I get emotional when customers yell at me

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I recently got promoted to assistant manager at an apartment complex and I feel pretty confident that I can do the job well.

However, I know that whenever we have residents call in with complaints or we have people coming in and yelling, the calls and residents typically get passed to the assistant manager (now me) and I do not do well with that type of conflict. Often when I’m yelled at, I get red and teary eyed, I sometimes draw blanks, and my voice and body shake. I know it’s a natural response to an overwhelming situation but as a manager, I feel like it’s unprofessional, doesn’t set a good example for the team, and gives the residents an impression that I’m weak or that they can bully me to get what they want. I try to stay calm and just let them rant but even when I have to open my mouth to give a response, it’s often a VERY shakey “okay, we will see what we can do.” And I hate to burden my boss and pass everything to her. How can I better manage my emotions and not get so worked up in these situations?

I’m going to throw this out to readers for suggestions, but first a quick thought from me: I wouldn’t be surprised if these situations feel overwhelming because you aren’t confident about what tools you have available to solve them. It could help to sit down with your manager and talk through (a) what options you have for various types of complaints and (b) how she typically responds when residents are challenging (for example, when someone presses for something she can’t do, when someone is angry, etc.). Often when you have a concrete menu of options in your head or even just some go-to phrases to use (even really simple stuff like “let me look into this and get back to you by the end of the day”), it can make situations feel less overwhelming. Also, if I were your manager, I’d suggest we do some role-play to give you some lower-stakes practice with specific situations that could come up or have already come up — and you can do that on your own or with a friend as well.

What advice do others have?

{ 345 comments… read them below }

  1. Not So Super-visor*

    From my own experience, I’d say that this a confidence issue. Try writing down some typical scenarios and then writing down what your go-to responses are going to be. Try coming some key phrases that you’re going to use like “I understand your frustration…”, “We’ll start looking into that issue…” or “Can I get your contact information? I need to look into the issue and call you back.” Then try practicing those phrases OUT LOUD — that’s the super awkard part b/c I feel like a dork when I do it alone, but I swear that it helps. When you’ve committed them to muscle memory, they’ll come up more easily when you’re in a tense situation

    1. Elizabeth*

      Totally agree with this! I also find it helpful to have those responses written on post-it’s that I keep on the bottom of my monitor, so when I’m looking around trying to figure out how to respond to something it catches my eye. Currently I’ve got one that says “excuse I’d like to finish my thought” because I’ve had an issue with a colleague interrupting and talking over me and I tend to blank out when it happens.

    2. Mbarr*

      I second the “OUT LOUD” recommendation. It makes you so much more comfortable with the stuff you’re practicing.

    3. old curmudgeon*

      The other thing about practicing out loud is that if there is a bit that is a little awkwardly phrased, you WILL hear it when you say it aloud, where it might not be so obvious reading it. A writer whose works I enjoy will literally read their books aloud to themselves before submitting to the publisher, precisely for that reason.

    4. Krabby*

      I was going to jump down and say this too. I have to have a lot of difficult conversations with employees and it used to make me an emotional wreck. Taking 10 minutes the night before to practice saying what I need to say out loud completely changed things for me: I feel more confident, get less stressed, and generally communicate much more effectively. And now, unless it’s a completely novel situation, I don’t need to practice anymore to get that confidence.

    5. Wintergreen*

      I, for the most part, agree.

      However, when upset and speaking with someone who pulls out “I understand your frustration…” I do not feel understood because 90-95% people can’t pull it off without sounding condescending and dismissive. Unless you can pull it off with 100% conviction and sympathy, do not put this in your repertoire.

      1. TootsNYC*

        try something with the same concept but less canned wording: “That is frustrating!” or “I’d be annoyed too”

        Or even, “yeah, i get it, what a pain!”

        1. LunaLena*

          Yes, I’ve read the mirroring a person’s comments can be helpful to defuse the situation, and it often worked when I was in customer service. So saying something like “I’m sorry, that must be very frustrating for you when [tenant’s complaint] happens” in a sympathetic tone might help, before getting into the “let me see what we can do to resolve this” stuff.

          Sometimes it also helps to say “let me see what we can do” and excuse yourself even when you know what the answer is just to give you a little pause to collect yourself. I’m one of those people who cries when they’re angry and end up giving totally the wrong impression, so giving myself some distance helped a lot to keep myself from sounding shakey or tearing up when angry people were yelling at me or demanding ridiculous things.

          1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            Mirroring, when it is genuine, can definitely help.

            Another thing you can do that can reset the interaction is to offer a small token of kindness. It can be as simple as inviting someone to sit down. Or asking if they would like a glass of water. If they are coming in with the idea that they are heading into a fight, it can sometimes jump the interaction onto a different track.


        2. Parenthetically*

          +1 to this! Warm responses — “Gosh, yeah, I hear you, that is SO frustrating, let me see what I can do” or “Absolutely, we are having such a hard time with the plumbing contractor and I’m so sorry it’s messed up your day, that’s the worst” — can be memorized just as easily as cooler-sounding business-speak-y ones.

        3. Tattooedballerina*

          I think the advice about thinking about some of the options to solve a situation and was to respond is great advice. I think it has helped me to remind myself that in almost any instance, the customer is angry about a situation and they want you to make it right for them. It’s not a personal attack at you. When we feel personally attacked we react more emotionally.

      2. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

        I’ve had good results with phrases like that (I used to staff a general sanitation complaint line for the health department. I think mainly, I /let/ myself be genuine in my responses, even when I couldn’t do anything.

        I really WAS sorry that we couldn’t investigate mold issues in your apartment, and that it was going to take weeks to investigate the rat infestation that you believe is your neighbors fault, and that our inspectors had come too late to see first-hand your neighbors overflowing sewage issue.

        Now granted, I had the benefit of going “I wish the rules were different but I can’t do anything,” because I was a lowly peon. As an assistant manager, you have more control over bending the rules, so what you will need is to become really clear–with yourself, with your boss, with your employees–what rules are inflexible, what rules can be bent by anyone, what rules can be bent just by you or your manager. If the rule is inflexible, they can yell till they’re blue in the face. You are a wall. You do not move. Yelling at a wall does nothing. It can be an oddly liberating feeling.
        If the rule is flexible, then you be clear to yourself under what circumstances it can be flexed.

      3. Hospitalityhustler*

        I have worked in restaurants for 20 years and have dealt with countless people yelling at me. First, I let them know they can’t yell at me, “I am hear you help you, but you have to stop yelling at me.” Granted, this does require confidence, but I think it helps the angry person remember you are a person too. Once they see you as a person, it is much easier to actually help solve the problem.

    6. TootsNYC*

      Then try practicing those phrases OUT LOUD — that’s the super awkard part b/c I feel like a dork when I do it alone, but I swear that it helps.

      This is why I talk to myself in the shower.

      1. Mockingjay*

        I do too! I’ve wrestled with many a work scenario in the shower. It’s private and soothing.

        The benefits to practicing aloud are that problems tend to de-escalate and your responses become rote. As Alison noted, you’ll encounter similar situations repeatedly. Knowing what to say about the umpteenth rant about parking spaces, the response becomes a routine part of your job without a lot of emotion. “I understand your problem, Mr. Smith, in having two cars, but each apartment has only one assigned parking space each. You cannot use the visitor’s space as another personal spot. The garage down the street offers rental spots to our apartment community at a discount. Here’s the number.” Repeat for Mrs. Jones, Ms. Warblesworth…

      2. Southern Gentleman*

        This is so great to hear. I have the shower talks, too. It helps to work thing out and it also helps to mitigate frustration by “getting it out” on the front end as you anticipate a conflict. My wife has decided to announce herself (sometimes) if she walks in while I’m in the shower, because she knows I’ll probably be in there carry on complete conversations by myself.
        Cheers to the shower chatters.

    7. Mimi Me*

      I’d also practice (OUT LOUD) saying ” I can see you’re upset but I need you to lower your voice in order to assist you” or something similar. If the person is outright yelling at you it is entirely reasonable to ask them to stop in order to assist them.

      1. Mme Pince*

        Definitely. When I worked in a call center, it was standard to say, “I cannot assist you if you continue to curse at me.” I imagine these days it has probably been rephrased to be less negative, but the general idea is the same. People need to treat you reasonably if they want assistance (which is also why I tell my friends and relatives to be nice to employees who are trying to help them).

      2. TootsNYC*

        that would set me RIGHT off.
        It’s way too close to “calm down.”

        I was upset once because I’d arrived in the middle of the night at an airport car rental booth to discover that despite my reserving it, and checking on it at some point earlier, there was no child safety seat available for my 1yo. I was not happy, and as we went around in circles, I was getting angry.
        Then the clerk said, “I can’t help you unless you lower your voice.” Considering that we’d been dealing with this for a good 20 to 30 minutes, and she hadn’t helped us at all in that time, but had just stood there looking at us, with this “what do you want me to do?” stance…
        I had to leave the area, I was so furious.
        She could too have helped us before, when we were very polite, and I wasn’t angry.

        1. Sciencer*

          That’s different though. Many people jump straight to anger or will walk in intentionally angry/voice raised because they think they have to put up a strong fight from the beginning. Those are the people who need to be defused before anything productive can happen. Source: I used to have a supervisor who was this way. Watching him interact with hotel desk clerks if something about our reservation was wrong was a horrible experience.

        2. MxLobo*

          The thing is, people don’t jump straight to “You need to turn the volume down” – I have only had to use it twice: once when a patient was screaming at the top of her lungs while she was having breathing troubles (I had to tell her that if she can’t breathe, she needs to stop shouting at me and take a deep breath, she eventually did and apologized) and a second was someone upset that we were no longer going to refill her pain medication. 10% you’ll have people that do it to be smarmy and rude, but 90% of costumer service reps want to be helpful and do their job well. They just don’t want to be disrespected at the same time.

      3. Anonymous Librarian*

        I came here to say something like this. I recommend following Alison’s excellent advice. When you talk with your manager, ask specifically how to handle people who are yelling/cursing/verbally abusive. Hopefully you’ll be allowed to set some firm boundaries around that behavior.

    8. LibrarianJ*

      Definitely! Practice builds comfort and comfort increases confidence. I work with the public, so I have developed a comfort level for myself when I have to approach people who are engaging in problematic behavior or when I’ve got someone who comes in and is very upset. But I also agree with asking your own manager if there are tools, etc. But practicing, even if it’s using your pet or an inanimate object, may feel silly and weird, does help.

      1. Solitary Daughter*

        I cannot overstate how useful it is to just listen first, and don’t say anything while they’re telling their story. Then there’s an empathy piece that is also critical: acknowledge their frustration or pain and don’t try to justify. Just: “I completely hear you. I completely understand why this is a problem/why you’d be upset.” It’s incredibly disarming to the person who is angry, because you’ve just put yourself on the same side as them. Then you can move on from there.

        1. First Time Caller*

          Agree so hard! I had a job where I had to deal with a lot of irate customers, both on the phone and in person. I found it really effective to just be silent and let them speak. It’s almost a power move, but it’s not aggressive. That person has been getting worked up and thinking about what they want to say, so letting them get it off their chest uninterrupted can really diffuse the situation.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          People do have to be heard, even if you have heard the problem 15k times before they want you to hear what happened to them.

          In many instances it can make it take longer to fix the problem because we have to get through the rant first. In some cases it is possible to hit the nail on the head and say the exact consoling or reassuring thing they want to hear.

          If true you can say “Oh, I am sorry that happened. I can fix that for you right now.” Or “Yes, others have had a similar thing happen and I can get that fixed. It will take [time period] to fix it. I can give you a call back on [day/window of time] once it’s all set.”

          This problem will cut back once you have been with the job for a bit. You will start to know that you know. And your customers, if they are repeat customers will get used to doing business with you so they will be calmer.

          When I am stuck and cannot come up with a solution in the moment I will say things such as:
          “Oh this is concerning. I would be concerned if it were me. Let me check into this for you. ”
          “While this question does not come up to often, I know exactly who I can call to get some help here. I can call you back in [time frame] with a progress report.”

          I’d like to encourage you to keep a note book of who you call or where you go to find answers for questions. You won’t need to do this forever. You’ll find yourself getting into the swing of how things flow. It will be harder and harder to stump you because you will know.

    9. charo*

      I think people want to be heard and it’s not about YOU. Way too often I get defensiveness when I’m making a complaint and it just makes me madder.

      Learn to short-circuit someone by sounding sympathetic w/THEIR situation instead of thinking about your own. Cultivate a warm tone and say you’re sorry to hear that and you’ll look into it and get back to them.

      Ask if you can reach them by the end of the day and that’ll pull them out of their rant into facts.
      Then call them back.

      1. TootsNYC*

        think of yourself as standing next to them looking at their problem, instead of as standing between them and their problem.

    10. OWLiv*

      You are so on point about practicing out loud.

      I think practicing out loud with a mirror is best, because you can also work on your confident eye contact.

      If you’re in a home where you can’t practice with out feeling embarrassed then mask up and go for a walk “on your cell phone”. Pretend to speak to someone one the phone while you stroll for some privacy.

      It’s really important to practice outloud so find a method to

    11. Lizzo*

      +1000 to *all* of this! And also to LunaLena and HarvestKaleSlaw’s suggestions re: mirroring and a token of kindness, respectively.

      Sometimes when people are angry, their anger really has nothing to do with you. If you interrupt their tirade with kindness, it may take the wind out of their sails complete and calm them down to where they can be reasonable. That’s a really powerful moment that takes a lot of confidence to pull off. Keep practicing, be steady. This growth is going to be painful as heck, but when you’re on the other side of it–and you will get to the other side, I promise–it’s going to feel amazing to be able to handle these situations and stay as cool as a cucumber.

      1. Az*

        Yes, I think this is very important. Most of the time, when people are angry, it has nothing to do with you. In my industry (K-12 education) people are scared and frustrated and angry at so many different things, and the issue they’re having at this moment is becoming a conduit for all of these other related frustrations. These people just want to be heard, and to feel like their concerns are being taken seriously.

    12. MtnLaurel*

      Honestly, the best thing you can do is practice. Also, take a deep breath before you respond. This has 2 benefits: It makes the complainer think you are carefully contemplating their concern/issue (whether you are or aren’t) and it helps to re-set the emotional response.

  2. Valancy Snaith*

    So, for years I worked at Starbucks. I had people completely lose their minds at me on the regular. I had people scream at me over a nickel. I had a man pour twenty ounces of boiling-hot coffee all over the floor because I had not left him the correct amount of space for cream in his cup.

    Definitely ask your manager for advice. Role-play as much as you can–starting off with your manager so you can get a script down, and then with a friend so you can practice, practice, practice. This is one of those things that really, truly will get easier with time and practice. A lot of the stuff that can calm you is pretty standard–counting, deep breaths, etc., but you do have to practice it to really get it down.

    Hang in there. Get the practice. And try to remember that it isn’t a reflection on you. Even when it feels that way, it isn’t personal! It’s just a miserable side-effect of working front-line customer service.

    1. Ms Chanadalar Bong*

      Another former barista here. Two things that helped me:
      1. Remember that the person isn’t angry at you. They are either angry at the situation, or angry at the world, or both. You can help fix the situation, you cannot fix miserable humans. But you can distance yourself by remembering that this isn’t something you did.
      2. If they’re ranting and raving, with no action, I try some variation of “I understand and what can I do to help with that?”. I remember once having someone yell at me on the phone with no end, and I think all I said was “I understand that this is frustrating” and “what action can I take to help”? It can disrupt and disarm people who are just miserable and want to take it out on someone, and often points out that the action that fixes the problem is happening and they sound insane.

      1. boo bot*

        This is all great advice (also a former barista). It’s not my job – nor is it within my power – to fix the anger. It’s my job to see if I can fix the problem. I can make you a new cappuccino, but I cannot fix the cappuccino of your soul.

        I also highly recommend having stock phrases you can just keep repeating over and over without having to think about it – you want things that don’t necessarily indicate agreement, but do convey empathy. “I understand,” “I see,” “that sounds really frustrating,” etc. You’re kind of signaling, “I’m on your side here, and I’m not here to fight.”

        1. Rambler*

          “I can’t fix the cappuccino of your soul” needs to be on a t-shirt. I would buy one.

          Totally agree with this whole thread. I also get emotional in volatile situations, but when I was in college I was a shift manager at a pizza place, and I never had a problem keeping my cool with angry customers because I knew I could just send them a free pizza or put a credit in system and they’d be fine. The ones who wanted us to make them a pizza at 4am when we were closed and just trying to clean up and go home, I knew they weren’t getting squat and all I had to do was say “sorry, we’re closed” and hang up. It was empowering.

        2. Box Jumps*

          Thirded. Former barista as well. A member of my team, a former retail worker, likes to say, “at the of the day, you have to live your brain and I get to walk away.” And it’s why I will always prioritize hiring people who have customer service backgrounds because holy shit are those incredible skills.

          As an aside, I want to just note my frustration that folks in customer service are often not empowered to push back or dismiss abuse. People shouldn’t have to shoulder that language. It’s not okay. In my office job I can tell people to fuck off, but had to take it on the chin when I worked in a restaurant.

          For the OP, would your manager or higher-ups be willing to enact policy where you don’t have to accept being yelled at? Abusive tenants are asked to leave or hung up on and only dealt with if they can have a modicum of civility?

          1. Mimi Me*

            I think the issue is not that they’re not empowered to push back but most think they can’t. I worked retail for a LOT of years and never lost a job by telling a customer that it was not okay to yell at me. It’s frustrating to have someone in front of you who is upset and who wants a resolution you know you cannot provide, but that doesn’t mean that you have to deal with verbal abuse. It is 100% acceptable to request someone stop yelling, name calling, and cursing and to refuse dealing with them in that moment if they are unable to.

            1. Northerner*

              Yes, I think there’s a point when someone’s behavior pushes beyond the realm of what needs to be addressed by policy and into the realm of what anyone can be expected to be put up with as a human being. I worked in property management for several years and when someone became truly verbally abusive I’d say something like, “I’m going to hang up now because I’m not OK with being spoken to that way. I’ll go ahead and [do whatever I’ve said I can do to address the problem]. If you need anything else, we can discuss it calmly later.” This was effective.

              And a shaking voice is fine! Just get the words out and get off the phone, and repeat if needed. I’ve found that most people who become unhinged in interactions like these have something else going on in the background and will cool off as their emotions or circumstances change, once you give them the chance to do so.

            2. Lizzo*

              I worked frontline retail in the late 90s-early 00s and then again in the mid-2010s.

              During that first stint, I recall a customer coming in and wanting a cash refund for something he purchased, and I said we couldn’t do it because 1) our policy for cash purchases was that refunds over $50 would be issued by check, and 2) giving him that refund (close to $200) would have almost emptied the drawer for the day. He was a real bully, and my manager was not working that day, so I called the district manager who told me to give him the refund in cash. I was *so* upset about rewarding the customer’s bad behavior.

              For the second stint, I was the only woman working at the store at the time. The store manager made it very clear to me early on that if anyone was inappropriate with me or spoke to me in a disrespectful manner, he’d ask them to leave immediately, and make it clear that they were not welcome to return. I really enjoyed that job, knowing that someone had my back.

              OP, please speak to your manager and ask if there can be a policy put in place to refuse immediate service to people who are violating Rule #1, and make clear to all tenants that the expectation is to treat staff with respect. If management can do that and will also back that policy up with action, it will build lots of goodwill and high morale for staff.

              (For those who don’t know Rule #1, it’s “Don’t be a d*ck.”)

        3. TallTeapot*

          “I can’t fix the cappuccino of your soul”–love that. It feels very SpongeBob (and I love SpongeBob’s writing, so…).
          As someone who works in higher ed and deals with angry parents who are paying lots of $$ in tuition (and therefore feel entitled to concierge service), writing out some phrases and practicing them out loud, taking deep breaths during the interaction and letting the angry person do all of the talking–and never interrupting (i.e.-let them get their vitriol out and I only tune into about 50% of the vitriol–then respond) all help me tamp down on the flight-or-fight response my body naturally produces during these sorts of interactions.

        4. Chinook*

          I think it also helps not to take it personally. I mantra I heard (which I think came from Disney cast training) is “not my fault but it is my problem.” It shifts you from thinking that helping is accepting blame or that it is your fault and shifts you into problem solving mode.

        5. Insert Clever Name Here*

          Oh I feel this deeply (another former barista).

          Story time. I had a customer come in with someone who was obviously their client; the customer ordered a single shot cappuccino and his client ordered a black coffee. Our smallest cup was 12oz, and a correctly made single capp did not fill the cup (being equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foam, that’s only about 3-5 oz in the cup). The customer was FURIOUS when I handed him his cup and stood there screaming at me for not filling his cup. I apologized for misunderstanding that he wanted a latte, not a capp, and he screamed about how he wanted a capp. “Of course sir, I apologize. Would you like more espresso or more milk in your cappuccino?” “More MILK obviously.” So then I handed him his latte, walked into the back room and laughed like crazy.

        6. Simonthegreywarden*

          Coincidentally it is how we handle when my toddler ha a meltdown. It’s never about the toy, it is about an emotional inscape.

      2. EPLawyer*

        AAAAGH, as someone who hears a variation of I am so sorry and I understand you are frustrated, I hate when they say that. Just let me know if you can help. If you can’t say so and don’t try to sympathize.

        1. Littorally*

          Some people hate it, some people require it. Customer service people have to make educated guesses on what will calm you down. Don’t take it personally.

          1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

            When I was working the health department complaint line, there were some days when I felt like an underpaid and entirely untrained therapist, cause people calling usually had a whole lot of feelings, and if I had the time, and they weren’t being actually abusive to me, I would sit there while they cried over the phone and go “oh that sounds horrible” “oh I wish we could help” “oh I’m so sorry”

            People had some legit problems that we couldn’t do anything about (Like, we can require your landlord to give you heat, but not AC, and we can’t make them do mold remediation even if your apartment is functionally uninhabitable due to mold)

          2. Junger*

            Also, if you hate it you’re probably not the type to start screaming at them.
            Most people would rather stop the screaming customers than ensure that the level-headed ones don’t get annoyed.

            1. Happily Self Employed*

              The people who run my apartment building, which is literally the only place I can afford to live other than my car, like to be deliberately annoying so they have a reason not to help me when I break down in tears.

        2. Ali G*

          You probably hate it because you are level headed and really just want to solve a problem. People who yell and scram and rant need to be HEARD and so these phrases accomplish that.
          Yeah we know they are stock phrases, but for some it’s what works.

        3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I hate it too but only because I know it’s to placate erratic fools.

          This is also why I always approach things as calmly as possible and tell the person I’m talking to that I’m not mad at them, I may hate their company in the moment but I know 100% that they didn’t personally wrong me.

          I had to have this conversation with our insurance broker the other day who called to give rate increase news. They get screamed at and I’m like “Oh…I’m not insane, I know you don’t set the frigging rates.”

      3. Uranus Wars*

        As a 15-year service industry veteran I have definitely said to others in customer facing positions “I am not mad at you. I am mad at the situation. But I still need you to help me figure this out!” It’s like I want them to know I am not mad at them, but sometimes I also need resolution to my problem and can’t just walk away.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Yes! I have definitely said to a CS person, “I know this isn’t your fault but it is super frustrating and I would like to get to the bottom of it.”

        2. Jane Austin Texas*

          I have definitely used, “I understand this isn’t your fault” and “Can you tell me how you recommend solving XYZ problem?” CS people are really appreciative of a level head, I find!

        3. allathian*

          Yeah. In my teens and twenties I spent more than 10 years working in CS jobs and I think that’s made me a more pleasant customer. I certainly don’t take my frustrations out on front-line staff.

      4. Jane Austin Texas*

        Another former barista here, and now someone who works in a profession not known for their interpersonal skills. First step is to say something that acknowledges their frustration in the calmest tone possible, which will show them that that you’re listening. People look to you to see how you react. If you’re calm and quiet, they will also lower their tone. (Try this at home! It’s fun!)

