You’ve probably heard people talk about Type A personalities and you may have some ideas about what that means. In a landmark 1976 study of some 3000 healthy men, aged 35 to 59, Drs. Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, both cardiologists, looked at stress as a predictor of heart disease. For the purpose of their study, they labeled the men either Type A or Type B, according to their personality types. Type A men were more competitive, reactive, hard-charging, highly motivated, verbally aggressive, time-conscious, and easily angered. Type B men were much more relaxed and easy-going. We’ll discuss more details of the study in a future blog post. For now, just know that the study suggested that Type A men were much more likely to have a heart attack than the Type B men. You’ve probably encountered people, both men and women, with Type A personalities. They can be quick-tempered and impatient, making them difficult to deal with in support situations or even in meetings and other day-to-day interactions.

Dealing With an Angry Type A Customer

What’s the best way to deal with an angry Type A customer? Remember that their behavior is nothing personal toward you. When a person throws a temper tantrum, they’ve lost control of themselves. Dealing with such a person requires both strength and diplomacy. It’s important that we not get caught up in their tantrum, but maintain our own sense of calm. If the person has been drinking, acts in a threatening manner, or has a weapon, remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. Otherwise, take a breath, perhaps a deep breath. Remember to pause and consider your options before responding. See if there’s a way you can empathize with them without being condescending or compromising your values. Ask them to explain what happened so you can perhaps solve the problem. If you think the person has truly been wronged, you can acknowledge that. Certainly, acknowledge their feelings without being judgmental.

What About When the Type A Customer is a Manager or an Executive?

What should you do when the angry Type A customer is a manager, an executive, or someone else in a position of authority? The same concepts apply: Keep calm, take a deep breath, pause and consider your options, offer an honest expression of empathy (make sure it’s sincere, otherwise don’t do it at all), ask them to explain what happened so you can possibly solve the problem. What if they won’t back down or get themselves under control? You have to decide how much aggressive language or behavior you’re willing to tolerate. (I have a low threshold for people who can’t control themselves. I have clients and friends who will tolerate a lot more than I will. It’s really a personal thing.) When things reach the point where you’re no longer willing to tolerate their behavior or it becomes too uncomfortable for you, your best option is probably to offer to involve your supervisor. That, alone, will often get the situation under control and, if it doesn’t, it does get it out of your responsibility.

Dealing with Verbal Abuse

What about when the person becomes verbally abusive? As before, you have to make a personal decision about how much verbal abuse you’re willing to tolerate. It doesn’t bother some people, while others don’t handle it well at all. Fortunately, most people are reasonable and don’t engage in such behavior. When you encounter someone who’s being verbally abusive, again it’s important to maintain your sense of calm. You can try saying to the person something to the effect of, “I want to help you, but I’m not willing to tolerate verbal abuse. If it continues, I’m going to have to transfer you to my supervisor.” If the person being abusive is a manager or an executive, just say, “Let’s get my supervisor on the line right away.”

Is it a One-Time Incident or an Ongoing Problem?

Most of us have lost our temper at some time. It’s one thing if it happens once or only rarely. It’s a whole other issue when someone loses their temper frequently. If it happens once, you may want to just let it go. If it happens frequently, you may want to bring it to the attention of the HR department. It’s also one thing to get angry and it’s a whole other thing when the person becomes verbally abusive or bullying. If they just get angry, but they’re not verbally abusive or bullying, again, you might want to just let it go.

Dealing with angry people is never fun, especially if they’re an aggressive, quick-tempered Type A personality. As usual, by maintaining our sense of calm and expressing sincere empathy, we can often bring such situations down to a more civil level.

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