you later.

2. Ask questions to get to any ‘factual’ information. Separating facts from emotions can be tricky business, so use these questions to guide you.

· Tell me about...

· When did you see...

· Can you tell me exactly what took place when the two of you…

· Were there others present who saw this?

3. Do not discuss your thoughts, opinions, conclusions, etc. with this person or any others you may speak with. Each person in the inquiry is a fresh start. It doesn’t mean you don’t guide your questions towards what you have already uncovered from others, just don’t say so.