        A couple things that work well for me:
        1. Let the person yell themselves out. Then, again, in your calmest voice, state both the problem and the solution. “So you saw a mouse and you want an exterminator? OK, we can do that for you. Are there other issues we need to address? Please, sit. Let’s talk.”

        2. Don’t be afraid to set a personal boundary! Interrupt them (again, so calmly!) with, “I feel like you’re yelling at me” (said in a tone where I’m slightly confused as to why you’re yelling, as you and I both know this cannot possibly be my fault) or the more hard-core “I need you to lower your voice.” Do NOT say “I need you to calm down” because that has never worked in the history of Earth.

        There’s also a line between frustration and abuse, and I would encourage you to not engage with people who are being abusive. Those people can put in a ticket and wait in line. :) Good luck!

        1. Jane Austin Texas*

          OH One more I forgot, but works like a charm. If you see someone coming, when they storm into your office, greet them like they’re your best friend before they can even get a word out. Works even better if you you have a repeat offender (“Hey, George! Nice to see you again!”) or you know something personal about them (“Irma! Hello! How are the grandkids?”). It’s pretty hard for them to keep a head of steam after that.

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I’m so sorry. Back in my first job as a ESL tech support I was also yelled at, insulted and patronized. Some customers lost their minds and became verbally abusing when they realized they were talking to ESL people outisde the US. They pay was good, but it wasn’t worth the emotional distress.

    3. Smithy*

      Agree with all of this.

      I will also add that right now the OP lists a whole range of physical reactions happening, and I just want to say that all of the practice making this easier may not necessarily address every physical response. And letting that be ok also helps.

      If you notice your face still getting red or eyes watering, but your voice remains steady, you give the answers you feel are professional, accurate and appropriate, etc. – then that is a success. Maybe your voice cracks/wobbles, but again – the information is correct, in accordance to the policy, etc etc etc – still a win. Basically focusing on how you’re handling it correctly as opposed to what is still wrong with your delivery helps build that overall confidence in how your handling those interactions.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I was wanting to say this exact thing. Sometimes, your body is going to respond to stress the way it responds to stress, and no amount of logic or reason can make it not react that way. So acknowledge that your body is having a stress response, but that this is temporary and you’re doing all the things you’re supposed to do to serve your customer. It’s not wrong or unprofessional for your heart rate to speed up when you’re being yelled at. As long as you’re speaking respectfully and doing all you can to solve the problem, you’re being professional and you’re doing your job well.

        1. Middle Aged Lady*

          During my years of restaurant service, the mantra was ‘they will be in that seat for an hour. You don’t have to live with them 24/7’ and in my library days, I had a smooth stone I would clutch as an outlet for my fear of my physical reactions to unpleasant people. No one ever cared if my face got red or I got watery eyes, or my voice shook. After I got through it a few times, it got easier to remind myself ‘this is now, I am not a child or a victim, I am the boss here.’ Practice, as others suggested. Good luck!

    4. Hazel*

      I completely agree with practice, practice, practice! I was a grassroots fundraiser for many years, and we did a lot of practice/role-playing. I found it especially helpful to go over the situations where someone might ask me a dreaded question, so I could (1) learn the answer and (2) practice talking about it. I have also used this to help me with job interviews. If I know there’s a question I hope they don’t ask, I’d better spend a lot of time getting comfortable with how I want to talk about it so I don’t have to worry through the entire interview that they might ask me “X.”

      It also helps to know, as Valancy Snaith also points out, that it’s not personal. It can be really difficult when people direct their frustration and anger at you, but it has helped me to have a few response phrases in mind, and I recommend practicing these, too, because it’s hard to think of what to say when someone’s very upset unless you have practiced a response or two. When I worked at a bank, one phrase we used was “That sounds really frustrating – let me find out how I can help you with that.” That allows you be sympathetic and helpful without badmouthing your company.

      These interactions are not ever fun, but it really can get easier to handle with practice.

    5. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      And remember, you do not have to have the answer at that moment. I think part of your lack of confidence/insecurity is that you think if can’t fix the situation immediately you are somehow wrong. You are not. At. All.
      You do not have to solve their problem at that moment.
      You do not have to resolve their situation at that moment.
      They may be coming to you completely off the rails, but they’ve still had time to process the situation.
      The ceiling is leaking? By the time they call you, they’ve looked and determined that it’s a big issue.
      Washing machines on the fritz?
      Even neighbor issues.
      They have been thinking about it.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        That is also my advice, tell them you will get back to them and then be sure you do. Much easier than coming up with something on the spot.

    6. Patrick*

      I will say that one method a friend used that may not work for others but did help them is role playing some of the most extreme examples.

      I’m very good at yelling and am loud lol. Have also worked in customer service since the day I turned 15 so he was having a similar issue and asked me to basically yell at him at home and we practiced that and he started getting better at it.

      Definitely won’t work for everyone though

    7. Rose*

      Jesus. I worked as a barista for five months and while people would be obnoxious (insane amounts of demanding that even though the fire code mandates no more than 20 patrons inside, and we will get shut down for a week and I will loose that week of $$, they are the very special exception), I was NEVER yelled at that way. I’m so sorry that was your experience, and I’m just now understanding why so many service people treat my basic good manners like I’m the kindest person in the world. I always feel weirdly over hyped at Starbucks… they treat me like I’ve tipped $100 when I make eye contact, smile, and tip $1. I assumed it was just enthusiastic service.

  3. Invisible Fish*

    My first thought is tell people who yell that this isn’t how adults do business and they can come back and conduct business at another time when they can act right. No one gets to yell at someone else. I realize you might not be able to do this given your job parameters …. but dang.

    1. KR*

      This is kind of what I was thinking. As an assistant manager and not a traditional retail/food service type role is that you have more leeway in kicking people out for unacceptable behavior. Obviously OP should check with their manager but I think OP should feel empowered to tell belligerent customers that they won’t be yelled at/spoken to in that manner and the customer needs to come back when they can speak respectfully or do business over the phone.

    2. Mythea*

      This was my response as well. You can tell people who come in angry that they are welcome to back when they are calmer – but you don’t take abuse.

      1. irene adler*


        And just to drive the point home, walk away.

        When someone raises their voice to me, I walk away. If it’s considered rude or unprofessional, too bad. Hope this isn’t the case, but I’ve experienced people who hit -or throw things- after they start yelling. Not sticking around for that.

    3. Annie Porter*

      Yes, I agree with Invisible Fish. Find out exactly what you’re able to say to people who are unreasonable or yelling. Part of my job includes tech support, and our employee handbook clearly states that we do not have to take abuse and we can end message threads that become abusive.

      I feel for you, because I’m guessing a lot of your issues will be in person instead of with a computer/phone buffer in between. However, if there’s an overall policy of “we absolutely will not deal with people who are yelling or screaming, or otherwise making us feel unsafe” maybe people would learn to temper it down if they really want their issue fixed? (I know that I’m being optimistic. But I also know that people who act like this are rarely told to shove it, and when they are, they sometimes behave better out of sheer surprise.)

      1. I'm A Little Teapot*

        No, it won’t. However, if more people end up getting thrown out, arrested, permanently banned for their shitty behavior, etc, then maybe there won’t be entire websites dedicated to videos of people screaming at service workers. This behavior is not ok.

      2. Lilyp*

        I think “this isn’t how adults do business” is probably a little too snarky to fly in real life, yeah. But something like “I can tell you’re really frustrated but that kind of language is not acceptable here” or “excuse me sir but you cannot verbally abuse the staff like that, I need you to leave now” ought to be in bounds. It’s not OPs job to “defuse” every situation by accepting endless abuse from unreasonable people.

        1. Anchee*

          You have to be really careful with this kind of thing in property management. Fair Housing laws require careful maneuvering. If you “refuse” to engage with someone and it can be perceived in any way to be not applied equally among protected classes there can be consequences. People who are behaving in such a way to make you want to kick them out are not exactly reasonable and I’ve seen situations spiral out of control with bad faith Fair Housing accusations.

          1. Lizzo*

            Surely there is some way to say to anyone who comes into the management office and is seething with anger, “I need for you to take a step outside, take five deep breaths, count to 10 slowly, and then come back in and ask for what you need. I cannot help you in your current enraged state”…? And not have it be considered a refusal of service?

            How can effective service be provided if there is not clear communication between the two parties?

            1. Middle Aged Lady*

              I have said,”I am so sorry, but I have a hearing problem where my ears ring when people talk loudly. Can you take it down a notch, so I can help?” All said super sweet and Southern charming as I can make it. It is actually true. I can’t think creatively when people raise their voice or start huffing and puffing right off. The ptsd from
              childhood kicks right in. I can help, but they don’t get the full benefit of my problem-solving skills. Part of me shuts down.

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        You can not allow others to abuse you on the regular. It may piss them off more in the moment, but if someone comes in yelling and screaming and can’t be reasoned with over the situation, then you need to ask them to leave and come back at another time. I’ve worked in customer service before, and while it was all over the phone, we were told that if anyone called and was yelling and cursing, we were allowed to hang up.

      4. Oogie*

        I do this (with different wording) and 99% of the time when people realize their nonsense is keeping them from what they want they settle down.

      5. Batgirl*

        It’s not supposed to? It stops it. The abusive person won’t get their situation resolved, diffused, whatever until they behave like a grown up. Until then, they can be incandescent somewhere else. They can spontaneously combust if they like. I’ve never worked anywhere where people are allowed to yell at employees without being kicked out or hung up on or ignored. I’m astonished people even contemplate “letting them rant” it tbh.

    4. Doctor Evil*


      The physical response that you are experiencing may *never* go away with practice – in another life, I coached people for theatrical auditions and the ugly truth is that audition anxiety does not simply “go away with practice” for some people. It may be a result of trauma or other lived experience…we may not know. Not that the advice to practice is bad – it’s very good advice! Many times, people are angry because they don’t feel heard. Simply giving them the chance to be angry and following up with an acknowledgment of their right to be angry will de-escalate.

      That being said…no job *requires* you to accept abuse. Anger is one thing, but abusive language and aggressive disrespect is another. You are within your rights to take as much time as you need to gather yourself and request that the person either submit their concerns in writing if *they* can’t control their emotions, or call back/return when they are able to communicate without being abusive.

      As a redhead who turns her hair color when someone looks at her too long, I can relate to the visual “tell” that you yourself are getting upset, and it’s no fun! I, too, don’t deal well with being yelled at, but it helps to remember that no one (meaning your supervisor) should reprimand you for saying to a customer “Please don’t curse at me/threaten me/scream at me.” This request is entirely reasonable and simply saying it will often shock people into calming down.

    5. DataGirl*

      Agree. Sort of like how call center employees can hang up on someone who curses at them or threatens them, perhaps something along the lines of “Please come back/call back when you can discuss this in a calm and reasonable manner” then hang up/walk away. Might not be possible given the expectations of the role, but I do think it’s reasonable to expect people to not scream at you.

    6. Lilyp*

      Yes, you should talk to your boss about what types of behavior (e.g. continued yelling, verbal abuse or threats, physical intimidation, etc) cross a line and mean that someone should get told to leave. Being assistant manager should come with *more* authority to actually lay down the law in these situations, not just a bigger target on your back.

      It would also be worth going over plans for what you (or your manager) would do if someone were to be physically belligerent or refuse to leave — do you have building security you can call? I know in America calling the police can really increase the risk of violence, so when/how would you consider doing that? Are there any other options for community-based rapid response in your area? Hopefully it never happens but I think having a contingency plan for how you would handle a worst-case scenario can make you feel more confident.

    7. Scott*

      This would escalate the situation. It’s best to just acknowledge the emotions and then ignore them, as if the person is speaking in a flat monotone from then on. Once they see their explosiveness isn’t getting a reaction from you, it often fizzles out.

      1. Washi*

        Yeah, there do exist times when someone might need to be escorted out (especially if they are making actual threats) but 95% of the time, when someone is yelling at me, they’re trying to get my attention and show me how serious the problem is. If I give them my attention and demonstrate that I have grasped the seriousness of the problem, most of the time they stop yelling.

        Like if you came running into your property manager’s office yelling “there’s a velociraptor in the halls grabbing babies! do something about it! call 911!!!! ” and the manager was like “ma’am, you need to leave and come back when you are ready to speak calmly,” I would probably keep yelling. But if the manager was like “oh my goodness!! Do I understand you that there is a real velociraptor that has already grabbed some children?” then I would feel like she had understood the seriousness of the situation.

        Obviously, lots of people yell when it’s not a real emergency, but it’s important to remember that often in their minds, it IS an emergency and requires immediate attention.

          1. Middle Aged Lady*

            It’s not abuse— but velociraptors in the hall eating kids would probably reduce me to tears!

      2. MicroManagered*

        No way. Accepting verbal abuse is not part of the job description for an assistant manager of an apartment complex. She’s not a psychiatric nurse or something…

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        That doesn’t mean you should allow people to verbally abuse you. Yes people will yell and be upset. But there’s a point where the yelling needs to stop, and the person needs to leave because nothing will be resolved that way. OP and the their manager need to come up with a plan if the abuse escalates to a certain point that includes making them leave.

        1. Happily Self Employed*

          OPs manager may need to be more reasonable. They go back and forth multiple times a year on where tenants are allowed to keep bicycles. They don’t think a fridge under a year old needs to keep food colder than 45F and say anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional.

    8. Dust Bunny*


      I worked at two different veterinary hospitals. The first one the owner was a difficult person but he didn’t let clients abuse us. The second place was calmer but they never drew a line with abusive pet owners. They were both really hard jobs in their own ways but the second place was worse in large part because the owners didn’t support their staff. There was a woman who used to call in and reduce receptionists to tears on a regular basis and the vets were like . . . yeah, she has problems, just be nice. No. Hang up on her. I’m sorry she has legitimate mental health problems but either she’s capable of functioning with us or she’s not. If she is, she can call back when she’s willing to be civil. If she can’t, her son can call us for her.

    9. MicroManagered*

      This was my thought too. OP is describing an adrenaline response: I get red and teary eyed, I sometimes draw blanks, and my voice and body shake. Assuming she is not responding disproportionately to the situation, she should find out from her manager just how much yelling and abuse she is expected to take. If someone’s screaming or swearing at her, she should tell them to call/come back when they can speak calmly.

    10. LizardOfOdds*

      100% agree, and this is what I did when in a similar position as OP. I had a standard script that I practiced a bunch of times before I actually had to use it: “It sounds like you need a moment to collect your thoughts so we can have a productive conversation about solving this. Feel free to call back/come back when you’re ready.”

      The first time I said it, my voice was shaky and I wasn’t totally confident, but it got easier every time.

    11. Anne Elliot*

      This! I think there is a certain amount of frustration and exasperation that customer service people have to take (especially if you’re the “complaint department”) but no one should stand for being abused, and to me being yelled at is by definition verbally abusive. So I agree that the first thing is not to figure out how you can better deal with being routinely yelled at, but rather to figure out how to draw and enforce boundaries that consistently reflect “You cannot yell at me,” i.e.: “I can tell you’re upset and I want to help you if I can, but you cannot yell at me. Please take a few minutes outside the office to collect yourself and then come back and we’ll see what we can do.” And if they refuse, if they continue to yell, walk away.

      Nobody likes being screamed at. Almost everybody has a negative physical and emotional response to having that happen. Rather than figure out how you can get better at being yelled at, start staking out the position that that is not okay and you won’t tolerate it. I think this will be essential to being successful in your new job, because if it ends up to be a job where you are daily stressed out, reduced to tears, shaking, and hating what you have to do, you are not going to be successful and you probably will not stay.

      In terms of how to deal with frustration aimed at you that falls short of yelling — please remember they are not actually mad at you personally, they are frustrated by the situation and blaming your office or company, not you personally. If you can work on taking these conversations less personally, you may find you have less of an emotionally reaction to them. But you are always going to take it personally if you feel you are being attacked, so again, I think it’s super important to have boundaries of acceptable behavior, to make sure those boundaries are known, and to insist on them being respected. If some one is screaming at you and won’t stop, then IMO that is an issue that rightly should go to your manager anyway, who ideally would also say “You can’t yell at the assistant manager.”

      1. Washi*

        I guess I don’t agree that all yelling is verbal abuse (in a professional setting). I have worked in social services and hospice, and have been yelled at in both of those settings, including being called incompetent, etc. When your job involves seeing people in high-stress situations, there will be some yelling, and to a certain extent, you have to develop the tools to deal with it. I’ve never been expected to just take verbal abuse (someone making threats or calling me vulgar names) but I am expected to work through these kinds of highly charged emotional situations.

        I don’t really know much about OP’s field, but in some fields, this is expected.

        1. Batgirl*

          It’s a valid choice to go along with it if it works for you. Sometimes just being impassive and not responding to the name calling is a short cut to getting it done today and if waiting for the calm works, then why not if it gets you there. It should never be required of course but you do you. Honestly though, even if OP were suited to that, I think a hard line is helpful for residents who are poorly socialised and uncivil. They are not helping themselves simply because they misunderstand how complaining works and what’s effective. And if they’re a permanent fixture in an apartment complex it’s a long game approach which will save both sides time and stress.

        2. Anne Elliot*

          Respectfully, I don’t agree that “if your job involves seeing people in high-stress situations, there will be some yelling.” Part of my professional role is dealing with angry or upset family members, and I set the framework for those conversations, and nobody gets to yell at me. That may mean that I say “I want to help you, but you need to stop yelling at me or I’m hanging up” or “I can see you’re upset, but you cannot yell at me, so why don’t we take a minute’s break and then pick this back up” or “I’m not sure you’re aware but you’re yelling at me and I need to ask you not to do that” or similar, and I never get mad at them about it and never start yelling myself. I am calm, polite, and matter-of-fact, but I don’t put up with it. And I refuse to believe it’s inevitable that I should. So I guess it’s situation-specific and obviously person-specific as well.

    12. Don't Call Me Honey*

      I can state from years of experience that telling someone to come back later or act like an adult or anything else that is the *slightest* bit critical of their behavior will make the situation much, much worse. You basically can’t tell an adult to take a time out even when they are acting like a toddler having a tantrum. Instead the OP has to learn to de-escalate situations by expressing sympathy, apologizing that the complainer is have problems, and assuring them that she will take steps to investigate and resolve the issue. Those are the only things that will de-escalate the situation — and, yes, the OP will likely have to repeat all of it ad infinitum. Yes, it’s ridiculous to be screamed at, but no one in a customer service role gets to push back like you would like them to. (I wish!)

      1. Batgirl*

        I have in numerous roles! Common practice in my neck of the woods for both bricks and mortar retail, call centres, hospitality, public service, local news. Either they cool off or they don’t get helped. It’s relatively rare to get verbal abuse (its once in a while, not a constant or daily event) and if they cant control themselves they are banned. Why on earth wouldnt they be banned for abusing staff?

    13. Starbuck*

      That sounds nice, but if these people are tenants then it’s not “business” for them, it’s personal, since it’s their housing. Especially now….. you’ve got to have some understanding that people are going to lose their cool especially if it’s an issue of potentially being kicked out of their home.

      1. K*

        Yes, generally I think the advice of the comment above is fine, but you may not be able to refuse to work with difficult clients in a housing setting the same way that you can in a typical retail setting.

    14. kittymommy*

      I work in government and a good 90% of my calls are people unhappy with us. I have definitely told people (a lot of “I pay your salary” types) that swearing and/or yelling needs to stop before I can help them and when they have better control of thier emotions I am more than happy to speak with them. And then I hang up.

  4. Not A Girl Boss*

    I think there’s two things here: the feeling of unfairness or being blamed for things that aren’t your fault / aren’t reasonable to be made at… and just plain being unsure what to do about it.
    Both of those things will get better with time. With each conflict that passes, your ability to detach from the unfairness of the situation and view the situation as if you are an outsider will improve.

    But one thing that helped me when I took on complaints was to make an actual spreadsheet script with how I’d handle things. Like “OK, thank you for raising this issue, can I take a look and get back to you at ___ number?” Then a flowchart for “if they say ok” and “if they keep yelling”. Just taking the time to map out in my mind how to deal with things, and rehearsing my scripts, prevented me from freezing as much.

    1. Jackalope*

      I’ve also found that pretending that the other person is acting reasonable often gets them to actually start. For example, if they come in the office angry, respond calmly to each comment they make as if they were also being calm (“May I please see your ID?” “My !#$@ ID? Sure!!” Throws it across the counter. “Thank you! And which apartment are you in?” and so on). This doesn’t work with someone who’s over the top furious or who wants to use you for their whipping boy/girl, but for someone who’s just run of the mill cranky it often helps.

      1. Middle Aged Lady*

        Long policy descriptions with a full history of why we do it this way would often shut up the cranky ‘why’? types. Especially if delivered in my kindergarten teacher voice.

  5. Amber Rose*

    In addition to Alison’s spot-on advice, usually that’s how I get when I am taking the yelling personally. If I feel that it is I, myself, who am at fault for this person’s anger, then I become emotional because I don’t like making people upset.

    If you can take a deep breath and remind yourself that this isn’t about anything YOU have done, remind yourself of the things you have done right or will need to do next in order to address this situation properly, that might help you take the personal emotion out of what is, in the end, just you being the convenient ear for someone to yell at your company.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I was going to say something like this. You can’t think of it as them yelling “at you”. They are yelling because of the situation. And sure, yelling doesn’t actually accomplish anything, but when people are frustrated, they tend to express that in unhealthy ways. Disengaging emotionally is the best way to handle this sort of thing.

      1. Librarian*

        Even though I’ve worked in customer service for 15 years I still have a similar response. What has ended up helping the most? Therapy to address the emotional abuse I suffered as a kid that makes me fear for my life when dealing with confrontation.
        It’s possible that your response isn’t so extreme or related to this, but I want to put it out there as an option. Before therapy I beat myself up for my inability to get more comfortable in these situations, which made things worse. Now I feel less stress and have tools to help me, things I couldn’t have figured out on my own.

    2. tyrannosaurus vex*

      Agreed! I think it’s helpful to mentally disconnect a bit too. Unfocus your eyes just a little bit and imagine you’re watching a video of this person, or if they’re on the phone just hold the phone away from your ear. Say “please don’t talk to me that way,” then end the conversation if you have to. It might help you feel safer to put a desk or a chair between you and the person too.

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        Oooh thank you for this Tyrannosaurus Rex! Your mention of the objects “desk” and “chair” reminded me of a third object: A piece of paper! This is both a powerful weapon against The Fury, and something for you to focus on rather than the angry human hollering its head off in front of you. And a tool to -with a bit of practice- refocus the Angry Human as well!

        Getting the agitated person to actually sit down (physically less aggressive posture) across from you (physically behind a desk barrier), as you ask them to spell out what exactly the issue is, “slowly enough so I can get this all and take good notes”… it’s like the Jedi mind trick way of saying “calm down”, but not the words “calm down”, which usually have the opposite effect! Imagine that you are the unflappable detective, and the angry person is the agitated witness/victim you have to interview. You’re not there to change their emotions; you can be reasonably assured something is legitimately upsetting them.

        But defusing them is key- which can often be done by telling/showing them that you ARE committed to helping them, and asking them to help you get going by giving you all the details you need to pass along to contractors, utilities, the HOA, whoever… and you can gently slow down the pace of the barrage of words until you feel comfortable again. If the angry person refuses to slow/calm down, you can simply say, “I know you are upset but I can’t quite write this fast; I’m trying to get all the info I need”, basically only even acknowledging the pace/content of the conversation and not the volume/emotion, which might help you feel better about it too.

        Think Lieutenant Joe Friday… “Just the facts, Ma’am.” Once you have what you need, you can wrap up the situation by getting contact info and availability for followup, and you and your lovely new stack of notes can politely excuse yourselves to go make some phone calls!

        Obviously there’s a level of over-the-top anger that tips the scales to “this isn’t safe and I need to excuse myself immediately”, but for your run-of-the-mill grumpy people it can work wonders! I’ve used this tactic before; I tend to respond as the LW does- red-faced and shaky in conflict situations- and not only does it get the anger to taper off, but by staring down at my piece of paper, scribbling away, nodding, going HMM and I SEE and YES THAT SOUNDS DIFFICULT… I myself can refocus my nerves on the note taking project and not end up with an emotional reaction of my own.

