A former intern of mine, we’ll call her S, was just hired as the Staff Assistant in a Hill office. She loves her job, loves her co-workers and is very happy that she decided to come back to the Hill after graduation. There’s just one problem, she’s having some trouble adjusting to life answering the phones.
Congressional offices receive dozens, sometimes hundreds, of phone calls per day. The majority of them are from constituents who simply want to express their opinion and have a message passed along to the Member. However, some of the callers are disgruntled, rude and say things to Hill Staffers that they wouldn’t say to their worst enemy. Sexual comments, curse words and even death threats, Hill staffers have heard it all.
When S was my intern, she was known for her genteel phone etiquette. She was always professional, and I was consistently impressed by her ability to casually interact with callers. However, she’s having some understandable difficulty dealing with the callers who yell, swear and argue ad nauseum because she is not a confrontational person by nature and doesn’t believe in hanging up on a constituent. And now that she’s the Staff Asst. and not an intern, she is reticent to escalate calls to her supervisors unless absolutely necessary.
Any good Hill staffer wants to treat callers with respect and deference, but that can be difficult when they’re yelling at you and hurling accusations. So I thought we might help S and all the brave souls who work the phones out.
What are your best tips for dealing with difficult constituents or defusing tense situations?