How To Handle Their “Emergency” …

File:UK traffic sign 562.svg“Failure to properly plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

We’ve all seen the event:   The slightly wild-eyed customer or co-worker, who barges headlong into your daily routine and demands that something happen.  

You resist, because they are messing with your work and you did not cause the problem, whatever that may be.

The message of the sign seems clear:  “You may need something done quickly or differently, but that does not mean I have to do it.”

I have seen this sign posted in countless small businesses and tacked to cubicle walls, both large and small.   Something about it speaks to people, especially people who serve others…  and who does not serve others in some fashion? 

… but is that really the message or just how generations of cranky customer service folks have chosen to read it?

Customer service can be a thankless and stress-filled function.  Other people need what you can offer, but are not necessarily appropriately gracious about asking for it.  

I see three qualities reflected in the popularity of this sign:

Permission …

Maybe those who post this would like to have a license to “choke the living daylights” out of those who demand things with that dramatic sense of urgency which masks a vague sense of guilt for having created an urgent or even emergency situation.

Preference …

Sometimes  this is the response of a person who is most comfortable with stability and consistency to the actions of a person who is most comfortable with change and action.  If you are a DiSC person, imagine a high D insisting to a high C “I need it done now!”

As is so often the case, different behavioral preferences often cause individuals to clash.  Without understanding , the resulting interactions are almost always negative.

Power …

The sense of power or the sense of a lack of power can also be a strong factor.  If the person demanding the disruption has the power, the responder may feel trapped and without options.  This does not stop them from silently seething,with long-term negative results.

Another day, we’ll chat about the difference between an urgent situation and an emergency.  

Instead of getting mad when you feel you are being taken advantage of, try these strategies:

1)  If you stay calm, you can function more effectively and actually offer th0se needed functions.   Think of this as skill-building.

The ability to respond to changing situations is an asset in almost any position.   If this comes naturally to you, just make sure you are not being taken advantage of because of your flexibility.

When faced with a legitimate need that supercedes your normal operation, first deal with that legitimate request, then educate the person about the consequences of their behavior.

2)  Explain to the other person, without shaming or passive-aggressive language, how their need affects your environment or process.

For example, do not say “You’re screwing up my entire day here!”, but try “When you need your request filled on an immediate basis to keep your customer happy, you negatively affect our ability to satisfy other customers in the appropriate time frame.

Show the impact without blaming,  but clearly state the whole cost to the organization or department.

3)  If you are a leader, either formal  or informal, you have just found a great coaching opportunity.  

Approach this as a problem  to be solved, and not a battle to be won or lost.

Walk the person back through the process .

Identify the decision/action points which contributed to the “emergency”.  

Help them come up with alternatives for the future.  

When the solution involves change on your part as well, model being the cooperative and agreeable companion.

You have just changed the environment from confrontive to collaborative:)

Thinking about the very specific reason I am posting on this topic today in the Heartland ….