        Best of luck, LW! Congratulations on the promotion!

        1. Aerin*

          This is excellent advice. And if they have a legitimate complaint or request, it can be hard to remember all the details when emotions are running high, so having notes lets you more effectively handle the meat of the problem.

        2. IndustriousLabRat*

          Think of the piece of paper as if it is like a conversational heat sink that exists not only to record information, but to absorb and dissipate emotion so you don’t bear the brunt!

    3. Washi*

      Exactly! I have a very similar response when I feel like my personal character/worth is being called into question. Some things that have helped me are 1) seeing the yelling as saying something about the other person, not about me. I try to see the yeller as someone who is experiencing something that for whatever reason they can’t psychologically handle, and is just freaking out. Basically, I reframe yelling as a signal of feeling powerlessness, not of power over me.

      2) I know some people are saying the opposite, but I like to release myself of the responsibility of making them stop yelling. If they want to conduct our whole conversation at top volume, fine. My job is to listen, show them I’ve understood by reflecting their concerns back, and to clearly explain what I can or can’t do. If I turn off the “aghhh I have to make them stop yelling!!” in my brain, I react a lot more calmly.

    4. Anononon*

      Yup, this is what I was coming to say. At my job, we are generally the “bad” person (our field/area of practice is often the antagonist in movies/media), so I often have to speak to people who are very reasonably upset and angry. It sounds callous, but having this disconnect is what lets me do my job. One of my go to when people start getting really irate and accusing (and more hostile then just upset) is just say “okay” to them. It tends to take the wind out of their sails as I’m not giving them anything further to react to.

    5. Emilitron*

      Yes, exactly what I was coming in to say! Professional detachment (the difference between yelling at me, and yelling about the company while I took notes) goes a long way!
      That said, it’s not easy. When I was younger it would have been very hard for me to do this job, in part because I was so emotionally uncomfortable with the idea of people being angry. I wasn’t able to be angry at people without getting teary, I wasn’t able to watch movies where people were angry without getting teary, it could have nothing to do with me at all and I’d still get upset – it was just a mess all around. I am older and more resilient now, but far from perfect (I’m loving Zoom because it’s less obvious when I’m getting emotional!) and I couldn’t say there was anything specific I’ve done that helped, or that I’d recommend to OP.

    6. Birdie*

      I take a similar approach, even though, for me, it’s not about taking something less personally – I’m usually well aware it’s not about me. It’s more that I can get teary when flustered or frustrated, and having someone yell at me can make me flustered, so it still comes back to staying calm and collected in the moment.

      I take a deep breath and start focusing on next steps and solutions rather than fully absorbing everything they’re throwing out in their rant. Once they’ve started repeating themselves and offering no new information, I try to jump in and derail the ranting by making clear I’m taking it seriously: asking detailed follow up questions, etc. and laying out a specific plan for next steps. It may not work with residents, but it’s very effective in my work and tends to take the wind out of their sails. Most of the time, anyway – some people just want to rant, but I think most people start to feel silly about yelling when the person responds in a polite, calm tone and focuses on fixing things. If they continue expressing frustration, I just repeat, “I understand. As I explained, I need to do X and Y to determine the proper resolution, and I will get started on that as soon as we finish our conversation. [subtext: you should hang up now if you want me to get to the bottom of this]”

      It took some time to get the hang of projecting an air of, “I’m taking this seriously and know how to solve the problem,” but once I did and realized how much less unpleasant the conversations tended to be, I felt more confident quickly taking control of the conversation and shifting it in a more productive direction.

    7. Butterfly Counter*

      I second this. If it’s at all possible for the OP to change their perspective to “They’re mad at me,” to “They’re mad and asking me for help that I actually can give them,” it would probably change the physical reaction. I had a huge change when I worked as a clerk/receptionist at a hospital. I came in taking every bad or urgent message to me as something against my character until I understood I was just a conduit. They’re trying to use me as a tool to get something done and most of the time, it was something I could do!

      In the years I was there, I changed from taking everything personally to taking nothing personally, even when some jackasses were truly trying to insult me. It’s stuck with me in my life where when someone comes to me in anger, I immediately go into problem-solving behavior. Now I only take it personally if I am the actual problem that needs to be solved for someone.

  6. Anon234*

    You shouldn’t be put in a position where you have to put up with that abusive nonsense.
    But… as someone who used to work in a Emergency Department (and therefore complaints about waiting too long etc were hourly), here’s what I used to do:
    Take a deep breath and listen to what they’re saying. Then, Say something simple like “That sounds frustrating. I’m sorry this has happened to you.” Don’t grovel and don’t put up with really threatening behaviour, but this simple phrase used to defuse 95% of patients who would fly at me in a fury.
    And by this, I mean don’t absorb blame or promise more than you can give- just give them your ear for a short amount of time and go with it. It’s never personal. Then, you can actually do your job.

    Get in place strategies for the 5% who continue to be arseholes.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yes. Sometimes even more than having their problem solved, people want to feel like their feelings are heard. I remember reading a study about doctors that found people rated their satisfaction with their doctor more highly when they also reported “My doctor listened to my concerns.” It had a stronger impact on satisfaction than “My doctor resolved the health problem I can to them about.”!

      1. abcd*

        Exactly. I’m a supervisor in a call center environment and most of the escalated calls I take is someone wanting to vent freely without expectations other than “I understand your frustration” or “I’m sorry you feel that way”. People just want to know they’re being heard.

        A weird thing that works for some people is having something that just makes you feel more confident. When I first began supervising, I bought a pair of shoes I loved. When I wore them, I always felt more confident and felt like I could tackle any complaints thrown at me. I don’t have them anymore, but I can remember feeling confident in shutting down screamers and dealing with problem customers.

    2. The Rat-Catcher*

      They teach us this in social work too. People often just want to feel heard and validated. If you can do that, they’re often much calmer when you get to the part where you’re describing next steps.

  7. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

    I agree with Alison. Have a list of things that you can do and a list of things that you can’t written down in front of you. Some of the angriest people I deal with Are people who aren’t precisely customers (and therefore are asking for information they cannot have) and it helps me to be very clear in my own head.

    I also reflect their feelings as I understand them paired with the best solution I have “yes it is very frustrating that your oven can’t be repaired right now, but the work order is in, so it will be fixed as soon as possible.”

    For the things that can’t be done, appeal to the laws of the universe. “I understand that you want your rent reduced by $500 a month. Unfortunately that is not possible.” Repeat ad nauseous.

    And finally, I find it helpful to be proactive. Particularly if you have a few frequent flyers, knowing their concerns and addressing them before you get the angry call can short circuit them. “I heard you were upset that Wakeen wasn’t able to get your key replaced. I wanted to let you know that the locksmith will be here on Tuesday.” In my line of work, there are common complaints, and even just saying “I have XYZ on my to-do list” makes people feel heard (Even though their problem isn’t actually solved yet!)

  8. Learning As I Go*

    I’m curious about OP’s age. I read an article recently (though I can’t cite the source) that said that teenagers/very young adults have not fully developed conflict resolution skills yet, and often freeze when faced with anger or aggression. I’ve seen this over and over with young people working in retail environments – you can see the panic all over their faces when an older adult is yelling at them. If this is the case, I’d say it will get better with time and experience. I also think it’s helpful to remind yourself that this is a *them* problem, and not a *you* problem. Don’t take anything personally.

    If the person has a legitimate gripe, speak to them in a reassuring tone of voice, which I have found typically immediately reduces anger. I’ll say something like, “I’m sorry; that shouldn’t have happened. I’m going to take care of that for you.”

    If the person is in the wrong and is just yelling at you to distract from their own wrongdoing (which many will do), calmly gather information and tell them you will investigate and give them a call. This way, you can push the difficult conversation to a phone call where you don’t have an angry, unreasonable person staring at you.

    1. Mel_05*

      Yes, I think this is such good advice!

      It’s not personal, you didn’t cause this, you’re just there.

      But also, the way you’ve described talking to them is so spot on. I used to deal with angry people by simply being unflappably calm – but what would happen is they would really want me to react, so they would get ruder and ruder to try and *make* me react.

      But by responding with a *little* bit of emotion (reassurance, concern) people don’t feel the need to escalate to make you react, but they also don’t feel entitled to walk all over you. And, when people feel heard they often calm down and sometimes even apologize for being massive jerks.

      1. Mel_05*

        Let me also say – I’m naturally much more like the OP. I’m shaking on the inside and I’ll definitely be shaking after the confrontation is over – I just developed a really good poker face – but that on it’s own isn’t the best solution.

        1. Learning As I Go*

          Same here! I still hate conflict and it still makes me literally shake. But I’ve developed the ability to stay calm on the outside, which has taken some work!

    2. Faberge Otter*

      Heh, I used to be so much better at conflict resolution and responding calmly to being challenged or yelled at when I was a teen and a young adult.

      After my 20s were over, and I had some experience in the world, I lost all ability to handle confrontation and get shaky and panic-stricken at the slightest thing. I think it has more to do with personality and experience than age, though of course age plays a role in both personality and experience.

    3. WS*

      This is true, but also there can be a physical response regardless of age or practice. I’m in my 40s and I don’t crack when someone yells at me anymore, but I still get red in the face and often cry afterwards. It’s a really strong physiological response regardless of how competently I actually deal with the situation. The advice here of delaying in order to investigate is how I handle it.

  9. Widget*

    Personal stock phrase that I find useful: “Oh my gosh, that does sound frustrating. Let’s see what we can do about this/what we can figure out here.” And then I’ll move into getting their account info or whatever else I need from them.

    It acknowledges their emotions, puts us on the same side, and shifts the conversation into a problem solving framework, which buys me space to figure out what’s going on .

    1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

      Yes. Common enemy: the problem. Team: you and up until now angry person. Very helpful reframing.

      1. Faberge Otter*

        I second this. Although I was not yelly, when I went into the office last year to confront the manager about a problem that was going on, I was very impressed with the way she immediately talked me down. I get super nervous about confrontation, but the situation was something that couldn’t continue and I wanted to make sure it was handled. So I was pretty shaky myself. The manager impressed me 1) by being very concerned and paying close attention to the details of the issue, 2) by confirming that the problem was serious instead of treating me like I was overreacting, 3) by giving me a very detailed description of what she had already been doing to address issues like mine and what she would immediately start doing to handle it where those measures had been inadequate.

        I think these would have been effective measures against an angry/yelly person, too. In my experience, building managers can make a resident feel stupid or like their concerns aren’t valid, so the anger can be kind of a preemptive “take me seriously” plea. Be genuine in your concern, affirm the problem, and be detailed in how it will be handled. If they’re too upset to listen to detail in the moment, maybe just assure them you will take steps and ask if you can contact them with a follow-up? Remembering that the anger is directed at “the problem” and not at “you personally” is the biggest help imo.

        1. londonedit*

          Completely different situation, but I was super impressed recently with a company’s customer service because they used very similar techniques to resolve an issue I had with a missing order. I also did not yell, but the person I spoke to immediately agreed that it was unacceptable, said they were sorry it had happened, and gave me a clear description of how they were going to fix the issue and what I could expect (i.e. ‘I’ll re-order that for you, and you should receive an email confirmation within 15 minutes. I’ll make sure we use a different courier with next-day delivery, and you’ll also receive an email tomorrow once the order is on its way to you’). It was great. Problem solved, steps clear, company admits the previous service wasn’t up to scratch and acts quickly to rectify it. That’s all you can ask for when things go wrong!

      2. Caterpie*

        I agree with your framing of “You + Angry” as a team against a problem. I used to work event parking and we always had people who would become rude or obnoxious when asked to use the crosswalk (instead of crossing at the blind hill where the 12 ton busses barrel through).

        Saying “I’m so sorry, but you and I will both be in trouble if I let you cross up there!! Would you mind using the crosswalk?” almost always avoided that behavior. Kind of over the top, but it worked. I think Widget’s and Putting Out Fires Esq’s advice is spot on here.

  10. Hills to Die on*

    Here’s something Alison said about 10 years ago that helped me, to the point that I wrote it down and left it on my desk:
    Some people should be looked at as curious bitey sspecimen – like an oddity. Pretend you at watching a movie.’ Something like that.

    I also refuse to deal with people who act like this when they are upsetting me. Tell them ‘I am happy to speak with you when you are ready to have a polite conversation.’ Practice it in the mirror.

    Finally, try being be polite, calm, and sympathetic. People calm down when they know they are being heard.

    You’ll probably need to switch it up depending on the situation.

    Good luck!

    1. Amethystmoon*

      I would have been fired at my last job for refusing to talk to a verbally abusive manager (who wasn’t even technically my manager but felt like she could act that way).

    2. The Rural Juror*

      I had a customer once who was yelling at me for something totally out of my control and totally unreasonable. It was a huge over-reaction to a simple problem. Obviously something else was going with her, reasonable people don’t blow up over something so small. I let her yell and yell and finally she came up for air and I calmly said, “I really can’t do anything to fix this situation if you keep me on the phone just to yell at me.” I was able to end the conversation, then I went directly to my manager and asked what he wanted me to do. He called her back an hour later and told her to take her business somewhere else! Luckily it was a situation where he could do that, because she hadn’t actually paid us yet for any of the products she wanted to order. Good riddance!

      Normally I would not talk to anyone like that. In that moment, with that particular person, I felt like that was the only way to get her off the phone (besides just hanging up). It took every ounce of energy to remain calm!

  11. Kramerica Industries*

    For me, it was how I framed the yelling in my mind that helped. When people yell and act rudely, it’s because they’re trying to seem more powerful to get their way. I think this is why I tended to feel small in these situations because their tactic was working. But do you know who else yells to get their way? Toddlers. And when you start thinking of these yellers as toddlers who just need to tire themselves out by yelling, that power dynamic goes away. Especially during the times where the yelling isn’t productive (e.g. I’ve waited for X amount of time to get this fixed!! [Insert rant here about how they’re inconvenienced]), with practice, I’ve gotten very good at hearing what the initial problem is, then using their ranting time to think about how I’m going to respond.

    1. londonedit*

      Yes, definitely. Thankfully my job doesn’t involve dealing with shouty people on a regular basis, but it does sometimes happen. Most often, these people will start off ranting and raving about how everything is awful, they are appalled, they are so disappointed and angry, it can never be made right, etc etc etc. So I let them rant, and I stay quiet and listen. When they eventually run out of steam, I say ‘I completely understand your frustration’ and then I ask them a couple of calm and simple questions to get at the actual root of their problem. In the vast majority of cases, it turns out that the huge, enormous, totally insurmountable terrible thing is actually something that’s very easily fixed or that has a workaround I can offer, and there we are, problem solved.

    2. TootsNYC*

      using their ranting time to think about how I’m going to respond.
      You don’t need to respond to the rant. It’s a steam valve.

      1. Aerin*

        And I’ve found (especially over the phone) that they’re expecting me to respond to their energy in kind, so when I just let them rant without interruption, they eventually realize how they sound, acknowledge that they know it’s not my fault, and back off.

    3. Wintergreen*

      A lady here in my office is a customer service genius. Her first job was at a daycare center. I’ve often felt that had something to do with her ability to handle some customers.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I mentioned this below.

        My tactic in situations like this is to say to myself: Channel your inner daycare worker.

  12. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    I think it can be really disarming to people who are yelling and angry when you respond with as much compassion as possible. When you’re searching for words, it can help at first to just repeat back what they’re saying to you, so they know that you’re really listening and understanding their issue. For example:

    Tenant: “OMG! There’s a rat outside my apartment and it’s so creepy and gross! How could you let a rat get into the complex you incompetent (*&<**"
    You: Oh, wow, ma'am, that sounds awful. So I'm hearing that you have a rodent issue outside your apartment. Could you please give me your apartment number, so I can send maintenance out to you right away?

    (not that anyone SHOULD yell or curse at someone, but people do, and handling it in a professional way will be better for you in the long run)

    1. Faberge Otter*

      Yes, exactly. With apartment issues, the yelling is almost certainly rooted in fear; people get much more fearful about their living conditions than they would in normal situations. Being compassionate will defuse most situations.

    2. knitcrazybooknut*

      Repeating back, and then asking them for information is key. If you ask them for their number, and they have to stop yelling to give it to you, you’ve already derailed the yelling momentarily. Giving them something else to think about in that moment will help.

  13. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Spent a long, long time in tech support and IT where getting yelled at almost became a daily thing at one point. Here’s what helped me enormously:

    Knowing when and how to say “I’m not going to listen to you if you shout at me”. Being able to hang up on the people shouting slurs down the phone (don’t care how borked your PC is, you don’t get to call me names), being allowed to tell people who are being harrassing/rude in person to get out of the building.

    For all that: knowing my boss would support me 100% in my actions.

    When I knew I didn’t have to endure this, that I had alternatives, I felt so much better.

  14. PeteyKat*

    If they are just excited in general and not yelling AT me, I will let them get it out of their system. If they start to call me names or become condescending, cursing etc. I will interrupt them and inform let them know I will gladly speak to them if/when they can express their concerns in a more respectful fashion. I will ask them are they able to do that now or will they call me back? Sometimes they calm down and sometimes they hang up on me. No skin off my back if they hang up on me. I am not required to take verbal abuse.

  15. Laura H.*

    I’ve never had customers yell at me, but I’m jumping on the “stock phrases are your friend” bandwagon. It definitely helps with confidence. And there are a lot less “I’m stumped” moments.

  16. cubone*

    I know this is kind of advice sometimes feels condescending but honestly, work on deep breathing skills. Whether it’s through meditation, yoga, mindfulness, just learning some breathing exercises, being able to find your breath and use it to ground yourself in the moment is immensely helpful. I always used to cry in conflict scenarios and was so frustrated with myself. Started doing yoga regularly and the breathwork I learned became a hugely transferable skill. Even IF you cry, breathing helps you feel grounded in it and not like the crying becomes an overwhelming force you’re fighting against.
    Also if your manager/work is good with professional development, ask to do a conflict class or a difficult conversations training! There’s quite a few out there.

    1. DataGirl*

      I was wondering if there are any trainings available online for this type of thing? When my daughter was promoted to management recently at the retail store she works at, she was given training on these types of situations (particularly she had to have training on how to deal with people who refuse to wear a mask/conform to limits on the number of people in the store, God Bless America…). It sounds like the OP’s business may not have such trainings available, but perhaps there are generic things online? Maybe YouTube?

    2. Abogado Avocado*

      +1. Do not despair, OP! I agree with Alison that this is a confidence issue, and part of gaining confidence is getting training in dealing with angry people so that: (1) you don’t allow these folks to upset you, (2) your reaction calms their anger, and (3) you can partner with them towards a solution. There are plenty of programs on this topic. In fact, I have friends who have worked for member associations and other service companies where they’re constantly addressing member inquiries, and they’ve gotten training on this exact issue because so many people get angry when they get frustrated. On other thought: you may even find — especially if you have a library card — that your local library has audio programs that you can check out online and for free (my favorite price!) on this exact topic.

  17. CatLadyLawyerEsq*

    Here’s what works for me:
    1) detach and don’t take it personally…remember, they’re really yelling at your employer, not at you personally. Ask questions if you can and act like you care a little. Don’t get into arguments. Act like you’re here to help them solve a problem with them.
    2) Have a simple, canned, generic responses for common complaints. Your boss can help you with this. Don’t be afraid to white lie and/or play dumb a little. “Well, I don’t believe I have the authority myself to do what you’re asking but as you can see I’ve taken down your information and will make sure you get an answer by [insert realistic time frame].”

  18. ThatGirl*

    Many good suggestions here already. Another thing I’d suggest is that if you’re on the phone, and someone is yelling, mute the mic for a minute – even set the handset down if applicable – take a deep breath. That’s harder in person of course, but it’s easier to take a second to collect yourself on the phone.

    I also agree with practicing blandly/calmly saying “I’m sorry for your frustration” and variations on that phrase. A lot of time angry people just want to feel like someone else understands their anger and it can go a long way to calming someone down. That, and reassuring them that you’re willing to help — as long as they’re not being abusive or totally unreasonable, of course. Roleplay, feel more confident about what solutions you can offer, and it will get easier.

    1. Nicotene*

      Yes!! Do not have the phone up against your ear when someone is ranting at you. It makes it way too personal and intimate. Put them on speaker and turn the volume down way low (bonus: if they get to the ranting incoherently stage, use that time to check email). Ask me how I know.

  19. Jenny Says*

    I agree with the thought this is just a matter of you building confidence in dealing with difficult people. But, I wanted to add my two cents as someone who is in a very public facing role, despite the fact that I was (am) an introvert and don’t relish these interactions. I find that 9 times out of 10, people who complain or yell are just looking for an avenue to complain or yell. That doesn’t mean they’re not looking for an answer, but they also just want to be heard. I will usually let them rant at me (providing it’s not directed at me, but the situation they’re facing). This also allows me time to consider what my options are and what I want to tell them. Then, after they’ve caught their breath, I let them know what my next steps are going to be. This may not result in a solution, but is solution-driven. They may demand more. They may demand an answer, but I think the important thing to keep in mind is that a solution is not always readily available and if you’re not able to provide one, you shouldn’t feel compelled to give one. But you can repeat the steps you’re going to take to find one. It may go so far as you saying, I don’t know the answer to this problem, but I am going to speak to my colleagues and I will get back to you (next day, next week, next month – depending on how much time you might need to figure out the next step). When you give people an expectation, this tends to diminish the upset… because it’s no longer a vague I’ll get back to you, but here is when I’ll get back to you and while I may not have an answer to the problem, I will have an update about how to find the answer.

  20. QA Mini*

    I agree with the above advice about knowing what options you have and what tools are open to you to solve customer issues. I find it helps a lot. FWIW I also feel like it is an acceptable response to let the caller/ customer know that you understand that they are upset but that you will have to hang up the phone/ ask them to leave if they continue to be abusive to you. At least where I live yelling at, swearing at, or otherwise harassing someone in their workplace is actually against workplace harassment laws and employers have a duty to prevent this from happening to their staff. In my last two customer facing roles we had the rule that we gave people one warning that they needed to stop being abusive and then told them to come back when their were calmer. I recognize that this is something your management would need to support but just because you are at work does not mean people have the right to abuse you. It is also normal to get upset when you are being abused.

  21. Blue Anne*

    Oh. I can give advice on this. I have a dozen rentals of my own that I’ve been managing for a few years, and now my husband is taking over management. It’s been interesting to see him go through something similar to this and realize just how thick my skin got within a couple of years.

    Alison’s suggestions are great. It’s extremely helpful to know what you can do for them and what you can’t do for them (and what’s reasonable or unreasonable for them to ask for). It’s also really important to know the housing laws in your state really well. When someone is yelling that they’re going to take me to court because I took so much out of their security deposit, but I know that the court would be so completely on my side that the judge would laugh at them, it makes it a lot easier to not get scared or worried that I screwed up.

    Also, when someone is way over-upset with an issue in their unit, it’s great to be able to say “If you really think that you shouldn’t have to pay rent because your window leaked this weekend, the correct procedure is for you to call the courthouse and deposit the rent with them until we rectify the issue.” It’s the same as a lot of the “aggressively polite” responses Alison recommends. You just responded by taking them seriously, but you know, and they know, that if they call up to do that and say it’s because of a leaky window… it’s not going to go how they want it to.

    When issues are actually legitimate, everyone just appreciates being able to tell that you are taking it seriously and want to get it taken care of as soon as humanly possible. Tell them you wouldn’t be happy with that in your home either, you’ll find out what can be done and call them back. Then find out what can be done, put it in motion, and call them back to tell them what’s happening. That goes a long, long way.

    Also, small gestures can mean a lot to tenants. Ex. one of our families had their water heater go out over Labor Day. It took us a while to get someone out there, and Mom was understandably very upset about not having hot water for a day and a half. While my husband was in the basement with the plumber he noticed that they hadn’t changed the filter on the furnace in a long time, and I know that one of the kids is asthmatic, so we picked up a pack of super heavy duty irritant reducing furnace filters and dropped them off with a nice note. $40 and a tenant who was angry is now extremely happy. It’s worth checking whether you can get a little budget for things like that.

