A recent customer service experience reminded me of the importance of listening. I had a question regarding some software, and I called the company’s technical support line. The person who answered was polite and asked what the problem was. I explained it briefly, and he responded with a suggestion. However, it was clear by his response, that he did not understand my question, or the problem I was trying to describe. I attempted to clarify, using more descriptive words “in the upper right hand corner, the orange button, the dropdown menu has 3 choices…” The customer service representative again repeated the same suggestion. I was beginning to feel like I was talking to a machine, and my message clearly was not getting through. I attempted again to express the problem. This time I started with “I’m not sure if you’re understanding my question. Let me try to describe it again.” I spoke more slowly, I used even more descriptive words, as many as I could think of. I really needed help, and this was the only venue I knew for getting my questions answered. I needed this guy to understand what I was asking. For the third time, when I finished speaking, the representative repeated similar advice. The advice was not relevant to my question. In fact, it was so irrelevant that I could only conclude that this person either didn’t hear anything I said, or they were intellectually challenged. Either way, continuing the conversation was a waste of time. By this point I was frustrated. I could feel my breath becoming shallow, my heart beating faster, and I had to bite back a rude comment. Instead, I thanked him for his time and hung up the phone.
It is maddening not to be heard or understood! I was not upset that he couldn’t answer my question. I was upset that I didn’t feel heard. No matter how hard I tried, my message was not getting through. This same dynamic is often the reason that toddlers go through the “terrible twos” stage. They have begun to form their own opinions, thoughts, and preferences, but they don’t yet have the vocabulary to communicate what is going on inside. This frustrating experience can lead to temper tantrums and melt downs. When people (young and old alike) don’t feel heard, frustration is the most frequent emotional response.
How could the customer service representative have done a better job? He could have repeated what I said, assuring me that he actually heard me. “So you clicked the orange button and then you saw the drop down menu.” He could have asked some clarifying questions “How long has this problem been happening? Does it happen every time, or only occasionally? Have you tried running the program on another device?” He could have made a comment that let me know my problem mattered to him “I am sorry that you are experiencing this, I will do my best to help resolve the problem.” And finally, if he didn’t know the answer, he could have said so, and then re-directed my question to another person who could help. I would have appreciated his honesty and his listening ear, whether or not he was able to answer my question.
You can show those around you that you care by simply giving them a listening E.A.R.:
Explore: Ask questions to help them tell you the whole story “How long have you been dealing with this? What solutions have you already tried? What are you thinking about all of this”
Acknowledge: Repeat what you have heard them say, and ask “is that right? Show that you see and respect the person’s experience and their feelings “It sounds like you’re feeling stressed” or “If I was in that situation, I might feel angry.” Or “That sounds really disappointing.”
Respond: Remember to ask before you answer! “Would you like to hear my thoughts?” “How can I help?” “Can I tell you what I have noticed?” “What would you think about trying _______?” “Have you thought about______”
Once we are heard and understood, our frustration level goes down, we are more receptive to what others have to say, and those we are communicating with are far more helpful because they really understand what we are saying.
Carla Munger, MA LMHC