Angry Customers or Disruptive Employees? Managerial Tips for De-Escalation

Conflict will inevitably arise no matter where you work. Whatever your position in the workplace, you’re going to face people who aren’t acting well due to a variety of reasons. It could be a terrible day, an irritant, or the feeling of being unheard. Since the beginning of the pandemic customer service professionals have witnessed a surge in tension. Furious clients have become more vocally and even physically abusive. Often we are seeing coworkers showing signs of burnout. People in charge are tasked to step in an attempt at de-escalating things, whether it’s between an employee and a customer or between employees on their own, you’ll need these de-escalation tips!

This is becoming more prevalent in the insurance market, especially in the last five years. Workplace culture and insurance companies had already been suffering prior to the pandemic, with the increasing health issues and the number of natural disasters. These spikes created an increase need for health, homeowners, and car insurance. Burnout was already on the horizon, with apathy and cynicism permeating the workplace culture in many insurance companies.

In order to avoid confrontation and encourage employees to avoid burnout, managers have had to implement various de-escalation tactics. The following are a few of these methods.

Body Language

Keep your cool and maintain a neutral expression at all times. Make eye contact and angle your body towards the person who is upset to show that you are paying attention to them. Instead of making a defensive gesture like crossing your arms, keep your palms up or let them hang down by your sides.

Practice Active Listening

Allow the person or people who are upset to express themselves without interruption and encourage them to talk about what is bothering them. Say things like “so if I am hearing you properly, you are upset about…” and then reiterate what they just said in your own terms. One person at a time, assuring each person that they will get their turn, is the best strategy. If necessary, separate each person involved and allow them to speak privately.

Instead of Commands, Offer Suggestions

A person’s own voice will frequently spontaneously reduce itself if you speak below standard speaking volume, especially if they are furious and speaking loudly. Therefore, keep your own voice calm and quiet. Instead of telling someone to do something or stop doing something, make it seem like a recommendation. Be careful not to appear insincere or patronizing to someone who is agitated, as this will appear to them as a sign of disrespect. Sitting instead of standing can be more conducive to calming an angry individual down. Try saying something like, “Would you mind if we sat down?” so that you can better hear. Don’t assume superiority by standing while commanding them to sit; instead, sit down yourself. Make a request like, “Would you mind handling this account for me?”

Ask Your Own Questions

When the person has made statements, ask your own follow-up questions. By asking them, you can find out what they want to see happen to improve the issue. Offer solutions or alternatives if nothing else can be done. Inquire about how you may contribute to the solution of the problem, or what they require in order to solve their own problems. Let them know if you’re unable to assist them.

Many times in the insurance industry, you will come into contact with people who aren’t having a good day. An unexpected or unwanted event has occurred causing them to call to register a claim. A client’s fury at an employee may not always be about what the employee has done, but rather a building of other issues that have reached a breaking point. Unfortunately, that sometimes means you or the employee are facing the brunt of this.

The same is often true of employees, for there will be signs of discord long before it ever comes to an argument. The astute manager, will take periodic stock of his workforce and where they are mentally and emotionally. Look for signs of trouble and derail them with de-escalation techniques before they become a more serious problem.


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