    It’s also really helpful to just let people rant themselves out sometimes, whether it’s about a legit problem or not. The feeling of just letting someone yell at you until they’re done sucks at first, but I stopped being upset about it pretty quickly. After the second or third time it happens to you, it becomes really clear that it’s not about you, it’s about this person venting their feelings about their situation. Aaaaand it gives you time to plan what you’ll say when you’re done. (Aggressively polite and sympathetic, remember!)

    Good luck! It’ll come with time.

  22. Red*

    My mom was an apartment manager (and by extension people thought they could talk to me). Sometimes people are just crazy, but on the whole whenever someone would come to my mom with a complaint she would tell them they needed to submit it in writing: either write it and leave it in her mailbox or email her at her property email. It helped cut off angry people and also allowed a written record of the complaint.
    Also if someone is irrationally yelling at you, you’re free to say, “I’m sorry but I can’t speak to you when you’re this excited. Please reach out when you’re calmer.” And then walk away.

    1. Anne*

      Seconding this: In my service industry job, the manager (who I adored) had a really hard time saying no to people. So he instituted a firm email-only policy. If somebody wanted special treatment (rent the space for an event, request a particular beer, etc), he would only address it over email.

      This didn’t cut out all of the conflict-y conversations, obviously, but it cut down on a particular type of conversation that he found particularly stressful. So, control what you can, and move the complaints to writing if possible (and then confirm receipt and respond promptly!)

  23. voyager1*

    I am going to give you some tough advice here. This job isn’t for you. I have worked in jobs with screaming people, yes you can can learn to adapt and get better at not showing your emotions. However I don’t think it is worth the toll it will take your emotional/mental health. Your shaking and turning red because your fight or flight responses are activating, because well you are being putting into a high stress environment.

    So in short find something else to do career wise.

    I have seen folks like you on the teller lines and call centers that I have worked around and in. The toll this is taking isn’t going to be worth it in the end.

    Good luck and sorry if I come off as mean or whatever.

    1. bunniferous*

      Well-this isn’t necessarily the case. I used to be the timid thinskinned employee. I was able to adapt and change. Half the battle is knowing it is possible to learn how to deal with this. As an assistant manager she is going to have a little more power and control than many front line customer service positions, and that makes a difference as well.

    2. Blue Anne*

      Mmm, nah, I disagree. I went through something extremely similar to OP (because I bought some rental properties myself) and honestly, learning how to handle it really increased my confidence and conflict resolution. I’m a way better communicator now because of it. And I don’t take things personally any more.

    3. Lilyp*

      I think OP should take some time and try applying some of the advice here first — it really might make a big difference, especially since she’s young and new to this kind of position — but if she tries for a while and nothing gets better then yeah, this job might not be worth the stress & possible health impacts from that

    4. lapgiraffe*

      I’ve been thinking something similar, but also wanting to be optimistic that not only can someone learn how to deal with conflict intense jobs but they will also come out the better for learning those skills. I’m rather calm in a crises, whereas some other people I’ve worked with are definitely not, and it may just not be a natural fit for someone who (understandably) doesn’t handle angry confrontation very well. And while I agree with the commenters about disengaging from a personal level and seeking a zen outlook, I find that’s all well and good for reflecting after the fact, not so helpful for in the moment. Instead I think it’s much more about engaging a crisis management mindset – isolate the problem, find a solution, make sure the person understands that you are taking it seriously – especially if it’s so bad as the OP is describing (freezing, tears, etc).

      Something that stuck out upon re-reading is that this is a promotion, and that these conversations are escalated from a lower position to the OP’s new position of AM. I’m wondering if there’s something that can be addressed at this first line of contact that would help from the get-go. If the OP is getting such vitriol with such frequency, perhaps there is something flawed with the way the first line of contact employees are handling people. But it could mean we’re back where we started – this position is a catch-all for all the worst, most angry complaints, and it might not be the right fit for the OP no matter what.

    5. Parenthetically*

      I understand this perspective, but I really disagree! I used to be a person who just fell apart when someone criticized me/yelled at me/was loud and aggressive in my vicinity, but I’m not that way any more. I think responding well in those situations is like any other skill — some people are naturally good at it, others aren’t, almost everyone can learn to be better at it.

  24. IndoorCat*

    I worked retail for 12 years. I’d often walk into those jobs pretending I was researching for an acting role. This wasn’t my real life, it was my character’s life. Detaching from the situation let me deal with it much less emotionally. Some folks still got to me, of course, but I was able to deal with run of the mill nastiness much easier.

  25. bunniferous*

    Working in any type of rental management does require a thick skin. First of all, do not take things personally. Second, you do NOT have to take abuse. Thirdly, on a practical level-it is ok to let them vent and carry on and get their emotions out first. People need to feel heard, first of all. Do express empathy for their situation and if possible, be solution oriented. If you are able to hear them out, ask questions to get details on their complaint and THEN deal with a solution, normally things will go better. But remember there are a few people who just want to be nasty and with those people, nothing will ever be good enough. It’s not you, it’s them. I promise you as you get older this sort of thing will bother you less and less. Oh, and one other thing- you mention your boss-ask them what strategies they use for irate tenants. They may have some good suggestions. Finally, remember YOU are the one with the power here. Congratulations on the promotion, you’ve got this!

  26. Former call centre worker*

    This is a natural response to bad behaviour from others so don’t be embarrassed that it’s happening

    Suggestions that might help depending on the situation:

    – Try to get their details and say you’ll investigate and get back to them shortly – they will usually have calmed down by the time you call back.

    – Sometimes agreeing with them can take the wind out of their sails (eg “Yes, I agree that the level of service was unacceptable”)

    – Are you following up with the people who pass calls/residents to you if there is anything they could have done better to prevent the customer becoming irate? I found when I used to take escalated complaints that sometimes the agent who took the call originally had said/done something that wound the customer up more. We’re all human and it happens to the best of us, but it can help to talk it through with whoever was the first point of contact to help them deal with it better next time. These shouting customers are behaving badly, obviously, but I expect they aren’t *all* terrible people with unreasonable complaints.

    – Adopting a gentle tone of voice and speaking softly feels a bit counter-intuitive, but can help to de-escalate the situation. You want to avoid a situation where the customer feels they have to argue with you to get their point across and you react defensively, because that’s a good way to get a shouting match. It helps if they can feel you’re working with them not against them.

    1. Consultant Catie*

      To add on to the point about agreeing with them taking the wind out of their sails — my dad taught me a trick when I was young and just starting out in food service jobs. When a customer is upset, the trick is to get them to agree to things 3 times – literally get them to say the word “yes.” Once they leave a space for you to talk, jump in and say something like, “Ok do you mind if I recap this with you really quickly to make sure I understand what’s going on?” (There’s your first yes.) Then restate their problem and say, “Is that correct?” (Yes #2) Then literally ask them any other question they can say yes to, maybe restate what they’re asking for, another part of the problem, etc. (Yes #3). By that time you’ve interrupted their rant, and they’ve agreed positively with you, and almost always in a more receptive frame of mind.

      Good luck!!

  27. Tuckerman*

    Knowing your options for resolving issues will help a lot. Also, you’ll get used to the scripts people use to complain. It all starts to look the same.
    Sometimes people need to vent before they can have a productive conversation. My goal is always to help move the conversation to be solution focused. One thing that helps me is to try to slow the other person down, often by interrupting, “I’m sorry, I want to make sure I’m understanding this correctly. Can I summarize my understanding of your concern, and can you tell me if I have it right?” There’s usually a pause, then a “sure.”
    Once we agree on the issue at hand, I can explain the options.

  28. Alex Beamish*

    Each of these conversations is a negotiation, and the way to frame this negotiation is to be on the caller’s side, and work together to solve the problem. So first, sympathize with the caller, then find out what the issue is, and determine how high the issue priority is. Then you can figure out a timeline for the resolution of the issue, and if possible, pass that along to the caller. Finally, keep the caller in the loop as to the progress, and once it’s resolved, perhaps do a final follow-up to see if there’s anything else they need help with.

  29. Wicked Stitcher*

    I 100% agree with Allison. The more you can make your responses automatic the easier it is to distance yourself mentally. I’m extremely conflict averse (toooo much so, tbh) but knowing exactly what to say and what tone to say it in helped me compartmentalize the situation in real time. There was room in the back of my head to remind myself this wasn’t about me as a person and to think of ways to refocus the conversation onto more productive grounds.

    that being said, after 5 years of angry calls I did eventually need to find a different type of job. It sounds like your work isn’t entirely about managing angry calls though, so hopefully this helps.

  30. AnnaBagel01*

    I’ve had issues with anxiety disorders for a large portion of my life, and my symptoms when getting into a situation where I feel like I’m trying to communicate but it’s not happening correctly are very similar to what you’ve described. (not at all trying to diagnose, just noting the similarity) I fully recommend what others here have said — practice. When I was younger, I’d stay up at night practicing conversations I could possibly see happening to me, and that way I’d be less caught off guard when they’d happen.

    It’s definitely not okay for the residents in your building to react that way to you, but in my experience, the best way to shut down the argument is to have yourself practiced and ready. That way, you don’t have to think of the answer and a good way to explain it while being yelled at (not an ideal thinking situation!), and instead can just have the reflexive reply ready to whip out. If you don’t give them anything to work with outside of a professional demeanor, they’ll wear themselves out and see that a tantrum is likely not the ideal way to ask for help :P

  31. Wizard for hire.*

    Saying this with as much love and respect as I can…….you need to suck it up and toughen up. This is one of the downsides of being any kind of manager let alone employee of any work that interacts with customer. Its sucks that people behave this way and that its directed at you but taking it too personally and shwoing it in front of residents themselves is going to make you look weak and you wont be gaining any respect from residents or your own managers. If dealing with angry people is not something you can handle, then you need to rethink if you were ready for this kind of position and responsibility

      1. Jaybeetee*

        This reminds me of the time I posted in a forum about, “I know I’m handling XYZ badly, can people provide suggestions on how to do better?” And one response was basically, “This is a very immature way to handle the situation, you should reflect and think about how to handle it better.” (Tbc, I wasn’t doing things that hurt other people, it was more about a bad coping mechanism I had for certain situations). I did get other helpful advice on that thread, but with that comment it was like… thanks?

      2. Kiki*

        Yeah, I think vague advice like this also makes the situation *worse* for people who are trying to hone their conflict-resolution skills. “Just toughen up!!” isn’t actionable and only serves to make someone flail about more when they’re trying to gain this new skill. Giving clear advice about how someone can appropriately handle a disgruntled tenant is what empowers people to handle these situations well.

    1. Paperwhite*

      Paul Hollywood, you can’t give advice like you’re giving a recipe for a technical challenge! You need to include a few of the steps, sir!

      To be serious, learning how to not take things so personally and how to handle angry people is a set of mental processes, planned steps, and even scripts and roleplaying exercises. It takes a lot more than a single resolution to “toughen up”, at least for some of us.

  32. Bookworm*

    Been in similar shoes, OP. I turned down a promotion in retail because I knew I couldn’t handle it. But even as a “regular” staffer customers still did this anyway. Some tips:

    1. In addition to talking to your manager about tips, tricks, role play, etc. ask your manager if they know anything about the specific issues or people screaming at you. Sometimes when you’re armed with more information it will be useful for context. People can be scum sometimes and if they *think* they can intimidate you, they will do it. But if they’ve already done this before or have a pattern of doing this, you can troubleshoot with your manager on how to handle the most problematic ones.

    2. Remember: it’s not you. It’s them. Some people are extremely unhappy with themselves and will take it out on those who they think is “lesser”–you, wait staff, retail workers, etc. You’re just another target for them. It’s not you. It’s them.

  33. Penthesilea*

    I work in local government – that means that some people blame us for everything. Part of my job is community engagement – that means that sometimes my job is to listen to angry people. I think there are a lot of good strategies here! Here’s my contribution:
    ** Some people just want to feel heard. I’ve learned a lot of mirroring language to use: “I understand that you’re frustrated by traffic on your street…” “Yes, that barking dog situation sounds really irritating.” “I’m sorry that the late trash pick-up is impacting you…” You can look for active listening techniques that can help, too.
    ** This seems weird, but it actually works for me — make yourself smile. Even on the phone. It can feel so fake, but just the act of smiling helps me stay in a calmer frame of mind when I’m dealing with angry people. And if you’re smiling at them in person, most people will cool off because you seem calm and open-minded when you’re smiling at them.

  34. insertusernamehere*

    I’m sorry. Those can be thankless positions. A lot of times you can somewhat diffuse the situation simply by letting the person be heard. Don’t get combative back. Empathize when possible. “I’m so sorry that your air conditioner isn’t working. That’s unbearable in this heat. Let me get working on a solution and follow up with you.” “That’s terrible that your loud neighbors woke up your sleeping baby! Ugh, I would feel the same way. Let me get all the information. How long has this been going on?” Make people feel like you are on their side when possible. The other thing that can help is that you do make a point to follow up on things. If you build a reputation as someone who follows through, the next time you have to deal with that person, they may not be so on the offense. I think one thing that sets people off is when their complaints fall on deaf ears, when things fall through the cracks, when they get sent in circles for a solution. A lot of times their anger and frustration is more over being given the run-around or being told conflicting information than about the actual problem going on. If you show you actually “hear” them and that help is on the way, they may chill out a little.

    Some people just have a more abrupt, standoffish personality than can be good in those roles – people won’t push them around. But if you are more sensitive, caring by nature and don’t like conflict or aggression, then I’ve had more success with the “I get it, I hear you, let’s fix this” kind of approach.

  35. Lindsay Gee*

    I worked retail for years and had the exact same problem. I’m a blusher naturally and whenever customers would be upset and yell at me, there was nothing I could do to help my face getting red. So I would say step 1) try and accept that there’s nothing you can do about that aspect of it. Your face is gonna do what its gonna do, and while you may feel self-conscious for a while, its completely normal. My face does it even when i’m not under pressure. 2) One trick I learned, which helped to de-escalate/slow down the situation and help my own reaction, was to repeat the complaint or situation back to the customer, “just so I’m understanding the situation, the apt above you was loud at 3 am and made it so you couldn’t sleep?” helps confirm to them you’re listening and understanding the problem. 3) This last one may not apply to your situation, but asking “What type of solution are you looking for? What can we do to make up for this situation?” That doesn’t mean you’re agreeing to give them what they want, but sometimes it slows them down because they have to think about it for a second. Most of the time, you get tht angry reaction becasuse they need to vent, and aren’t completely unreasonable.
    Ultimately I agree with Alison that you need to know and be fully confident about what your powers are tho

    1. R2D2*

      I second the “repeat back the problem” part. It makes the customer feel heard (and thus hopefully calms them down a smidge). It’s also helpful for you in case you missed any important details while you were trying to regulate your emotional response. (My mind often goes blank at the beginning of a stressful encounter!)

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yep, I used to do this all the time in cs “so your pan is rusting? I’m so sorry to hear that. can you tell me a little more about how you’ve been using it?” just calmly repeating back, confirming information, asking questions.

        1. Lindsay Gee*

          exactly! And i have found it bought me time to breathe and hopefully reduce my body’s physiological response because it can slowwwww everything down!

      2. I Coulda Been a Lawyer*

        This is why I have three words written on a post-in note on my monitor: Focus. Empathize. Deescalate.
        The focus isn’t necessarily always for me, either. Sometimes I need to redirect the caller back to the part of their rant I can help with. I can’t do anything about the traffic ticket they got on the way to go yell at someone, and I’m sorry their pet had to be put down, but I can try to solve the problem that is in my wheelhouse, if they are able to tell me what the problem is.

  36. Reality Check*

    I get yelled at plenty in my business (insurance). Couple things: 1. Usually they’re pissed off at the insurance carrier and not me the agent. So I just let them yell. Trying to stop them is like trying to stop a Mack truck anyway. As they yell, I’m 3 steps ahead of them coming up with a solution. When they finally run out of steam I just say “Here’s what we can do.”
    2. If they do get abusive, then I will hang up/throw them out/get the boss. Obviously you need to check with your manager for options here. But most stuff falls under #1 for me.

    Try to perfect your RBF. It can be your best friend here.

  37. Squeakrad*

    I have a little bit of a different take. I’m wondering what kind of complex this is, and if what the OP is dealing with is people who are complaining in inappropriate ways to a negative situation? For example if there really is Shawnee maintenance, and there is a problem after problem in many of the apartments, and people have been complaining and not been heard up to now – that’s a different situation then a well run complex where you can legitimately ask people to calm down. Or put it in writing or any of the other great suggestions that have been offered.

    So my advice would be think about whether the bulk of the complaints are legitimate and if they are there may not be anything you can do about it and it may not be a good situation for you.

    1. Starbuck*

      Yeah, a lot of the tactics described here sound helpful and OP would probably be well-served by trying them. But many depend on the management actually being able/willing to solve reasonable problems (as a way to deflect anger), and I’ve certainly lived in complexes where that wasn’t the case…. so good luck to OP, hopefully it’s not one of those types of places – since I imagine tenants are more stressed during these times than ever before.

    2. Alice*

      This is a good point. Similarly, I wonder if part of the issue is that you don’t have the power to fix real problems. For me, when I feel helpless or powerless, it makes any other negative emotions feel worse. When I know that I have some agency to improve a situation, I can deal with almost anything.
      The job of receiving complaints, acting on them, and fixing them — actually it’s really pretty rewarding.
      The job of receiving complaints, documenting them, and then nothing happens — that would get old real fast.

      1. Batgirl*

        My top advice is don’t allow yelling and to kick them out, but if you’re really stuck taking abuse due to your set up or manager, it can be done and done well. I work with under privileged, sometimes violent students and the angriest people are always those who feel most powerless and small. It’s a favour to disallow them their anger but if you can’t, don’t let them kid you that they have power. They’re yelling at you because you do. So:
        – Be proactive before problems occur. Go out, meet residents, be a human whose name they know and would ask for help. Meet people on your own ground and your own timing. You’ll feel better and more confident in yourself in your role too.
        – “Let me stop you there” with your hand up somewhat like you’re chairing a chatty meeting. Keep it up, Keep it low and soft (not like a cop’s hand up, unless that’s warranted), nodding sympathetically until you can speak. “This sounds really serious and I want time to look into it fully. Can I call you in x?”
        – Tune out. When they are ranting play loud noise in your head like (blah blah). Look at their eyebrows. Make “I’m listening” noises and nod. You can get the details after theyve run out of steam. “That sounds like we should get this in writing. Can you take me through it more slowly so we have an accurate record?”
        – Own the blush. I’m a redhead. When I’m going increasingly purple sometimes people comment, so I prepare for the comment. I usually say “Well, yeah; this is very upsetting and that’s why I want…” or “Dont mind me, please go on”. Mostly people dont care but saying it to myself is calming.
        -Practice the voice. When I started teaching I had such a shaky voice and no scripts. Brainstorm every possible scenario before it happens. Imagine the worst things someone could say to you. Find a few key phrases which are short, sympathetic but authoritative, “Yes I understand” or “I need you to slow down”, and practice somewhere with good acoustics (tiled areas) until your voice hits the walls (authorative projection comes when you breathe in and sing out from the gut. It won’t show up that you’re upset if it’s well projected and well practiced. If you try to speak loudly from the throat you’ll just creak). When you can bounce the voice off the tiles, move to a room with crappy acoustics and bounce your voice off the walls there.
        Good luck! It’s a very rewarding challenge to master.

  38. drago cucina*

    It’s understandable to get emotional because it’s not nice to be yelled at. When I did hiring for the public library I used to say I’d rather hire someone who’s worked fast food. They know what it’s like to be yelled at and still try and provide good customer service. Being called a communist and a Nazi in the same conversation wasn’t fun.

    One stock phrase (that I got from the AAM community) is, “We don’t do that here.” It fits many occasions. “We don’t scream at each other here.” “We don’t date patrons.”

    A book that I recommended to staff that patrons perceived as powerless was, “The Power of the Positive No.” It’s possible to say no and it not be a negative. I’ll put a link to a video in a reply.

  39. Student*

    I think it’s interesting that the majority of comments expect the OP to bottle up the reasonable emotional response he or she is having to being yelled at.

    OP – talk to your manager to understand the manager’s expectations about these situations first. I realize that there are some managers who do expect you to stuff all your emotions down and act like a customer-is-always-right robot. But let’s challenge that assumption first. There are other managers who would tell you that you don’t need to work with anyone who can’t treat you with a reasonable standard of respect.

    In my corner of the work world, we are not expected to tolerate this, with a handful of exceptions for people with too much power. If the vast majority of my work contacts treated me like this, I am expected/entitled to just walk away, to yell back, to start crying, etc. – however I felt like responding in the moment to unreasonable behavior, short of physical violence.

    We don’t, as a society, need to accept people treating customer service folks like trash. It’s a business decision that people make. Workplaces that decide it’s important to cater to horrible behavior suffer very high staff turnover and related expenses. Businesses that don’t tolerate it will find that… people often shape up quick if you hold them to a reasonable standard and support your workers.

  40. AndersonDarling*

    Get Customer Service training. For real. Once you go through a class on how to properly handle these situations, you will have the tools you need. There are gobs of different methods of customer service, but they all teach you how to listen, respond, and set a plan to help the customer. People have spent lifetimes researching what to say and what not to say to customers based on how upset they are and this information is available to help you. There is no reason to try to navigate the complex emotions of upset customers when someone has already done it and it ready to teach you.
    I used to work in a call center and I would feel destroyed every day because there was always a customer that yelled at me and I just didn’t know what to do or say. Years later I learned the “3 A’s” method of customer service at a company that taught every employee the basics of customer service skills. It was eye opening. I really wish I would have had these skills back when I was in the call center.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I should mention that there is a perception that CS skills are just about placating a customer, but it’s a lot more. It’s about understanding the emotions that drive frustration, and it’s about teaching the coping mechanisms so you can be happy in your job even though you have to work with the negative things people say. Even my little one day class taught me a lot about processing empathy and tons about effective communication.

  41. CamJansen*

    I have struggled with this too! After many years in customer facing roles, and then in health care (where I technically was still offering a service to cusomters!) I’ve had to go toe to toe with people who decide *I’m* the one who needs hectoring about their issue. My money-phrase is (said as brightly and warmly as I can muster) “I hear that you are frustrated! Im happy to find a way to help, but it’s not clear to me what the issue is. Can you help me pinpoint what the problem is and I can see how I might assist?” It’s a bit long winded intentionally, because when I say it confidently, warmly and calmly, it adds enough space in the conversation for the irate party to take a breath. Canned phrases are your best bet.

    For a chuckle about people’s nonsense… I once had someone yell at me over the phone for typing when they were asking me to look up their records because they felt it to be incredibly rude (even though I had more than enough info to start assisting them)…and then yell because it took so long to pull their record since they wouldn’t allow me to type while they were telling me their issue. For funsies I politely asked permission each time I was about to type. “Do you mind if I type your name and address now to locate your record? May I go ahead and type up the ticket to get this issue resolved for you?”

    1. Deliliah*

      This is one of my favorite things to do even now with clients. Here’s a thing I must do in order to help you. May I do it?

  42. Just do it! It works*

    You absolutely need and deserve training for this – it is one of the trickiest parts of any job that has to deal with this. No one should just be thrown into the deep end. You should get a thorough grounding in the all the policies agreed to by the tenants, as well as what your options are when someone is encountering problems. You also need training on how to interact with angry people and how to handle conflict. I really hope your manager (and company) can provide you with some support on this – it isn’t something you should have to learn the hard way. With training and practice, it gets easier all the time, and when you handle your first yelling maniac without even twitching, you’ll be really proud of yourself!

  43. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    I lived in a corporate apartment complex for three years. We had one person, a leasing agent, there all three years. Everyone else turned over every 9-12 months or so.

    There’s a reason these jobs turn over all the time and it’s because they are awful. I wouldn’t invest too much in this job. Stick with it just long enough to get it on your resume, then start applying to leave. Be the C student and get out.

