Imagine the scene. A customer’s been on the phone complaining about the service they’ve had from my office – and I know he’s right. It’s happened before, and I’ve complained about it myself.

Immediately I’m annoyed. I thought we’d resolved this issue, and now I’m getting it in the neck because someone’s cocked up again. So I phone and speak to the assistant concerned. She’s already spoken to the customer and had time to plan her defence, which is more like an attack. Things escalate and, within seconds, so do our voices.

Realising I’m getting nowhere, I ask for her supervisor. It doesn’t go down well, but she hasn’t got a choice.

I’m put on hold, and it feels like I’m kept there for ages, especially as I dwell on the fact that I’ve told my customer I’ll sort it out and come back to him pronto. My stress levels are rising.

Eventually, the supervisor comes on and I realise why I’ve been waiting so long. The assistant’s got her side of the story in, emphasising my unreasonable attitude. So, he’s already backing her up before I have chance to explain how we’re letting a customer down. Cue a repeat of raised voices and rising frustration. Until the phone goes dead.

“Curses!” I think to myself (or words to that effect). Because, of course, I think it was deliberate. Ready to rip someone’s head off, I begin to dial again. But then I stop, leaving the handset on my desk.

I pace the room. My mind’s whirling, a mixture of anger at the office staff and worry about losing the customer. But at least I’ve realised my approach isn’t working. That’s why the phone’s off the hook. I need to get myself in the right frame of mind.

Some weeks earlier, I’d read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Although I’d read it recently, I still needed to refresh myself on some points. I quickly found the relevant chapters and read them both. Twice.

By the time I’d finished reading, I was much calmer. Time to pick up the phone.

“Don’t know what happened there,” I said to the supervisor. “Just seemed to lose the connection. I’m sure you’ve been trying to call me back, but I think something was wrong with my line.”

Me taking the blame – and if he had hung up on me, he could hardly contradict my story without making himself look bad.

“On the plus side, it’s given me time to think and I’m sorry I over-reacted. Perhaps when we’ve finished talking, you could put me through to Jane so I can apologise to her as well.”

I won’t bore you with the rest of the conversation. Suffice it to say that my new attitude, and the techniques picked up from a book published in 1936, led to the problem being resolved and our customer continuing to support me the rest of the time I worked for that company.

The obvious lesson I learnt was not to immediately jump in with guns blazing. More than that, although it wasn’t something I’d caused, I had an opportunity to take time out and consider the most effective way of solving the problem for everyone concerned. Because being right doesn’t always win the battle.

Now, when something feels out of control, I do my best to step back a little. It’s good to put distance between yourself and the problem. Be patient and you often reach the solution much quicker.

Oh, yes, and make sure to have a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People. This book had such an effect on me, I even reference it in my novel, Ravens Gathering. I think everyone should read it once. You see, once I’d read it, I realised it’s a book to keep forever. I hope you’ll feel the same way too.

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