  44. LDN Layabout*

    Lots of really good advice here, on the physical side (for calls, less applicable for in person).

    Keep a bottle/glass of water handy. Take a sip, breathe, before responding. Give yourself time cope before reacting/responding.

    I find having that having a physical outlet helps with the emotions, even if it’s just digging my nails into a stress ball. It’s like it channels the reaction into something harmless/that the caller can’t see.

  45. ElizabethJane*

    So normally I hate gimmicky acronyms but this one actually made a difference for me. I was a bartender/server/restaurant manager for years and we were always told when a customer went off the rails to make a LASTing impression. So…

    Listen – don’t say anything. Nod appropriately so they know you are paying attention but let them get it all out. It helps if you remember this part has nothing to do with you. They don’t actually give two sh-ts about you, they care about their problem.

    Agree – half the time (or more) what the person is mad about is wrong (for us at the restaurant it was usually someone not understanding what a medium steak would look like and then complaining that we served them a “raw” steak) but you need to agree anyway. “I totally understand. I get incredibly frustrated when my food is wrong as well” or in your case “I understand, I would also be really frustrated if my oven suddenly stopped working”

    There’s a double A. Here you Apologize. “I’m so sorry that happened”. That’s it.

    Usually at this point you’ve taken the wind out of their sails. By agreeing and apologizing you’re on their side. Back to the acronym.

    Solve their problem – ask them what they want done, agree that it’s a totally reasonable request that they’ve made, and assure them that you’re going to take it to the people who have the authority to make that decision. If it’s something like a maintenance request see if you can put the request in for them while they watch. Either speak urgently on the phone or maybe throw in an extra exclamation point.

    Thank them for telling you about the problem.

    It’s formulaic and a bit of gimmick but having a routine helped me because I was like “Oh, I have steps to solve this problem, I can do this” and then I sort of removed myself from the situation.

    I also spent a lot of time thinking about times I’ve been a crappy customer (we’ve all had them) for whatever industry and trying to remember what was going through my head. The important thing was in most cases I had no opinion about the person on the other end. My issue was about how it was impacting me. Remembering that helped me when I was on the other end. “This person isn’t mad at **me** they are mad at the situation.

  46. Sleepless*

    I’ve worked in a field where I have to deal with emotional, stressed people very frequently for almost 30 years. (veterinary medicine) Here’s my list:

    1. Don’t take it personally! This is the #1 thing I had to learn, because for Reasons I am a person who takes things very personally. These people don’t know you. This isn’t about you. You represent the stressful situation they find themselves in. (Aside: people get incredibly stressed about their living situation, their food [I don’t know why, but see the comments from a barista above-happens a lot in food service], and their pets.

    2. Say something that lets them know you empathize with them. “I’m so sorry this is happening to you.” 90% of the time this is magic. They just want to be heard.

    3. When people have a lot to say, just let them talk for a bit. Let them get it all out.

    4. Know what you can and can’t do. Learn the art of making it clear you are working for them.

    5. You will very occasionally get somebody who is just out to be abusive and can’t be reasoned with, and you can stop dealing with them. You don’t have to put up with truly being abused.

  47. Richard Hershberger*

    One revelation that improved my life was the realization that I can cut this person off, tell them they are being rude and to call back when they are prepared to speak politely, then hang up. Of course it helps that my interactions of this sort are usually on the phone. The first time I did this, I immediately went to my boss and told him about it. His response was that this was perfectly correct. The mere fact that someone is a client doesn’t mean we need to put up with this.

    My more general strategy, useful in face-to-face encounters, is to sit silently waiting for them to wind down, then give them a polite, concise response. This often isn’t going to be what they want to hear, which may wind them up again. Rinse, lather, repeat. The key is to give exactly the same response every time: same words spoken in the same intonation. Eventually even the slowest person will figure out that this is all they are going to get, and drift off.

  48. The New Normal*

    I think I will be repeating some advice, but I want to emphasize two steps.

    1) Recognize they are upset about the situation and not upset with you. Compassion while they vent helps. “Oh, no! That doesn’t right. Let’s see what we can do to change this.” Make sure you have key phrases ready to go. Remember that you don’t want to imply responsibility or liability for things you aren’t 100% certain of. This is where Alison’s advice on knowing your tools and resources will come in.

    2) Have the strength and confidence to shut someone down. If the attacks turn personal, know that you can always hang up the phone or step away from a visitor. “I understand you are having a hard time with this, but you cannot speak to me like that. I will be happy to help you once you are ready for a polite conversation.” It can be difficult to make that statement and hang up the phone. I will never forget the horrible phone call I had one time where after 5 minutes of aggressive yelling and the start of an abusive tirade I had to employ that phrase as my COO was walking out of her office. She not only supported me for it but said she could hear the conversation from her office and was stepping out to hang up for me. And when that caller sent an email to complain about me hanging up on her, the COO rightly defended me and told the caller they were behaving inappropriately. Having the support of management is necessary so make sure if you do get someone who is aggressive and you need to disengage, you let your manager know as soon as possible.

  49. Night Heron*

    I was the same exact way – to the point where answering the phone gave me extreme anxiety. When I was in college, I was mortified because a man screamed at me for 20 minutes at my retail job about our credit card policy and reduced me to a shaking heap of tears in front of a crazy busy store. Speaking from my experience, this was an issue grounded in the way I was raised and underlying social phobia/anxiety/confidence issues. If that might be the cause in your case, I’d recommend seeing a therapist specializing in CBT or DBT if you have the means to do so to help you work through this. Otherwise, I can give you the gist of what I was taught – 1) acting out scenarios at home is really helpful. Think of all the common complaints, the worst responses and re-enact them and come up with scripts for you to follow in those cases so you’re not flying blind when the moment arises. 2) Think of the situations where this has happened and tell yourself over and over, “it’s not about me” or something along those lines. Write it down if it helps. 3) If you’re a writer, you can write down to reflect where that moment placed you emotionally, like “it was like when my mom used to yell at me and I’d feel unsafe/worthless/etc”, and then basically parent yourself by then writing why you know logically you were safe in that moment, why you have worth, etc. Basically, you dig deep to find the source of the anxiety, you talk yourself through it, and you practice over and over. I’m not 100% fine – no one likes to be yelled at! But it takes so much more for me to get emotional now. You’ve got this!

  50. A*

    What should you do if the manager is not available to talk through scenarios like this? Or responds that such coaching would be hand-holding?

    1. Lilyp*

      Not to be snarky, but find a different job (or get un-promoted from assistant manager). And in the meantime pass all yellers to your manager to handle. That manager isn’t doing their job and likely won’t ever have your back if you stand up to people and the job will be miserable. If the person they’re looking for in the role is someone who already knows how to magically handle this stuff without support from above (or really… someone who will accept all the abuse silently and not make it their problem), well that’s a shitty job and they’re almost certainly not paying you enough!

  51. Miamipalms*

    Practice, know your resources, and give yourself some grace. Even after years of experience (I’m a retail manager), it’s normal to feel shaken after someone loses it on you! It also helps to remember……they’re in your house (maybe literally in your case). You have the power to assist with their request, or not. A lot of the time, they are flipping out because they can tell they have little to no control over the situation.

    Some of my favorite phrases:
    Unfortunately, this is not something I will be able to do for you, because of [clearly and politely state reasons].
    I certainly understand the frustration. However, our policy is clear: [reiterate].
    If you continue to raise your voice, I will no longer be able to assist you. (optional: …and you will need to leave the store.)
    This will be a one-time accommodation. (and hold them to that!)
    That is not the way in which we do business. (if customer says we sold them a used llama trimmer, for example, and we have a detailed quality check process to prevent this)

    If client continues to whine/complain about their issue, and I need to signal This Conversation Is Over:
    Is there anything else I can help you with today?
    Okay, have a great day.

  52. Elfie*

    No advice OP, just my sympathies. I too am in a somewhat similar situation – not that I get yelled at, but that my workplace is horrible and toxic, and extremely political with people constantly trying to empire-build. I’m looking to move up in my career, and a recent higher-level opening became available, but whilst I apparently have all the knowledge, experience, and skills to perform the duties of the position, my boss is worried that I don’t have the necessary emotional resilience to survive here at that level. I think he’s right, too – I suffer from depression and anxiety anyway, and I’ve just figured out that the only reason I’m trying to move up the career ladder is because I get all my self-esteem from external sources. A promotion would probably destroy me right now.
    But like you, I’m trying to figure out how to not take the criticisms and (thankfully only occasional) yelling so personally. I look forward to the commentariat’s responses.
    But OP, trust yourself. I know it’s sometimes easier said than done, but if you take the advice here, you’ll be fine. You got this.

  53. College kid*

    I was desk receptionist for the dorms at my college. Sometimes students would get really mad about about some of our policies and other things out of my control and take it out on me. In their defense, we had a lot of unnecessary rules and I understood why they were so frustrated.
    My go to response was “I’m sorry I can’t be a better help, but unfortunately I’m not the one who makes the rules. Here is my boss’s business card. Please contact her with any questions/concerns and I’m sure she’s be happy to help.”

  54. Pollyanna*

    Here’s how I coped with this in the past: I prayed for the person yelling at me. (I know – I hear the eye rolls out there.) I’m not a holy roller, but this helped me. Imagine how miserable somebody must be to scream at a stranger!

    If you don’t believe in prayer – no problem – send good thoughts such as “I hope this person can have less stress in their life.”

    Perhaps psychology experts would say that, by praying or saying an inner mantra, you are actually helping yourself adjust to the situation – but that’s ok too.

    After several years in call centers, I also echo the instructions not to interrupt and just let the person vent.

    The other thing that has helped me is if someone is consistently rude, I make it a game to try to win them over. It’s always worked for me, but admittedly it is difficult. Good luck!

    1. R2D2*

      I agree with this! One trick I learned at a customer service job—if a caller is ranting and raving, put yourself on mute. This will mute any of your “mmhmm” and “I see” responses, which are subconscious and actually encourage the caller to keep talking! Once the caller notices your silence and asks, “Are you still there?”, unmute yourself and respond cheerfully, “Yes! I was just listening to you. Now, if I understand the issue correctly, you are calling because _______.” It gives you the opportunity to take control of the call without actually interrupting. ;)

      1. CamJansen*

        Yes!! I used this in a call center as well. Sometimes did a little data entry while waiting to hear what the actual issue was.

      2. Em*

        Same! Someone upthread mentioned that they’re a lot like toddlers, and this is true. Arguing and being angry takes energy. If I do not respond and add any energy to the anger, then they have to provide it themselves, and eventually they get tired and wind down to ask if I’m still there.
        “Of course! I didn’t want to interrupt because what you’re saying’s important. I took notes, though — if I read them back to you, can you tell me if I missed anything?”

        That’s on a phone. If you’re in the same room, taking notes is still a great idea. Do it really visibly — hold up a pen with an inquisitive expression, like “I’m gonna take notes, okay?” — , and try to orient the paper so they can see what you’re writing. It does three different things.
        1) It gives YOU something to focus on other than your own heartbeat and red face.
        2) It lets THEM know you’re taking it seriously and really listening to them.
        3) It distracts them from their anger because they will automatically try to read what you’re writing down. It’s hard to concentrate on reading your writing and on yelling at the same time.

        Eventually they wind down, and you say “okay, can you read this over to make sure I didn’t miss anything?”

        Mine generally look like:
        “Client _______________ contacted me at (date, time) to let me know that they are upset that (thing happened). They would like me to ___________________. ”

        Once they’ve confirmed that that’s accurate or added anything (“you wrote that I was upset that my fridge was too cold. That’s true, but mostly I’m annoyed that the hole in the back lets the hamsters nest in it and they keep eating my lettuce.”) you can thank them for confirming and then let them know what’s going to happen, while writing it on the same piece of paper.

        “Next steps: Call Hamster-Hole-Sealant Inc. Client’s availability if onsite work needed is ________________________”

        and so on. The note-taking thing lets the client calm down and gives you all something to focus on and makes sure you have a good record of the problem, and then having them check on it gets them involved and on your problem-solving team.

  55. Snailing*

    I’m agreeing with Alison on this one – practice with your manager or maybe someone else who feels (to you) like they have some kind of authority over you like a parent, mentor, an intimidating friend, etc (because while a customer doesn’t really have authority, they can seem intimidating!).

    When I became a manager, I also found it really stressful that I didn’t have clear back up from my supervisors (in my case, the owner of the store where I worked). I wanted to stand up for my team, but I was never able to get a clear answer from my boss on what my options were and how far could I go. For example, could I ask someone to leave? Or did I need to ensure the customer was happy and thus couldn’t tell them they were being inappropriate? (Because it IS inappropriate when customers are rude to workers who are just trying to do their job!)

    Try to get a clear plan of action set up with your manager and what tactics to try in which order to first try to de-escalate a customer’s anger, but then what to do if that doesn’t work, etc.

    1. Lilyp*

      Yes, I especially think you should clarify with your manager when it IS ok or expected to escalate to her, and whether she’ll back you up if you ask people to calm down or leave.

  56. Storie*

    Once while working in retail I had an awesome manager who told me to say (in a firm voice)I’d be happy to help you, but it’s not ok to yell at me. Would you like to take a minute so we can discuss?

    1. Catherine*

      Yes! I am shocked there aren’t more comments advising the OP that people shouldn’t be allowed to tell at her!

  57. Batty Twerp*

    Echoing the advice that repeated exposure (in a safe environment) is a good starting point.
    Not in a ‘customers yelling’ scenario (although I’ve had my share of those – one woman threw a 50p piece at my 16-year-old head because she “didn’t like our new carrier bag design”) but it’s a key concept of first aid. I’ve been learning first aid since I was little, starting with ‘imaginary’ injuries and working up to staged make-up for additional verisimilitude (blood = glycerine and red & yellow food colouring, making it safe for use around the mouth).
    All told, I’ve been involved in first aid for over 30 years, and it’s only recently (last 5 years recently) that anything ever gets mentioned about dealing with the heavy emotions involved.
    So I still get the scary adrenaline rush that make my heart pound a million times a second when confronted with a serious injury or illness (from dealing with an elderly neighbour falling through a glass panelled door at 12, to helping an overweight work colleague choking on a sandwich at 35) but I feel confident I can handle it in the moment because I’ve seen it before and dealt with it before in a practised and safe environment.

    I’m not saying it should take you 30 years either! Most first aid at work courses are 2-4 days. Role playing with your manager and/or a friend (manager would be better, you might not be able to handle your friend yelling at you, even if you know it’s pretend). Coaching to improve your confidence in other areas. You’re a work in progress. Good luck!

  58. Secret Squirrel*

    Just wanted to recommend the Knock Your Socks Off book series. They have activities to help you practice difficult scenarios with customers. I have the same reactions as the OP and it is so nerve-wracking!

  59. Jennifer*

    Make note of the most common requests and prepare some scripts ahead of time to use when you’re dealing with them.

    Give yourself permission to walk away if someone becomes belligerent. Just tell them you cannot help them until they speak in a calmer tone. If they refuse to comply, tell them they have to leave. It’s understandable that sometimes people are stressed and can be a bit short with you, but there’s no excuse for abusive behavior.

    Also, a tip from my therapist, remind yourself that this person’s reaction has nothing to do with you. They have poor communication skills and are lashing out because they don’t know how to handle the situation differently.

  60. Posie*

    As a fellow sensitive soul, I hear you. The biggest thing for me is to recognize that it’s not personal. Remember that you are hearing and trying to resolve issues that the residents have with the apartment complex, not you. Sure, as assistant manager, some of those complaints may be a result of a choice you had a hand in, but ultimately, you are still a representative of the complex. I agree with the suggestion to role-play. I’d also recommend finding a mantra that speaks to you (e.g. “They are upset about the complex, not about me” or “I cannot control other people’s emotions, only my own” or “sometimes people need to vent” etc.), so when a resident starts yelling, you can take a deep breath, say the mantra silently to yourself, and refocus. Brene Brown even recommends having something tangible to go along with your mantra (she uses a spinny ring and spins it 3 times, saying the mantra each time). I’m no neuroscientist, but there is research about how taking this moment to think takes us out of the emotional center of our brain and moves the focus to the pre-frontal cortex (again, more Brene Brown TED talks ;-) ). I also think it’s helpful to have a funny story to remember in those moments – if you don’t have one yet, I’m sure you will after a few months on the job. For example, I worked as a receptionist at a clinic, and this lady came in one day yelling at me for how her dog fence wasn’t working properly. I tried to interject, but she was so livid that she wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise till she had finished her tirade. Then I politely told her that the fence place was next door – her expression and tone changed quite quickly. So now when people start similar tirades, I have a hidden smile because I’m reminded of the fence lady and how sometimes people just need to vent (even if you’re not the appropriate target).

  61. knitcrazybooknut*

    Along the lines of the lab coat and clipboard approach: I used to get bright red and stress out whenever there was a problem, and I got panicky and terrified that something bad going to happen to me. Years of working in payroll taught me that usually there’s a way to fix things, and presenting that solution will normally calm people down.

    Most importantly, I learned that it really *is* all about them. If they’re still yelling once I’ve done all I can and presented the reasonable solution, then I develop a serious side-eye at them. I will remain fully professional, but my attitude about their freak-out will remain skeptical. I have been pleasantly surprised over the years when some will come back days or weeks later, and apologize for their bad behavior, and thank me for my help. It’s pretty gratifying.

  62. TootsNYC*

    I agree with Alison’s point that you’ll be stronger if you know what your options are.
    If I know that I’m simply relaying the company’s policy, or my boss’s decision, then it doesn’t feel so personal. It’s not ME they’re yelling at; it’s the policy.

    Also: get a little mad at them. When people yell at you, they are RUDE RUDE RUDE. So recognize that, and hold on to a little anger. You don’t want to become unprofessional, but let your righteous indignation stiffen your spine and frame your reaction. You aren’t being justly attacked; they are being rude.

    And here’s my last piece of advice, that I use for parenting, managing, etc. I tell myself:
    Channel your inner daycare worker.

    I had the unbelievable luxury of having my kids in a top-flight daycare. I watched closely to see how they handled temper tantrums, disgruntlement, etc.
    The biggest thing I took away was this: these behaviors were nothing personal; they were simply developmentally appropriate. It’s what toddlers (tenants?) do. It doesn’t actually mean anything.
    Of course, they didn’t cave, or change their response. But they didn’t take it personally. And they were firm and calm and steadfast.
    They also didn’t need to retaliate, or punish. They guided, they set boundaries and held firm. They explained in short terms when needed, and they didn’t worry about whether the kid ended up agreeing with them–the truck still went on the shelf no matter how much the kid cried. They’d let him cry, and let him figure out how to manage his emotions, without being punitive, etc.

    Think of yourself as the calm anchor or foundation inside the storm. As the grownup in the room.

  63. ellis55*

    One thing I learned, and I am not sure if you are doing this – you don’t need to give people reasons. Reasons tend to escalate the situation because people view that as an opportunity to argue. If you try to explain WHY, say, online registration closes 2 weeks before an event, be prepared to go down the rabbit hole of “but why does it matter if it’s just one person?” or “but I have a really good reason,” etc. An upset customer genuinely doesn’t care about your business processes or anything like that and they’ll get angrier if they feel like your reasons aren’t good enough. I teach my staff this formulation:

    “I can appreciate that online registration is a priority for you for this event. I’m sorry that I’m not able to process an online registration anymore. We are, however, offering a similar event in 3 weeks and I can register you for that today.” Empathize without agreeing, apologize briefly, state what you can’t do as though it is a fact that is obvious and needs no justification, and then get to what they really want to know which is what you CAN do for them. They may or may not be satisfied with that, but remember that while you’d like for them to be satisfied, you can’t actually make them feel any type of way. If they are choosing not to take advantage of the alternative you are offering, that is their choice. Keep your tone warm and matter-of-fact, and this can help diffuse a lot of problems! Having a standard formulation helps too because I can type it out or write it down before I respond so I know exactly what I am going to say. It also forces me to figure out what I can offer instead.

    On that note, if you’re not sure what you can do, yet, the priority is to exit the conversation quickly. I usually go with. “Thank you for sharing that with me. I need to touch base with some folks on my team to see what we can do to fix this, and I don’t want to keep you waiting any longer than I already have. Let me circle back with them and you can expect to hear from me in ‘x’ amount of time.” That way, you’re not waiting around for more abuse, you’re letting them know you need to leave in order to help them, that you value their time, and that you will be back in touch soon.

    Finally, I would make sure you know everything you are empowered to do. If you can give a discount or some such without higher level approval, that can always help. You may speak to your manager about what you are able to do yourself because if people are constantly unhappy with your resolution and you need to escalate, it may be that you just don’t have the authority to do that things that most reliably resolve the issue. If that’s the case, your manager needs to know the effect this is having on your work and theirs.

    Best of luck!

  64. HR Lady*

    I used to be a trainer on defusing angry customers. You’d be surprised how big of a difference empathy can make. Especially in your situation. I’m not justifying someone yelling at you. But I can understand why someone would be really upset when talking to you. Your position is a little different then if someone’s latte is messed up. This is their home, and most likely something that a huge portion of their paycheck is going to. I’m really bad at thinking on my fit so I made a list of fill in the blank empathy statements. It typically gets the person to calm down and listen and gives me more time to formulate my thoughts and control my emotions. When someone is upset start by empathizing. Wow Mr. Smith I understand you are extremely upset about X. Why don’t you have a seat over here and I’ll get you some water and we are going to find a solution. I’d also recommend taking a training on topic and practice roll-playing.

  65. DirectorOfSomething*

    Not sure if this will help, but vitaltalk.org has some great tools on how to diffuse conflicts and respond to emotion. In particular look at the videos and NURSE tool and diffusing conflicts that, although geared toward clinicians and medical related situations, has been really helpful for me in all emotionally charged situations. Basically, it guides you through a few categories of responses that will help the person feel heard, respected and helped, which I find helps calm the situation 90% of the time. I have been amazed at how effective this is.

    Each letter in the acronym is a step that you can use when responding. There’s even an app you can download on your phone which could help when fielding phone calls.

    Naming “It sounds like you are frustrated” or “Wow. That sounds really frustrating” In general, turn down the intensity a notch when you name the emotion

    Understanding “This helps me understand what you are thinking” or “I can’t imagine how difficult that must be” Think of this as another kind of acknowledgment but stop short of suggesting you understand everything (you don’t)

    Respecting “I can see you have really been trying to follow our instructions” or “I know you always pay your rent on time” or “I know you work really hard to follow all the rules” Remember that praise also fits in here eg “I think you have done a great job with this”

    Supporting “I will do my best to make sure you have what you need” or “Let’s get to the bottom of this” or “We’ll tackle this together – I’m here for you” Making this kind of commitment is a powerful statement

    Exploring “Could you say more about what you mean when you say that…” Asking a focused question prevents this from seeming too obvious

  66. Catherine*

    Don’t let people yell at you! 4 years in property management and if tenants are actually yelling at me (which does not happen often thankfully) I ask them once (calmly and nicely) to please lower their voice. If they won’t or can’t I tell them that we are going to pause this conversation right here and we can pick it back up at a later time or day or switch the communication over to email so their is a paper chain of their concern which will benifit all parties.

    Before I did property management I managed a large grocery store and let me tell you there I got yelled at way way more but it was easier to just ask those customers to leave and not come back where as with tenants, they live there. But I would guess you won’t be yelled at as much as you are afraid you will be. Unless your apartments are all in really bad disrepair and then that is another issue where I would seriously consider not taking a management job because really you should be able to solve tenants problems.

  67. aepyornis*

    A few thoughts, mainly based on my experience working in adult psychiatry:

    1. Reframing the residents-yelling-at-you not as a failure on your/your management part but simply as a relatively inevitable and routine part of the job (if the building is being managed correctly of course, if they are yelling for very legitimate reasons, it might be worse looking into changing things somewhere else). It will not make it pleasant per se but will help get emotionally distanced from it.

    2. Validate their emotions and feelings when you cannot agree with them that something is an issue/a significant problem/requires an immediate resolutions, etc. Have a few sentences ready such as “I see this is very distressing for you, I am sorry” or “This sounds very frustrating, I am sorry” etc. You don’t need to agree with them about the issue or its scale to acknowledge their feeling and this goes a long way towards people calming down and feeling heard (and you can avoid this way agreeing with someone when you don’t). If you do agree that something is wrong/unacceptable/urgent, let them know too.

    3. When people have unreasonable requests and you know they can’t hear no, delay rather than say no: “I’ll look into this [ridiculous demand] but first let me try [common sense solution 1] or [common sense solution 2]”. If you think they are too wind up to actually listen to you or just calm down when you suggest something, you can also delay “I need to check what is the best solution here, let me check this right away and get back to you before the end of the day” (obviously not when there is only one logical solution to their particular problem).

    4. Know (and check with your management) where you can draw the line and cut a conversation short when a person is completely out of line, and have a sentence ready when this situation arises to stop the conversation and ask the person to come/call back when they can speak calmly.

  68. Grocery worker*

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this OP!
    I agree that having the tools and go to phrasing is going to be super helpful!
    Something that helps me when dealing with angry customers is remembering that ultimately their anger is their decision and it is not my fault or my problem!
    Of course I do the best that I can to help them. It is just much easier to think clearly and calmly by remembering that they are choosing anger and that is on them.
    Funny example: A lady screamed at me because a dairy free cheese she purchased “did not have enough flavor”.
    The cheese had nothing wrong with it. But she was LIVID that it wasn’t a stronger cheesy flavor.
    I gave her a refund (because my boss would rather have a happy customer than an angry one) and just… felt a bit bad after she left but I cannot control her anger or.. her taste in cheese!

  69. Kiki*

    I think a lot of commenters have offered great advice. For most people, listening to them, acknowledging their problem, agreeing that it *is* a problem, and giving concrete steps you are taking to remediate the issue will calm them down. There are some people who are flat-out abusive I think it’s important to remember you can cut them off and refuse to tolerate abuse. Also keep in mind that the people who are excellent at this are usually people who have been yelled at a lot– practice makes perfect, which I know is deeply unpleasant in this case.

    One thing I’m going to bring up that isn’t fully in the purview of your question so please ignore if it’s off-base, but now that you’re a manager, try running through your own customer service system as a customer and see if there are any ways to improve the experience. One major thing that sets even ordinarily chill people off is feeling like they had to make 5 different tickets, send 6 emails, and call 4 people just to get a routine issue taken care of. If it’s possible to make sure people feel acknowledged and heard much earlier in the process, it’s less likely people will explode when they finally speak to you.

  70. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    This is making think of two things:

    1. The fact that I come away far more satisfied about a customer service debacle when the first thing the person says after I explain the problem is “I’m sorry that happened” and then works on solving the problem. Target’s customer service (online anyway) is awesome at this and it’s where I really noticed it. Every CSR does it. It clearly comes from their training.
    Building a set of scripts and possible solutions will be so good at managing your emotions.

    2. The trick where you ask for the complaint in writing … you know, so you get all the details … and the act of completing the form calms down the raging maniac even as they think they’re causing you pain. Then you can use the form as a prop as you deal with the issue (or tell them that the responsible person will get this immediately and will get back to them, even it’s just you, after they leave).

  71. Nicole*

    It may not feel like it, but they are yelling because they know you have all the power and they feel powerless. In a lot of cases showing empathy by saying statements like “I can see you’re frustrated by this. Let’s me see how I can fix it” or repeating back what they said such as “It sounds like you’re having an issue with x,y,z and that’s been an upsetting experience, am I understanding that correctly?” will calm them down. Otherwise let them run out of steam or tell them you’ll need to escalate higher up (if that’s an option).

  72. Being human*

    My sympathies as well. I work with people with disabilities who can have “moments” kind of like what you describe with yelling and demands. It’s normal to have a physiological reaction to others verbal and physical aggression. I have specific training that I can refer to (in my head) which helps. I focus on regulating my emotions and my breathing first, then the problem solving. You can ask your supervisor if there is any training available for those kinds of situations with difficult customers. Physical practice helps too. Knowing what you can put up with and ignore (yelling, insults) vs what you can not (aggression, slurs and cursing) can be helpful. Basically, make a plan of action for different scenarios. Know that other people’s outbursts are about them (and their lack of regulation), not about you. And check in with yourself about why you react that way to other people’s anger and how was anger handled in your home growing up.

  73. Anonny*

    I’m certainly not trying to armchair diagnose, or suggest that there’s anything wrong or unusual about having a reaction to being yelled at but- is there any possibility being yelled at is triggering some sort of past trauma? I ask this because when I worked a customer service job that often had emotions running high and got me yelled at by customers many times I also had very extreme reactions to it and I eventually realized it was because I had some past trauma tied to verbal abuse/screaming when I was a child. It got so bad I started disassociating and there were days where I’d loose entire chunks of time.

    Working with a therapist helped me develop some tools for dealing with it. I can’t say I don’t still have some reaction to being yelled at by customers, but it’s definitely gotten better.

    (And again, I want to stress that I’m not saying this is certainly what’s happening here. I’m also not suggesting that the LW is in the wrong for having such a reaction. I just want to mention that as a possibility they might want to think about.)

  74. Restaurant Manager*

    Part of it is learning that it’s part of the job. Learning to deescalate situations is going to do wonders. Responding calmly will help the other person and hopefully your nerves. Also not that you don’t have to take unreasonable abuse. You can ask them to leave if they threaten you or your staff.

  75. Perpal*

    1) don’t tolerate abuse. If you can diffuse the situation great, but make it clear that people SHOULDN’T be yelling at you and especially your staff. Again, there is yelling and there is YELLING – don’t bring out the “this is inappropriate and I will be willing to discuss once you can do so civilly” unless the person is swearing, personal attacks, screaming, etc. But don’t put up with that and don’t let people think it’s ok to abuse you or your staff.
    2) identify the issue, reassure, and specify appropriate outlets for the frustration/solving the problem/etc.

    I know this can be hard to do if you are caught off guard but I just want to emphasize “the customer is always right” really can be an inappropriate motto for truly abusive customers and makes things worse for everyone. It’s ok and even necessary to draw boundaries on inappropriate behavior. I work in medicine, people get upset, frustrated, etc, but occasionally someone really starts taking it out on us /staff and no, I have to respect and protect my people too. That’s not ok either and generally everything goes much better once we outline a behavior plan (I only have to do this once in a great while, but it’s better then letting my staff be abused and pts in the long run appreciate it and we wind up at a good relationship even if the start is hard, in my experience)

  76. noahwynn*

    I work for an airline in ground operations and had plenty of passengers yell at me over the years at the ticket counter and gate. We’re taught to listen, ackowledge the problem, and offer solutions.

    Sometimes customers are angry and rant, it is best to allow them to do so as long as your safety isn’t in danger and they are not personally attacking you. Stay calm, look at them, and truly listen. For me, if I focus on trying to figure out what’s wrong and ignore the tone, I’m less likely to get the watery eyes and start feeling like I’m going to have an emoitional overrun.

    We are given stock phrases for acknowleging the problem. I’d work with your manager on that, but we simply say “I understand, let’s see what I can do to help you/solve the problem.” Most people will calm down at this point because they feel like you truly listened to them and you have expressed a desire to fix the issue they have.

    You’ll also need to work with your manager on what solutions you have or timelines, but I can think of a few like sitting down and working through the account transaction by transaction until the customer understands why they owe what they owe, setting a maintenance appointment, or even getting a name/contact info and setting a deadline for a reply. The deadline for a reply is important if you need time to research an issue and must send the customer away without solving the problem immediatley. Tell them 24 hrs, 48 hrs, 7 days, whatever, but keep it reasonable and actually get back with them in that timeframe.

  77. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    So, I’m answering quickly while on my lunch break, and may be copying something someone else said up thread, because I can’t read through it all in the time I’ve got. If so, apologies, I don’t mean to ignore someone else.

    One of the best suggestions I’ve ever had for dealing with difficult/emotional people came from a former FBI hostage negotiator, who talked a lot about mirroring. I think it was one of the things I watched while signed up for Masterclass.

    The gist of it was to practice seizing on a few key words that the other party said, and repeat them back in your response -typically as part of a question or in a questioning tone. This creates a feeling that you listened to your subject, and are interested in making sure you got their message correct – it encourages them to believe you’re involved in trying to solve their issues.

    So, when dealing with a person who is complaining about something, saying something along the lines of “So, if I understand, the water is always cold?” or even, more naturally, “Your water is always cold?” can work wonders for getting them to view you as being on ‘their’ side of things.

    There’s a lot to understand about where to stress words in the mirroring statement – incredulity is not your friend, but stressing words you want them to expand on “your water is /always/ cold?” can lead to them opening up more and viewing you as a confidant, rather than someone who is getting in their way.

  78. Jaybeetee*

    I worked in customer service for years, and also struggled with people who were angry/yelling. Here’s what I learned:

    1) As others have said, validating their feelings and echoing back their complaints defuses a *lot* of people. I found most people were yelling because a situation was frustrating and they didn’t feel heard. Usually when I acknowledged their frustrating situation, they calmed down quite a bit, even if I couldn’t actually do much/anything for them in that moment.

    2) I’m not sure how many angry people you’ve encountered since your promotion, but I used to find a lot of angry, shouty people became a lot more cordial once their complaint was moved up the flagpole. Some people are just self-important like that, or don’t respect front-line staff much. In other cases, it’s probably a different version of “Yes, we’re taking this seriously.” I’d be surprised if you dealt with angry people as a manager nearly as often as you did on the front line.

    3) Yes, check if there are policies regarding abusive behaviour, or whether policies can be created. In my cx jobs, cursing, name-calling, or other abusive behaviour meant hanging up the call or otherwise ending the interaction. I don’t know your salary, but I’m fairly certain you’re not being paid enough to be a verbal punching bag.

    4) I’ll say it: If your building has tenants yelling and screaming in the office on a regular basis, something sounds wrong. Maybe the building is a dump, maybe previous staff “trained” tenants that they’d get their way if they yelled, maybe you’re renting to sketchy people. If there’s a systemic issue with your workplace, consider if this is really where you want to stay. The only cx job where I got yelled at on the regular, the company *did* suck. I only stayed there a few months.

    1. MassMatt*

      #1 definitely, especially on the phone. Sometimes people cool off a lot while on hold for a few minutes.

      #3 make sure you and your manager are on the same page re: how to handle people that get abusive or make threats, etc.

      #4 you are making me think of a commenter here who posted many of her experiences working at a property management office, referred to as “The Hellmouth”. No idea if a certain amount of irate come with the territory in that sort of business.

      In my experience a percentage of people are just nuts and/or or angry in their lives so they lash out at people in customer service type roles because they can.

  79. Hotel Desk Clerk*

    In a former life, I worked the front desk of a mid-grade hotel (think Hampton, but not) in a resort town. I got cussed at, screamed at, have a book worth of stories of humanity’s dumbest behaviors including: drunk bachelorette trashy girls peeing on the floor of the lobby, a dude smashing a soda machine with a hammer because it ate his quarter, and one family that wanted me to kick all of the other guests out of the pool because they “don’t swim mixed” …

    But one day, my manager actually stood up for me. A man, the arrogant, business type that was forced to stay in our hotel by whatever client was paying for him to be in the area type came down to the desk to complain about his towels. Apparently housekeeping did not read his note asking for extra towels. I apologized for the confusion and offered to have some sent up immediately. Instead of nodding, or thanking me, or just grunting and walking away, he spit at me and called me something very sexist and racist.

    I called the police and pressed charges. I will put up with rudeness and being yelled at, but I will not be spit at. My manager had him trespassed. He spent the next few months writing our corporate office demanding my head, tried to sue me for “lawyers fees” and other garbage.

    He never got anywhere with that. These days, I would’ve hoped he’d been recorded and his boss see what pure trash he was and he would lose his job.

    1. Perpal*

      I am sorry that happened and so, so glad your manager stuck up for you. People like that absolutely need to be escorted out, for your sake, for the other guests’ sakes, for humanity’s sake. :P

  80. MassMatt*

    Many years retail and call center experience here, irate customers are definitely part of any customer service type job, I got very good at it. Some things that helped me:

    1–Recognize that people can be angry about a situation and it’s not about you.

    2–In the moment, let emotional people vent. Don’t sit there looking bored, but let them speak. Let them know you are listening (express empathy when appropriate) but don’t try to cut them off with a solution too quickly. Emotional people are often not ready for a solution yet and no one wants to feel that their feelings are not important.

    3–Also in the moment, focus on your breathing. If you get emotional, you’re likely taking shallow breaths. Try taking deep, regular, breaths and you may be surprised how differently you feel.

    4–Make sure the people complaining feel heard. Restate their problem as best you understand it. Only then try to come up with a solution.

    5—This is for advanced players—Be thankful for customers that complain! This was the crux of a really good customer service seminar I took years ago. Most people don’t bother complaining, they just take their business elsewhere and badmouth the company to all their friends. Your business tanks and you have no idea why. If you can turn around an irate customer, they are MORE likely to tell people about how great you are than the person that never had a problem to begin with.

    6–Another advanced player technique—Turn it into a game. I don’t mean belittle the customer, I mean challenge yourself to see if you can turn this situation around into a good experience. Almost anyone can deal with nice, polite people that have no problems. It takes serious customer service skills to handle an irate customer. As with any skill, you develop it by working at it. You will become more valuable as you get better at this!

    7–Finally, once the irate customer leaves, take a deep breath and move on. Visualize your happy place. Don’t obsess over the last customer, focus on the next one. To last while dealing with the public, you need to let a lot of crap roll off you.

    8–Take stock of yourself and your own attitude periodically. If you have a bunch of bad interactions in a row with unrelated people, there’s a good chance the thing they have in common is YOU. Repeat step 7.

    I hope this helps!

  81. Oogie*

    Adjusting your body language and tone will really help with this. Right now bullies know you are an easy target by your reactions and they prey on this. Your posture needs to indicate you are not here for the nonsense and your tone needs to be sure and even (even when you aren’t sure!) This will be something you will have to train yourself to do and will probably get easier with the more nonsense you deal with.

  82. GinnyDC*

    I have seen this mentioned on other threads but not on this one today … but I highly recommend reading Amy Cuddy’s book “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges” or at least watching her TedTalk. Lots of good info in there on building your confidence in dealing with other people and difficult situations. One idea I got out of the book was to consider a work “uniform” of some kind that you only wear at work and symbolizes your job for you. This could be an actual uniform if you job does that but it could also just be a jacket/blazer that you wear to look professional or even your nametag. But don’t wear it outside of your work–keep it just for your job. Then, when you put that “uniform” on each day, visualize it as a barrier between the actual you and your job. So things that happen to you because of you job–like people yelling at you–are directed at that uniform, not at you. They aren’t yelling at you personally–they are yelling at your job. And if you can separate out those two things, that may be helpful. I’m not explaining it really well, but hopefully you get a bit of the idea. But I am so sorry that you have to deal with this. I have lived in a lot of apartments and tried to always be polite when talking with the office staff or the maintenance staff. You guys have to put up with a lot, and I’m sorry.

  83. Tupac Coachella*

    Some great advice here already! I’m also someone who used to shut down when I got yelled at, but had to get a thicker skin because of the nature of my work. If you are someone who can do so without losing control, allow yourself to get a little bit angry when someone comes at you aggressively. Not so angry that you blow up or carry it around with you, but just angry enough to puff up a little. I use the same words I would use for someone who was approaching me in a reasonable way (“let me see what I can do,” “can you tell me more about X?” etc), but I allow my tone to reflect “I am in charge here, and you cannot speak to me like that.” It’s hard to explain exactly, but the tone is slightly lower and softer than I usually speak, very even, and with direct eye contact. It’s basically my “I suggest you rethink your attitude” calm-before-the-storm Mom voice. Most people slightly back down just out of shock, and when they do, I immediately switch it off and turn on my helpful voice. Even if they’re still hateful, if they deescalate even a little bit, I reward it by dropping all the way down to normal. This signals “now that we understand that we’re on the same side, let’s fix this.” The vast majority of people start to come down pretty quickly after that, and may even end up apologizing.

    Now, having heard tales from apartment managers in my family, I am acutely aware that you may have tenants who yell as a power trip or because they really are just awful and they know you can’t yell back. Some people come at every complaint aggressively because it always gets them what they want. If the firm voice doesn’t bring them down or even ramps them up more, I keep the firm voice and say something like, “I am not going to continue this conversation if you’re going to yell. I will send Bob to fix your dishwasher on Tuesday [or whatever would be the appropriate action for the actual complaint]. You’re welcome to talk to Boss/send an e-mail about your concerns/come back later if you’d like to continue this discussion, but I’m going to need you to leave now.” Repeat as needed. Then, if you’re like me, shut the door and ugly cry for about 35 seconds before taking some deep breaths and resuming your day, and let your boss know that they’re about to hear about how rude you are. (I have never had a boss who had a problem with me handling people this way, but people like this DO try to go over your head, and it helps your boss to have your back when they know what happened.)

    People can be awful. This is not about you. It gets easier.

  84. insertusernamehere*

    I like the idea of basically taking all the information, almost like like you are filing a claim or adding more info to the claim, and the suggestions to repeat back the issue to them. Then ask if that summarizes the issue and is there anything they want to correct or add.

    The other thing I want to add is truly DO listen to what their main irritation is. No one should be rude or speak to an employee like that or yell, ever, regardless of the situation. But sometimes normal people only get that way when they have reached their limit. For example, my air conditioner once broke during the hottest weekend on record in 25 years one summer. Yes, I was annoyed, but these things happen. But the part that sent me over the edge was when after days of being bounced around and told different things, they sent me a text saying my unit would be fixed on Tuesday. So I took the day off from work, stayed in sweltering, unbearable apartment all morning, waiting for the repair person. Around noon I went into the office and asked what time they were coming. And the woman was like, “Oh they aren’t coming until next week, we have three apartments ahead of yours.” Well I did lose it on this person. (I actually did apologize the next week.) But sometimes it’s poor communication that intensifies people’s reactions.

    Again, no one deserves to be yelled at or treated aggressively. But I think you can diffuse A LOT of situations by actually hearing the situation, following through, following up with the tenant, and keeping communication good. *Most* people will be more understanding if they feel a genuine solution is actually in progress and that you are taking steps to correct it. There’s not much you can do about entitled, chronic complainers but mentally distance yourself.

  85. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I think the fact that you’re working for an apartment complex actually makes this even tougher — people are coming to you about their housing, which can be precarious at the best of times and an extreme position of vulnerability when they have to ask management for pretty much anything at the worst of times. People are also likely coming to you with the baggage of their past experiences with landlords / rental companies, which is almost never an exceptionally positive experience.

    Lots of people have covered approaches that are helpful in the moment — deep breaths, not taking abuse, etc. — but I’d also suggest finding ways to cultivate trust with your tenants so they’re less likely to be upset in the first place. A lot of that comes from being a good management company, e.g. not doing the bare minimum with repairs, not seeing tenants as antagonists, etc. As assistant manager, a lot of that might be outside your control, but being good stewards for the complex can have an immense knock-on impact with how people approach management.

    1. Starbuck*

      Yeah, it’s helpful to remember that tenants are pretty much only interacting with apartment management when something is going wrong (well, this is based on my own personal experience) so you’re pretty much never going to see people at their best.

    2. Stacey*

      So much this! No, people shouldn’t yell in these situations, but it can help to remember that this is their housing. For some, 30-50% of our income goes to rent. To then have issues (amenities were paying for aren’t open, leak not getting repaired, neighbors smoking pot outside all day because ‘it’s legal now’, neighbors dog tried to bite me-whatever crazy thing it is that they want you to just FIX) can be so stressful. When it comes to where we live/raise our kids/feel safe, people have outsized reactions. Or they could just be total jerks who think they deserve an extra parking space, who knows. But try being compassionate in your head toward them. Stacey isn’t really trying to make you cry, she’s just stressed about her housing. And then do the thing that Alison recommends sometimes when people are blowing off steam: take their concerns SO SERIOUSLY. Really dig in to the issue. Treat it like a huge deal that you guys need to get to the bottom of together. Know what you can and can’t do, and just put things back on then. “I hear that you want to let your dog run free in the complex, but our insurance prohibits that, so we can’t make any changes there. Knowing that we aren’t able to do that, what would you like us to do? What do you think the solution is?”

  86. Ellen N.*

    I had a coworker who would cry whenever our boss or a client would criticize her.

    She took acting classes to learn to control how she displays her emotions. It worked well.

  87. QuinleyThorne*

    A lot of my jobs have been public-facing, so I’ve had my share of being on the receiving end of someone’s tantrum, especially with my current job at the state. I’ve gotten used to it by now, but it used to really bother me when I first started working. Here’s what helped me:
    -Not taking it personally/getting emotionally invested in the issue. What this looks like in practice is reminding yourself that it is not your job or responsibility to manage their emotions. It took a while to get used to, but once I removed their emotions from the situation and focused only on addressing the issue at hand, dealing with yellers became a lot easier.
    -Don’t let them bully you. Just because they are upset about their issue does not give them the right to curse, call you names, or otherwise use you as a verbal punching bag. If it gets to that point, it is entirely within your rights to remove yourself from that situation in a professional manner. “I understand that your are frustrated but that if you continue to use that kind of language/call me names, I will have to end this call/ask you to leave. I will be happy to assist you once you’ve calmed down,” and then hang up the phone or remove yourself from that situation.

    All that said, I would still encourage you to set aside time to speak with your manager about your concerns, and the best way to address them, because a good chunk of dealing with yellers is standing your ground, which is much easier to do knowing that the manager has your back.

  88. The Rural Juror*

    I also have a hard time in situations like this. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to stand up for myself when someone was yelling at me, and luckily I was able to keep my cool in the moment, but afterward my hands will start shaking and I’ll have to find a way to calm down.

    I once had a UPS delivery that the sender accidentally put the wrong address on, so I called UPS’s customer service line and asked them what to do. They gave me the phone number for our local distribution warehouse and told me exactly how to fix the situation. No harm no foul, I called them and followed the steps.

    An hour later, someone from that local warehouse called me and IMMEDIATELY started chewing me out. It was so strange! I was the customer for goodness’s sake! I got so angry when the woman on the other end was yelling at me for changing the address, even though I had followed the other representative’s instructions to a T. She wouldn’t even let me speak, she just kept berating me for somehow being in the wrong. Finally she stopped yelling, and I asked (as calmly as I could, considering my whole body was shaking with anger), “Well what the hell was I supposed to do instead?” So she condescendingly told the process to change an address mid-shipment. She literally gave me the exact same instructions as the other rep, which it was the very thing that I had done. I was livid! What the actual F?!? Was this lady off her rocker?

    So I took a breath, then asked her for her manager’s contact information. I told her I was definitely calling someone to complain about her, there’s absolutely no reason to talk to anyone like that, much less a customer. She basically told me I could shove it and hung up on me. I called like 3 phone numbers for UPS, but was only able to talk to someone on the main customer service line, and they had no way of knowing who had called me. They apologized and all that, but I have no way of knowing if that lady was ever disciplined.

  89. Malarkey01*

    What worked really well for me was to see myself as the superhero “fixer”. What they were mad about wasn’t my fault but I could be the hero that solved the problem. That small reframing changed the way I listened, reacted, and felt in the moment. As an added bonus I was way more effective at solving issues and customers come down and I was seen as a rockstar. I think attitude an perception can have a huge payback.

  90. eilanora*

    I also hate being yelled at, but once I realized that most people yell so they feel better about *themselves* rather than something I did or didn’t do, it helped immensely. They need to get the anger/frustration out of their system, I happen to be the target right now. Once they get it out, we can start addressing the issue, so I just let them blow off their steam, and move forward.

  91. Leap Year Conspiracy*

    Apologies if someone already suggested – I highly recommend mediation training. It is one of the most helpful trainings I have taken in my HR career. It really helped me deal with conflict that comes up with angry employees and get a new perspective on conflict.

  92. Sarra N. Dipity*

    I haven’t had a chance to read through all of the comments, so forgive me if I’m repeating.

    If you’re someone who has been through abuse of any kind in the past (verbal especially), this could definitely be PTSD related, and I encourage you to seek professional help in dealing with the PTSD. The coping techniques and strategies others have outlined above (scripts, practicing, etc.) can work great if you’re able to compartmentalize “present work” from “past abuse”, but if there’s PTSD there, it will probably have to be addressed at some point (and doing so will probably make your whole life easier, not just your work life).

    I used to have something similar (worked in accounts receivable / accounts payable at a couple of different companies) and what helped me was learning to think of myself as “Company Name” on those calls, rather than “Sarra who works at Company Name”. Sounds weird, but if you *are* the company, you have a lot of power and authority, and can feel stronger and more capable in the moment.

    Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

  93. Twisted Lion*

    I used to work at a university parking office so I’ve had to deal with a lot of upset people. Just remember, when people are yelling, they are yelling at your title/position/company and not at you personally. You’re not the one causing issues/problems for them. I dont know if that helps or not but thats how I dealt with it eventually. People would call me the devil and all sorts of stuff. You just have to realize they are mad about the situation and need to vent. I often would repeat the issues they are stating and slow things down by asking for their full contact information etc. And in person, make a show of writing everything down that they are telling you. This helps people feel heard because you are taking it in.

  94. Onion Rings*

    OP, I just want to thank you for trying to do your job well. I have had some really bad and strange experiences with apartment management, and maybe some of these people have too (it does not excuse their yelling or rudeness, and of course there are some really crappy renters out there). To wit: I went by the office in my previous apartment and got to hear the person on duty berating prospective tenants! I’ve made appointments and had the apartment manager forget or show up late carrying a bag of fast food and then claim they had to cancel for a meeting. I’ve also had some really great interactions and some very fast maintenance fixes, and I was quick to call the main office and say thanks. It sounds like you are a great asset to the place, so please keep it up. Maybe someday tenants and landlords/management won’t be at war.

  95. Jessica Fletcher*

    You may be having panic attacks. Panic attacks can look a lot of different ways, including like this. If you have health insurance, you can see if your PCP can refer you to someone for evaluation. Without insurance, there may be free or sliding scale clinics in your area. Search online for free clinics or even “fqhc / federally qualified health centers” and your city.

    Personally, I’ve done all kinds of role playing and whatnot, but the only thing that works for me is medication. There’s nothing wrong with using medication for a medical issue!

  96. blink14*

    I used to work in commercial property management, so I wasn’t dealing with residents, but I did deal with retail owners and managers, who would sometimes be livid. My boss was extremely difficult to deal with, so the day to day relationships fell to me.

    I would put together a list of common questions or concerns that might come up with a resident, and write down what your response would be if you were given the time to think about it calmly. Run that list by your manager, and ask if they feel those are reasonable answers/responses and if they would suggest anything else. This way, you’ll have sort of a cheat sheet in your mind of responses to give for a variety of issues.

    Something I learned in my property management years was to have an open door, but to also reach out to the managers and owners I was dealing with. I would drop by every store about once a month, check in with the manager on duty and the employees, see if they needed anything. This created a good relationship where they felt they could not only come to me, but have respect for me. If a situation escalated, I would blame it on upper management, by saying something like “I hear you and understand what you are coming from, but my hands are tied on this issue. Let me take it to our management company and see what they say”. You’re acknowledging their problem, but also running the responsibility up the chain a bit to get some breathing room.

    Given this is a residential building, it wouldn’t really be appropriate to go around visiting people, but I wonder if you would be allowed to send out a introductory notice or hold some kind of meet and greet sessions, where you provide an overview of your role, and open up the conversation to questions. That way there’s more respect for you, and the residents know where you stand. There are still going to be rude people out there, but this may cut down on someone simply just getting their frustration out and using you to do it.

  97. Anonymous at a University*

    The go-to phrases can be really powerful! I’ve had students yell at me (not often) across the twenty years I’ve been teaching in a couple different situations:
    *They put off work or needed paperwork until the last minute and aren’t pleased that I can’t do anything about granting them an extension.
    *They have a situation outside class that’s overwhelmed them and it’s spilling onto me.
    *They think that doing this will get them a higher grade.

    It’s been very helpful to have go-to phrases like, “I’m sorry to hear that” for the second situation and a counselor’s number at the ready, or to know the exact university or syllabus policy that they’re violating in situation number 1 and be able to say, “While this is an unfortunate situation, I cannot change that. According to….” and give them the information. (If there’s anything I can do, I’ll tell them that as well, although when it’s so last-minute they’re yelling there’s usually not). I’ve practiced these phrases and memorized them, especially since I need to know the exact page of the syllabus or the exact number and section of the student handbook for the first situation. Practicing and memorizing your own phrases can help a lot! I definitely recommend it.

    (For the third situation, I usually go colder and tell them, “You are not showing the respectful treatment that the syllabus demands. I will not discuss it with you when you speak in this tone. If you want to challenge the grade, here is the procedure.” There’s luckily only been a few times I felt genuinely threatened or in a situation that I couldn’t control, and in those cases there were always other people around who I could have called to if something had exploded).

  98. HLKHLK1219*

    This could be me in my earlier years. This may sound kind of crazy, but it worked for me: I think of myself, the person who gets emotional, as a small child. If someone starts screaming at a young child, the child is going to be upset and cry because she’s scared and hurt. Then, I think of another part of myself as a guardian. If someone starts screaming at a child and upsetting them, I’m going to step in and be a block or a wall between the child and the abuser to protect the child.

    When someone starts screaming and getting hostile, turn into the wall. You are absolutely right to be upset and cry because it IS abusive. So let your “grown-up” or “wall” staff protect that side of you. Don’t think of it as them attacking you, think of it as them attacking a child who doesn’t deserve that. This gives you a better position to be able to say “hold off – I am trying to help you, but the way you are acting isn’t a productive way for us to engage. I know you’re angry about , but the only options I can offer at this moment are . I will do everything I can to help you, but I need you to help me in figuring out which option is going to work for the present, and then we can work together on a longer-term fix if needed.”

  99. ...*

    I would role play as much as possible, but its possible the job isn’t a fit if one of the main duties causes you these issues.

  100. IrishEm*

    When I started taking escalations from angry customers in my call centre job (it’s like a supervisor/TL job that basically frees up managers to manage staff) I sought ALL the advice on how to handle tricky situations from management. Despite being known for diplomacy and tact in all my jobs.

    A lot of the time angry people just want someone to listen to them. “I can hear/see/tell that you’re frustrated” is a great way to break through the scream barrier and also gives you the opportunity to add “but speaking that way/shouting/rising your voice/swearing at me is unacceptable.” (I channel my inner supernanny when the f bombs drop). As I’m in a call centre I give 3 warnings then disconnect, I don’t know if you have some sort of barrier that you can bring up but if you can have a script like “If you cannot be civil/if you continue to speak to me/raise your voice I will not be able to help you” and then move away/go into the office and shut the door/bring up a barrier between you and them.

    If they’re ranting about something you can immediately solve then let them scream themselves out (or call them on it as above, whatever is your jam) and then say, calmly “I can get that sorted out for you I just need to do X, Y and Z and that should be done!” That usually takes the wind out of their sails.

    If it’s something you’re not 100% sure of or you know takes more work to fix then “Leave it with me, give me your contact info and I’ll get back to you when I have a solution.” All the better if you have a timeframe. “I’ll call you before time/I finish/whenever” and then call them at that time whether the issue is resolved or not. “I’m still looking into that for you, I haven’t forgotten you, I just wanted to let you know I’m working on it.” And end it there.

    Say for example you need to call out a plumber/electrician and you don’t know how long it will be, tell them you have to call someone out to sort the problem, you’ll let them know when to expect them *IF you’re told when to expect them* (include that line because not all companies will tell you they’ll just say electrician/plumber will be out on Monday), and definitely let them know you’ve followed up on it. Even if it’s to phone them up 10mins later to tell them the electrician will be out at 4pm on Monday you’ve done what needed doing, you’ve kept your promise to them to keep them in the loop and you’ve given them a timeframe for when the issue will be resolved.

    But, seriously, if you’re getting abuse and you get teary, that’s not unprofessional that’s you being a human being. There is no need to feel ashamed. The people abusing you ought to feel ashamed.

  101. Kisses*

    Complete disassociation. Imagine yourself watching a show or something, and viewing you as a character and the customer interacting. If the customer was in the right, how would you hope things resolve? Do you have what you need to make things happen for someone who is that upset?
    On the other hand, it should be rare you are getting yelled at and I’m sorry that is going on. Don’t allow yourself to be belittled, cursed at, or called names. Sometimes you must stop them and assert your right for a peaceful discussion. This is harder than it sounds, so ask a friend to practice with you if you need it. Or do my favorite- shower arguments. You know, where you come up with a perfect comeback later. But make up some situations, play out the angry role, and allow yourself to respond the way you’d like and the way you should.
    I became the go to complaints person when I worked retail. I had to absolutely put it out of my head it was personal, and the one time it did start to get that way, I refused to continue.

    You got this!

  102. Betsy S*

    On a tangent, I highly recommend https://notalwaysright.com/
    Take a look at the ‘right’ and ‘working’ categories
    People send in funny or horror stories of their customer service experiences .

    I think this site could be a wonderful training site for anyone in a customer service role as it contains a huge number of scenarios. Read the stories, think about how *you* would handle the situation, think about whether the way it was handled was effective. And to some extent, also, reading a wide variety of worst-case experiences may give you some emotional bracing, knowing that other people have heard the same or worse.

  103. LQ*

    One of the things that I don’t see yet (though I didn’t just refresh) is that you can build a rapport too. These are not folks who are going to see you once and never again. If they see you and talk to you more frequently they’ll be far less likely to be upset, and when they are they’ll be more likely to want it to be you and them against the problem. If you have folks who are frequently agitated you can try to develop relationships with them first and see if you can turn that down a little.

    The other thing is know this isn’t about you, you are kind of irrelevant to the whole interaction. In your case you have standing behind you, your manager, the company, whatever else (other people in the building, other people in the community, etc) and you are a tool to get the right thing done for them. You happen to be the representative of that body/bodies that is there to help and to do the thing you need to do. (Get clarity on what they need, not let them do the thing they want to do that they can’t, whatever.) This isn’t about you.

  104. Parenthetically*

    One of the things I find most helpful with stuff like this is scripting THEIR side of the conversation as I practice. What do people usually say? What MIGHT they say? Don’t just script your side of the conversation, like “Okay, if someone comes in yelling, I can say this or that.” Practice more specifically. “Mrs Finley comes in and slams her fist on the table and says, ‘If you lazy f***ing a**holes don’t fix my f***ing kitchen sink right the f**k now, I’m going to sue!'” — and write scripts for THAT. I don’t find it helpful to play out scenarios when they’re really vague. If I’m prepared for Mrs. Finley to come in and cuss me up one side and down the other, then when she comes in and is actually only mildly irritated because the plumber was supposed to come yesterday but he had an emergency he needed to handle so he isn’t going to be able to come until tomorrow, it’ll be really easy to deal with her.

    Another idea is to almost make it a game. Jot down situations you can remember where you were yelled at or witnessed your boss or someone else at the complex be yelled at. I can almost guarantee you’ll see patterns emerge — Mr Costello, Ms Schroeder, and Mr Hernandez cuss someone out every other month; Mrs Liu complains about the heat every month of the winter; 40% of the complaints are about Issue X; 85% of the calls are perfectly cordial, a few are a bit heated, and a fraction are over-the-top; whatever. Not only is it way easier to respond calmly when your phone rings and it’s Mr Costello for his bi-monthly vent session, because you’ve already prepared yourself, but you can mentally mark off that space on the Property Management Craziness Bingo sheet you carry around in your head, inwardly roll your eyes or chuckle, and move on with being a productive, problem-solving, unflappable assistant manager!

  105. HR-Occam's Razor*

    My experience comes from years in Operations and HR management. What we share is when approached in these situations they are looking to us to resolve an issue.
    My solution is to shut down the interaction. Give them notice that you won’t be addressing anything further until they’re ready to speak calmly/professionally. If they don’t head, it goes full stop. If via phone it’s a soft hang-up, in person I don’t further engage until they’re ready.
    It may not be for everybody but necessary for me since I have a “3 strikes and out temper”. I’ll give two chances, third one and it’s done.

  106. K*

    When I worked at a reference desk in graduate school, people would sometimes get (very) frustrated when things weren’t working for them or they weren’t able to access something. I had encouraging supervisors that … didn’t want their employees to be yelled at. So, if it was a phone call and someone wouldn’t stop swearing at me or raised there voice I would tell them, I’m sorry this is frustrating/disappointing/different/etc., but I can’t continue this conversation unless you stop yelling/swearing/wigging out at me. Typically people would chill out or call back later much calmer.

    I am a pretty emotional person as well, now that I’m the supervisor that gets the complaints, I view my role as protecting my student workers from the #drama – thinking of it that way might help you?

  107. Secretary*

    I love Alison’s suggestion! Every time I’ve been in a customer service situation that was overwhelming and I got emotional, it’s because the customer was upset about something that I had zero control over and was expected to be accountable to it.

    My current situation is the best one I’ve ever been in. When a client calls me upset about something, my boss has told me to just forward them to him before they get very upset. He can stay level headed because he has the power to re-arrange staffing so that someone can personally handle an issue with the client. I also know he has a budget just for customer complaints, ex. “You’re right we probably didn’t do a good enough job sweeping up the sawdust for you. I can have a guy there this afternoon to do it or I can put a check for $50 in the mail for you today so that you can hire your gardener to do it. Which would be better for you?”

    He said 9.5/10, they take the money and are repeat customers. But he owns the company, and I don’t, so that same situation would suck for me. If I had the power to do that, I could probably handle all the customer complaints.

  108. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    A lot of this will take time to train yourself into the situation. It’s always hard starting out as a brand new manager or customer support role of any kind.

    Story: My first month on a job, I got stuck on the phone with someone who was convinced our product was going to kill their unborn child. [It has to do with “fumes” from something they had bought, they had a sensitive nose and you can smell it…think of that “new” smell you can smell on some things, that off-gasses after being exposed to air long enough]. It was terrifying, I even wondered if there was any truth in their conspiracy theory and I’d be in trouble for selling something to them.

    Thankfully it was on the phone, I just let them go and kept telling them that I’d look into it ASAP and encouraged them to put the item outside in the garage to see if the smell went away.

    We eventually just needed to exchange the damn thing or in the worst case scenario take it back and give her the money back. It was NOT that big of deal but wow, it felt like my soul was being sucked out of me for that three hours [yeah…] I was stuck on the phone,.

    Now I can release myself easily, cut a rant short and reroute. It’s a huge practice to grow that “thick skin” people talk about! You’re rarely born with it [and honestly, I rarely think it’s a good thing if you’re born with it, that isn’t natural, we are humans with emotions and should feel something!]

  109. Mary F*

    I wonder if the writer is being triggered by the yelling. I grew up in rage filled household and in the past yelling would make me shut down or get very flustered. Therapy works. All the willpower and deep breathing in the world won’t work until the underlying problem is solved. You shouldn’t have to deal with people like that, but I am sure you will conquer this situation. Good luck.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Possibly! But I never grew up around yelling, just “LOUD VOICES” because my The Uncles were rambunctious meatheads and I say that lovingly.

      MOST creatures are predisposition to RUN away from “Loud noises” because it sparks the “DANGER DANGER DANGER” fight or flight mode in our brains at the very core of our animal instincts.

      It doesn’t even have to be mean yelling. It can be seriously loud noises that over-stress your system.

      It’s about training your system to not react that way. Similar to how fire fighters are trained to run into a burning building when every thing inside you screams “run away” from you know, fire.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Also this is why humans learn to be aggressive to get what they want. It’s the pecking-order issue, where those looked at as weak, get literally pecked and brutalized to see how “strong” they are. You have to learn to flex and be alpha even when you’re not naturally dominate.

  110. *daha**

    One thing that helped me was to repeat the problem/complaint back to the customer in my own words. So I might say “Let me make sure I’ve got the details on this right (or Let me make sure I understand what’s going on). You’re the leaseholder in Unit 1515 and that includes use of parking space P15. Somebody in a maroon Volvo S70 keeps parking in your space. You’ve left notes on the Volvo’s windshield several times, and nothing changed. You called our office on three different dates and nothing changed. In July you parked in a Visitor’s Only space because you couldn’t get in to your own space, and we left a ticket with a $25 penalty on your windshield. You called as soon as you found it there and someone in our office promised to forgive the ticket, but today you get a letter from us demanding the $25 with another $25 late fee tacked on and a threat that you could be evicted.”
    This helps in a bunch of ways. It shows the customer that you were actually listening and paying attention. Rephrasing neutrally in your own words and not simply parroting back reinforces this. This routine gives you a chance to settle down and the customer a chance to settle down, because now you are both engaged in a polite conversation. Leading up to this, you have asked the customer clarifying questions where necessary. Have a notebook and write down details, or have an encounter form already printed out for you to fill in details by hand. Writing them down gives you something to do with your hands and to focus on, while frequently looking back up to the customer.
    Now you can suggest a resolution. Explain what you can do and when you can do it, what steps you need to take before a full resolution, and when they can expect to hear back. So “I’m going to need a couple of days to investigate this and consult with my supervisor. I’m putting a note in your file now to not take any collection action before I have my answers. You should hear from me by Thursday, but if you don’t, please call me on Friday to check in. Here’s my name, phone number at the desk, and email address.”

    1. JSPA*

      This is excellent, but for me, the cherry on top is also summarizing a set of possible goals and an interim plan. In this case it might be,

      “you’d ideally like to see us make the owner of the Maroon Volvo pay your ticket.”

      “You’d also be content with us forgiving your ticket, sending a written statement to that effect, and getting a number to contact so you can tell us when the Maroon Volvo parks there again, and we can leave a note or have it ticketed.”

      “As a temporary plan, if this happens again in the interim, you will take a dated snapshot of the maroon volvo if it is parked in your space (including the plate) and email it to our office, and you will leave a note under your own windshield wiper, including your unit number, and the fact that the Volvo is in your space, for the parking patrol, which does not work out of our office.”

  111. Aerin*

    Story time!

    When I worked at Disneyland, I did a lot of time on the parade route (keeping walkways moving during parades and fireworks). One day someone called me over to deal with a situation with some guests who were being disruptive. They were in the viewing area and still sitting down, but it was a crowded day and we needed to free up that space, and they were refusing to stand up. So I went over and in my sweetest voice let them know that only people on the front row could sit, and everyone else had to stand. All four of them immediately start going off on me, and finally the mom says “I can’t stand for that long.”

    Ah, there it is, the actual problem. “So if I can find a seat for you, can everyone else stand?”

    Some grumbling, but they agree. I ask the people sitting on the curb to squeeze closer together to make space. Then Mom stands up and I see that she is VERY pregnant. So yeah, she genuinely couldn’t stand for the 30 minutes or so, and also genuinely had reason to be cranky.

    What I’ve learned is that the people who get combative frequently think they’ve found a solution that you’re rejecting, which makes you the unreasonable one in their eyes. So you have to really listen to get to the core of their problem, and be very clear on what things you can’t compromise on (in this case, they absolutely could not remain sprawled out the way they were), how far you’re expected to push it (if they hadn’t listened to me, next up would have been my lead, followed by management and security), and what tools you have for addressing that core problem (getting the other guests to cooperate and adjust, and I also circled back with them before the parade started and gave them some tips on getting a suitable spot for the fireworks).

    And like someone said upthread, this really only works if your customers trust you to ultimately fix a problem, which requires support from above. If people know their complaints are going to go into a black hole and nothing will get done, of course they’re gonna get frustrated, and they’ll learn to go into things seeing you as an obstacle rather than a resource. When you’re working someplace like that, the only thing you can really do is detach emotionally and work on getting a different job before your soul dies completely.

    1. Alice*

      This is great advice. I think this will work a lot better than all the people saying “they’re acting like toddlers.” If you spend a lot of time thinking of your tenants as unreasonable toddlers whom you have to humor, instead of people whose potentially valid concerns you want to investigate and maybe fix, you’re going to lose respect for them. It’s no fun to spend all day talking with people whom you don’t respect, and if there is any hint at all of that perspective in your communication with them, the relationship will be really hard to maintain, let alone improve.
      Can you evaluate
      – what proportion of your interactions are actually negative?
      – of the negative interactions, which ones are in the crazy customer category, and which ones are in the reasonable customer is now frustrated category?
      The answers to those two questions will tell you if you should work on your response to yelling or get out of dodge.

  112. IL JimP*

    I actually have a different issue when people yell at me as a manager. I get angry when people yell at me. So what I do to combat it might also help you. I let the emotion wash over me and just listen but do not talk until I take a deep breath and I try to reflect back what irate customer said to me. I took some active listening classes to help with this. This allows me to get my part going and steadies my emotions without actually answering the question yet. So it give me time to think and get rolling so my response is appropriate in the situation.

  113. G*

    I find taking notes of what they’re saying gives me a feeling of protection whilst also demonstrating listening. “Let me grab a pen I want yo make sure I capture all your concerns” i don’t have to make as much eye contact to demonstrate I’m listening, they often slow down slightly and relax a bit as they can see they’re being taken seriously. Just make sure you don’t sit down and have them standing over you as it removes your protection. I love a clipboard, can grip and hold it transferring my anxiety into it and feel efficient and authoratitive.

  114. Tara*

    this isn’t exactly a work specific bit of advice but when I was a kid I learned this little trick that helped me calm down/not cry in upsetting situations. I would double a number in my head (ie: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc) until I couldn’t do the mental arithmetic anymore. It didn’t take that long but something about this really helped.

  115. Zephy*

    I work in higher ed, and especially with how this year has been going, I’ve had to deal with a lot of irate parents. I also struggle hard with people being angry in my direction, even if I know that I’ve done nothing wrong and I’m not the source of the problem. Phrases like “I so appreciate your patience with this process,” “thank you so much for getting that documentation for us,” etc have been like magic wands. It stops the ranting in its tracks. The clincher, though, is knowing that my boss has my back and will reiterate what I’ve already told someone if they insist on speaking to her. Knowing I won’t be disciplined or fired just because someone made angry sounds at me has been a tremendous help in dealing with those angry sounds.

  116. Tema*

    Two very random things that have helped me: 1) I take notes. I write down all the things they are yelling, and by giving myself that task it distracts me from the emotions the words cause. 2) if I really am tearing up, I pinch the web of skin between my thumb and forefinger pretty hard. Usually halts the tears long enough for me to get somewhere private.

  117. EngineerMom*

    I’ve had this response to – my “fight or flight” is nearly always FIGHT, but it comes out as red, shaking, crying.

    Listening goes a long way in diffusing situations like this. Many times when people are really upset about something, what they really want is to be heard and taken seriously. The ones who are just trying to get away with shenanigans will continue to try to escalate you, and remaining calm and centered is still the best reaction to those folks, too.

    I found physically active hobbies also helped blow off some steam from particularly stressful days in customer-facing jobs.

    On a final note, it’s also completely OK to come to the conclusion that this is not the right job for you in the end, if things get particularly bad. The best job-related advice I got from my dad was “Every job has good days and bad days. Good jobs just have more good days than bad days. If you’re having more bad days than good days, it may be time to look for another job.”

    Good luck!

  118. Robin Ellacott*

    Don’t be hard on yourself, OP, this is difficult for everyone and usually those who seem to find it easy have LEARNED to handle it.

    I work for a company that runs remedial programs which the government mandates people to attend after they break the law in specific ways. Fairly often there is a mental health component with our clients. Believe me when I say I have a lot of experience being yelled at!

    There are some great tips here and I am repeating some others mentioned, but here’s what has worked for me:
    -Don’t interrupt the flow, at least at first, unless it’s abusive – they want to be heard and will just get mad if talked over
    -In cases of abuse (yelling or swearing AT us, calling names) we say “I really want to help you with this but we can’t discuss it with this much anger – I’m going to hang up but please do call back when we can talk more effectively” and hang up. (All our work is over the phone though – YMMV)
    -Next I usually ask them to hold on while I grab a pen and paper so I can take notes, and do what others have suggested and say “it sounds like x happened and you’re concerned because y – am I understanding you correctly?” Reflecting can sound really robotic and annoying, but if you do it in a genuine way it is really effective.
    -If you find yourself escalating as they do, deliberately speak more quietly and slowly – often they echo it and deescalate
    -“That sounds really frustrating” works for most issues. So does “let’s go over what we could do to address this” or similar.

    Good luck!

  119. laser99*

    Am I alone here in thinking the LW is not the problem? How about telling these people to convey their issues without shouting?

    1. Paperwhite*

      You’re totally not alone. Peoople should not shout at workers. Unfortunately, though, in a lot of cases, telling people to stop shouting just makes them shout louder, if not turn downright violent. So I think a lot of the advice here is of the “dealing with the world as it is, not as it should be” variety. It’s not at all LW’s fault, but since they need to manage this malarkey, here are some tools and processes to do so.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You’re not alone at all.

      I have never allowed someone to yell at me, even when I wasn’t sure my boss would approve of me hanging up on them, I took the risk. Then I discussed it with every one I’ve ever worked for and told them that I don’t accept yelling, unless it’s a fire and we’re all trying to evacuate kind of thing. EVERY boss, even the worst of the worst has said that they agree and not to put up with it, NOBODY is important enough to scream at us.

      And even with shitty emails, my boss is like “yeah, go ahead and tell them to eat a bag of ….but you know, without saying it like that.” I snap back at every salty email I get in a sharp concise “you don’t get to caps lock swear at me and call us names.” way. And I have indeed blacklisted someone.

  120. Batgirl*

    My top advice is don’t allow yelling and to kick them out, but if you’re really stuck taking abuse due to your set up or manager, it can be done and done well. I work with under privileged, sometimes violent students and the angriest people are always those who feel most powerless and small. It’s a favour to disallow them their anger but if you can’t, don’t let them kid you that they have power. They’re yelling at you because you do. So:
    – Be proactive before problems occur. Go out, meet residents, be a human whose name they know and would ask for help. Meet people on your own ground and your own timing. You’ll feel better and more confident in yourself in your role too.
    – “Let me stop you there” with your hand up somewhat like you’re chairing a chatty meeting. Keep it up, Keep it low and soft (not like a cop’s hand up, unless that’s warranted), nodding sympathetically until you can speak. “This sounds really serious and I want time to look into it fully. Can I call you in x?”
    – Tune out. When they are ranting play loud noise in your head like (blah blah). Look at their eyebrows. Make “I’m listening” noises and nod. You can get the details after theyve run out of steam. “That sounds like we should get this in writing. Can you take me through it more slowly so we have an accurate record?”
    – Own the blush. I’m a redhead. When I’m going increasingly purple sometimes people comment, so I prepare for the comment. I usually say “Well, yeah; this is very upsetting and that’s why I want…” or “Dont mind me, please go on”. Mostly people dont care but saying it to myself is calming.
    -Practice the voice. When I started teaching I had such a shaky voice and no scripts. Brainstorm every possible scenario before it happens. Imagine the worst things someone could say to you. Find a few key phrases which are short, sympathetic but authoritative, “Yes I understand” or “I need you to slow down”, and practice somewhere with good acoustics (tiled areas) until your voice hits the walls (authorative projection comes when you breathe in and sing out from the gut. It won’t show up that you’re upset if it’s well projected and well practiced. If you try to speak loudly from the throat you’ll just creak). When you can bounce the voice off the tiles, move to a room with crappy acoustics and bounce your voice off the walls there.
    Good luck! It’s a very rewarding challenge to master.

  121. I Need That Pen*

    I worked in this industry as a receptionist, and the managers used to ask me to try and handle their frustrations and situations because they themselves had just been verbally vomited on by said tenant, so, “here receptionist you handle them.” Well, after one tenant in arrears who did NOT want a lockout, threatened to come to the office and HARM me, I turned on my heel and left. Why? Because I was no where near qualified, adept, manager level, decision maker, none of it. And, 20 years old to boot. “But you answer the phone,” they said, “You’re going to have to deal with it, but don’t give any of the calls to me.” Need I say minimum wage still started with a 4.

    I agree with every poster here to work it out, out loud and practice. Online tutorials, books, whatever it takes. I even sought the help of a therapist and counselor for conflict and being able to control emotions effectively where I could to be able to diffuse the situation. As others have said, “That sounds incredibly frustrating, what do you feel would address this in a way that will get us to a resolution” or words to that effect. You’re acknowledging their problem, and, hopefully getting them to calm down.

    We are now in a place where anger is showing up in places it doesn’t belong. The other day a lady in line at the pharmacy was throwing down on the tech telling her her doctor hasn’t called in the medication. As she passed me in a huff I said innocently, “So whose fault was it?” She turned so red faced. People’s anger is on the wrong shelf right now.

    Good luck OP.

    1. Alice*

      Do you think that “innocently” asking whose fault it was made the rude person take a more polite approach when she called the doctor’s office?
      If you’re going to intervene, I think that de-escalating is better than needling.

  122. Gilmore67*

    A lot of good advice here.

    I am going to take a slightly different take. I think the OP needs to manage their emotions (as they are asking) by looking within and ask if they really WANT to deal with the people part of the job. And it is OK if it not the right job.

    The reason I am asking is because, the OP stated “I do not do well with that type of conflict.” This job has conflict and it will not change.

    That is different than saying I have no problem with people but don’t always know what to say when “This happens” and then just needs a script or some coaching or things like that.

    Having tools to solve the issues like how to respond to people is great. But the OP needs start by pressing forward with “I have no problem with conflict”. The OP needs to actually deal with that part first . Only then can they use scripts provided.

    I understand that some people will say that OP needs tools to help with their not liking conflict. I get that and agree to a point. But not liking conflict is a real thing within itself.

    I work with 2 supervisor that have had numerous management classes that talk all about conflict resolution, how to talk to people and all that. They still will not deal with their staff effectively as they do not like conflict.

  123. JSPA*

    You can demand a certain minimum level of politeness, and a certain maximum volume. Most people don’t realize that this works, or they feel it will un-necessarily increase the hidden conflict and anger. But from what I’ve seen, the reverse is true, so long at the focus is on “getting the problem fixed.”

    the blame technology:
    “I’ll be able to hear you a lot better at lower volume, because the phone cuts out loud noises. So, starting with the acknowledgement that something is clearly very wrong, and we both want to get it fixed, let’s try again.”

    the monty python:
    “I’m sorry, you have reached the problem solving desk, not the anger desk. Yes, I’m new. Let me know when you’re ready to start working together on fixing this.”

    the combination:
    “When you take that tone and yell, I have to hold the phone away from my ear, which means I miss all of the essential information. So let’s take it from the top, at a volume I can process.”

    the, your choice:
    “I can be the person who listens to your anger, or I can be the person who works with you on fixing the problem. I can’t do both at once. Which one do you need more, right now?”

    the can you text it to me:
    “there’s a lot of distortion on the line / a lot of noise in the room. I’m new to this role, so could you send me a text or email with your name, the unit number, the item that’s malfunctioning, whether it’s an emergency, and whether this is the first time you’ve called about it, or an ongoing issue, and the best way to reach you?”

    Basically, make it clear that, while you’re hired to help and willing to help, regardless, it’s going to be FAR less frustrating and FAR more efficient for them to be polite–or at least, not shouty.

  124. CastIrony*

    Because I know people don’t like to wait in line, I thank people for waiting for me to get to my till (I work at a dollar store.) instead of apologizing because I believe it diffuses some of that anger.

    But still, I freeze when people get angry at me, or we end up in a fight, so I empathize!

  125. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    Oh OP, I so feel your pain! Listen, if your manager is actually decent, they SHOULD be supporting and helping when people scream and are irate. It is no failure on your part. Also, I strongly recommend having people who can not or will not calm down and are screaming or carrying on take a “time out”–tell them that you want to listen to them and help them, but that this is a professional office and you can’t interact with you until they able to be civil. If they can’t be civil at all, get your manager to back you in having them voice their issues via email moving forward. Get your manager and/or the courtesy officer to back you in bouncing them from the office the minute they cross into abusive or threatening territory.

    I used to cry pretty much every day at the very worst property I worked at, but I had more than a few rotten encounters even at the best of them. The quality of your manager is key in surfing the Shitty Resident Wave. Much love and well wishes, OP.

  126. Wintermute*

    Late to the party, I know, but I’ve actually had formal training on this when I was handling escalated customers (read: so upset the frontline associate transferred them to me because they couldn’t calm them down or were being abused, or demanded to speak to someone with more authority) for a cellular company.

    There are no hard and fast rules, some people just don’t have the temperment required to handle upset customers and you can’t train that into them, but there are some things that help, especially if it’s not ALL of your job. My only job was handling irate and unreasonable people and helping internal associates with policy and procedure questions, that takes a harder look at whether you will be happy and successful than if you only occasionally deal with screaming people.

    First, one key is to identify your triggers. Everyone has them, for me one big one was when they were insulting my coworkers’ intelligence and ability– because I knew those coworkers and I also knew chances are they were doing their best to reasonably handle an unreasonable person. For other people in my training class triggers were insults to their intelligence, people who already had received heavy concessions who were demanding more (I wish more businesses realized that if you give in to screaming you are training your customers to scream), being condescended to was another common one.

    Once you know those you are able to identify when you know you will get upset, that helps. Unfortunately when you’re in person it’s harder, you can’t put someone on mute, take a few deep, abdominal breaths and calm yourself down. But on the phone? don’t be afraid to do so! If it’s in person you can still step back, create some physical distance (counters really help here, or a desk) and take a moment. Obviously, you can’t stand there like a statue but finding an excuse to “look something up” or “review your policies” or “see what we might be able to do” gives you time to process, think and decide. A few deep breaths, even while they’re ranting, is a huge help. If you’re very upset, stopping and counting to five, any number of distractions to interrupt your own thought process can help.

    In addition, if you’re taking escalated customers who are given to you by associates. Create a little time delay, not too long that they get even more upset but being briefed by your team member and going in knowing the situation help immensely. All my calls were warm transfers, the associate called, told me the situation, I had the account up and ready and had an idea of what was going on.

    Also, it helps to separate out reasonable and unreasonable complaints. If the complaints are reasonable then you can often take ALL the wind out of their sails and terminate the cycle of them working themselves up just by agreeing! Obviously you have to word things carefully but oftentimes someone who was really upset was totally deflated by “I understand, I agree with you, if that’s how it happened then that wasn’t okay and it wasn’t right”. Some people, of course, don’t have reasonable complaints, or have a whole head of steam built up other places that’s venting here (you know the situation: their spouse has been lazy around the house, the kids made a mess, one of them got in trouble at school, they had their own unreasonable customers at work, there’s nothing in the house for dinner, and now this!)

    Repeating back what you heard and your understanding of the sitaution also really helps. It confirms you actually understood the situation and are focusing on the right aspect of the problem, it engages your analytical mind to help you get your emotional feet under you, and it really does help calm down customers because they know they were heard. I think part of the problem here might be “I’ll see what we can do” is SO GENERIC that it will never placate anyone. I’m hearing part of your problem may be not knowing what to say– don’t make it ‘script sounding’ but have a pattern you use to give you confidence: Give specifics, “So what I’m hearing is you’re upset about _____,” talk about solutions in the past if any apply, “normally in those situations we ______.” That alone may be enough, but again those are things you can say with confidence and strength, you know what you heard, you know you know what you’ve done in the past. Then you can add if necessary, “in your situation I think we might be able to _____ or _____ let me check.”

    Mental framing also really helps, especially with the unreasonable ones. Imagine how exhausting it must be to be that upset over minor issues all the time! living like that must SUCK. It’s not an issue with you or your company, this person is this way with everyone, because of their own problem. Nothing personal, just business. Sometimes I’ve had to mute a phone and laugh because of how ludicrous they were behaving– obviously that’s less than ideal in person.

    Also, having a good grip on what you can and can’t do and where your bosses will back your play is vital. I, in my role, had the ability to ask for us to “fire” a customer. It would have to go through the office of the president and was not to be done lightly but having that in my back pocket knowing that I had an option for the truly abusive and unreasonable was a powerful comfort. I had all the power, they had relatively little, there’s no need for me to react emotionally to their provocations because I have better options.

  127. Half Dad, Half Misfit*

    Maybe some books on how to calm down angry people without caving in to their unreasonable demands would be useful? See if your local library has: Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss (an ex-FBI negotiator), or Verbal Judo by George Thompson (by an ex-cop)

  128. MrsRamsey*

    I also work in property management and my experience is that people are tired of being home, quarantined and are getting uglier and uglier with their tone of voice and demands. Try to listen to them calmly. Sometimes I just hold the phone away from my ear and let them go off. Remember whatever the situation it’s not something You did to them personally. It’s ok to say let me check on whatever and get back to you, and then make sure you do get back to them. Get a list of resources you can refer them to. It might be a county agency like the health department. I often refer people to Angies list or homeadvisor.com for repair people as we are not allowed to recommend specific
    vendors. It’s also ok to stand up for yourself and tell people you will not tolerate their verbal abuse and hang up after warning them you will do so. And I don’t mean slam down the phone but very calmly say I’m hanging up now.Sometimes your manager will have to step in. I try to listen when my manager has difficult callers to learn how I can improve my responses. I will also send her a draft email or read one I’m about to send
    for feedback before I send it which has been invaluable. And the biggest lesson I need to learn is to not take their comments personally.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Wait, what? You can’t suggest vendors? You don’t setup the fixes even? How is that a thing?! This is blowing my mind right now.
      If something in my place breaks, I call my property management and they send out the maintenance crew and if they can’t fix it, they call the plumber, electrician or whatever it may be. And if it’s my fault, they’ll send me a bill for it. I could never accept a living arrangement where someone is like “that sucks, call a plumber, I suggest you look on Angieslist o.O”

      People are tired of being at home but more so, they’re trapped and they’re going to find more issues when they’re doing more laundry, more dishes, using their bathrooms more, etc. Before there was nowhere to go, I would let minor things go but being stuck with it, I’m like “This is way more annoying now that I have to fixate on it every day!”

      1. Lizzo*

        This could be a situation where the property manager is handling condos and only has an agreement to do certain things for the building but not for individual units. For example, the management company handles collection of assessment payments; maintenance of the common areas, building exterior and landscaping; payment for insurance and building-wide bills like water, etc. Fixes in an individual unit would be the responsibility of the unit owner.

  129. Jen*

    I agree with a lot of the comments here but an important thing for you to do is play up your authority. I’ve done a lot of customer service and often (not always) just telling someone you are an authority figure can help calm them down because they will recognize you as someone who can fix their problem. This works especially well if someone in a lower position passed them along to you. Most people who are throwing fits to someone who doesn’t have the authority to change it, will present themselves differently to the person who can bend the rules for them.

    Also, try to be empathetic and assume that they’ve just had a really bad day. Some people are just jerks but a lot of times, especially right now, people are having a really hard time and this was just the last straw or the one thing they feel like they can change. This is especially true if they aren’t normally like this. I have had people apologize for yelling at me later and finding out they had been dealing with really difficult circumstances. It doesn’t make it excusable that they yelled at you but it helps me to take it less personally and focus on fixing the issue for them.

    1. CountryLass*

      I think one of my favourites was a lady who apologised to me for how she was on the phone. I chuckled and told her that she didn’t even register on my ‘bad customers’ radar for the week, but it was nice of her to call!

  130. Chickaletta*

    I have a tendency to freeze up as well when I’m put on the spot or in a difficult conversation and my tip is this, if it hasn’t been suggested already: Create a written complaint procedure for yourself to follow during the conversation. You can keep it on your computer screen or in a folder where the other person can’t see it. As part of my job, I occasionally take complaint calls from a customer and in the heat of the moment it’s an enourmous asset for me to visually see the steps I need to take and what information I need to get from the customer to help resolve their issue. By the end of the call, they’re usually calmer knowing that someone asked for specific details and told them what the next steps were.

    Of course there’s a few people who stay upset, especially if they’ve been passed around without resolution, but as the assistant manager you should be able to reassure them that you have the authority to finally resolve their issue. Also, on occasion, keep in mind that people are jerks and they lie. They make the situation sound worse than it is, tell you that nobody at your company ever calls them back even though they do, and are just all around shitty people. But hopefully you’ll also get to experience the satisfaction of resolving a problem for someone who is truly good and deserves help. There’s wonderful joy in that.

  131. Stephanie*

    I don’t know if someone has said this, but I’ve always had better experiences with conflict or confrontational situations when I “Begin with the end in mind.” What that means is similar to what most are saying. Know exactly the resolution that you want to come to. Write down and practice navigating the obstacles or barriers that the confrontational person can come up with. And keep steering the conversation in a way that keeps it on YOUR roadmap. Yes, they are telling, but you can listen and then take control of the conversation. You can even practice asking them open ended questions so they find resolutions to their situation they are angry about…. with their own mouth. And this type of conversation needs to be practiced to become confident and comfortable.

    Speak with your manager, and practice out loud. Try to remember that their anger is not a reflection of you. Their outburst is a reflection of them. Reminding myself that (like an affirmation) helped me to build confidence.

  132. Sarah*

    1. Let them get their frustrations out before you respond (but set a boundary if they become abusive).
    2. Acknowledge their perspective (“Yeah, that sounds frustrating.”). You can even thank them for letting you know about the issue.
    3. Consider your options for addressing the concern
    3. Offer to identify a resolution, even if you need to request time to explore your options.
    4. Don’t take it personally (it’s rarely about you)!
    5. Request your manager’s support when you need it.

    1. Sarah*

      Oh, and take a breath before you respond so you can answer with a clear head and buy yourself an extra second to filter what you say!

  133. Sarah*

    This may have already been said, but the people who are upset and yelling or whatever are not talking to you. They are talking to the building management. You happen to be inhabiting that role just now, but they would be yelling at anyone in that role. It’s not about you.

    They are not speaking to you. They are speaking to the company you work for. Don’t get it confused and you’ll do better.

  134. CaVanaMana*

    I get yelled at a lot in my job.

    Step 1) wait for them to stop, let them tire themselves and then wait another moment before responding so they have to start wondering if you’re even listening. Don’t pause too long or they’ll start up again.
    Step 2) tell them you agree with whatever it was that sounded like it was most important to then. Some people want you to feel what they’re feeling and others are more reasonable and you can agree with facts. The agreement makes them think you’re one of their tribe.
    Step 3) repeat whatever it is that they’re asking for in appropriate terms and ask if that’s what they meant.
    Step 4) say something that promises you’ll find a resolution and present it.

    Rinse and repeat as necessary. Often if you misjudged the important bit (ie facts were important but you tried empathy instead) they’ll start yelling again.

    Most important: Accept sometimes people are going to continue to be unhappy. That’s a them problem. It’s not a you problem. You’re not responsible for other people’s feelings. You are responsible for your actions.

    And if you know those steps won’t work, take a risk and make the kind of joke that will snap ’em back into reality and realize how ridiculous their behaviour is and before too long make a self deprecating joke right after. You’re both idiots and that’s your common ground.

  135. nope*

    There is no excuse for yelling. When customers would do that to me I would ask them to lower their voice or I could not continue the conversation. If they didn’t I would hang up. You don’t need to take that from anyone.

  136. Former ops manager*

    A trick that worked for me when I handled complaints at a software company was to thank the person for bringing the problem to my attention. It often grated to do it, especially if they were rude, but it completely reframes the conversation and the roles you’re both playing. The customer starts out as angry soldier on a crusade and your response places them as plucky helpful assistant.

  137. CountryLass*

    I think the role play idea could help, and I think at one stage you are going to have to get a co-worker to REALLY go to town on you, but that is after a bit of practice.

    And I know it doesnt seem like it will help, but something that I have always found that works is; just let them talk! I’ve spent years working in customer service roles, including 2 years at a theme park so I got used to being whined at. The main thing is, remember it is rarely personal. They are upset, they are frustrated and they want to feel they are being listened to. So, let them get it off their chest. Nod, go “uh-huh” or “I see” etc so they know you are listening, then let them wind down. Use this time to plan your response, so you don’t feel like you are on the back foot. If they try to interrupt, just politely explain that you let them talk, and you would appreciate the same courtesy so that you can help find a solution. I work as a residential lettings manager, and that is a tactic I use quite often. When people are spoiling for a fight, metaphorically throwing punches at a bag of wind does nothing, there is nothing for them to fight against and they get tired.

    You also need to set a firm boundary on behaviour you will and will not accept from residents. Although I suggested getting a coworker to play a really angry part, that is so you won’t be shocked if it comes up, which it will. I do not allow my tenants to swear or shout at me. I will allow swearing as a means of venting ie the ******* lock broke, but not directed at me or one of my colleagues. They are warned that I will not put up with it, and that if it happens again, I will end the call and speak to them when they are calmer.

    It’s hard to begin with, I hate confrontation. I had someone get really angry down the phone at me, and the office was congratulating me on how calmly I handled it. Then they found me shaking in the kitchen a few moments later. Think fake it til you make it. Let it wash over you.

  138. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    I’m a former service industry working, now lawyer, I’m used to having angry people yell at me in a lot of settings. It always sucks, but you can definitely overcome the reaction you’re describing. My former coworker and I came up with a name for people who seem committed to staying angry and taking it out on other people, and we say “they are in a state of dispute.” For me, it helps to try to detach from the emotion of the conversation (I don’t need to match it, and it wouldn’t help if I did) and sort of treat the whole thing like a puzzle. For me it’s helpful to remind myself in the moment that this is just a yelling person, they are behaving unreasonably, and all I need to do is listen for what’s important. I try to listen for the reasonable question amidst the vitriol and just ignore the bad behavior that is directed at me. The more you can remind yourself that this is not about YOU, the better. Having some scripts ready to go that tell the person you listened and when/how to expect an answer is definitely a good idea. For callers, do you have the ability to put them on hold briefly to collect yourself? “Wow, I understand why you’re frustrated. Can you hold for a moment while I look to see what I can do?” Even if you just use that time to take a few deep breaths, the pause may also diffuse the caller a little bit too, especially because you can take control when you come back, “OK thanks for your patience, I want to take x,y,z steps and I will be in touch this afternoon with an answer. Thanks for calling.”

  139. ReadingTheStoics*

    So many helpful tactics, and I would definitely do some practicing and mindset pivots as first things to try.
    And…I have just learned that there is a thing in neurodiversity called RSD – rejection-sensitive dysphoria. If dealing with rejection in many places is causing a very-different-from-most-people-such-that-life-becomes-undoable reaction…you might mention this to your doctor.

  140. Novocastriart*

    I have had similar experiences and over time, have learned a couple of techniques that really help me to focus and respond to difficult situations.

    Early on, it was scripts. I had scripts/talking points for every single situation I could come up against at work. I didn’t need to refer to them often, but kept them in a folder in case I couldn’t articulate a suitable response. This is particularly helpful if it’s over the phone but even having written down my thoughts helped me in face to face discussions later.
    What are the common complaints? Can you formulate a general or specific response to each of them, or even have a ‘I hear what you’re saying and it concerns me that this has happened, let me talk to x/look at y and come back to you with a solution by … thanks for letting me know, I’ll get back to you bye’.click.

    The other thing that has really helped (a newer development brought on by a great boss) is recognising/finding the authority to act on your instinct/knowledge. You’re in your role because someone thought you could do it – identify what solutions you are ‘allowed’ to put in place on your own, or what will need approval from where. Draft a decision tree – if this happens, I will do X, of that happens, i will do why. Getting clarity on how you want to respond to problems will help you see them as issues that need resolution, not personal attacks.

    Dealing with people where they live must be stressful in a way that other roles aren’t – because if people have a problem with their home, there’s a whole new level of uncertainty and angst colouring their actions.

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