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Be Clear, Be Kind

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Customer service is still the bedrock of any good business. This hasn’t changed, regardless of the “people hate us on Yelp” sticker popularity. And trust me, I’m the type of person to tell somebody to go to hell if they are acting untoward.

But the truth is, while there’s a time and place for the outright banning of people, that time isn’t at the beginning of a seemingly negative interaction. It’s always a last resort, and it’s probably best to leave the profanity and hostility out altogether.

At the outset of dealing with an upset person, It’s important to ask yourself, “what caused this person to be upset?”

Chances are they are upset because there is a conflict between what they expected to happen and what actually happened. This usually stems from a lack of clarity on your part.

Especially if this is the first issue you’ve had with this person, your job in this moment is to understand where the lack of clarity/understanding occurred. What was this lack of clarity? What were their expectations and what did we communicate?

Then you need to think about whether it’s reasonable or not that that somebody could have misinterpreted what you said or wrote (it usually is, at least if you look at it from their perspective). This is why I believe written copy should be short and to the point. As an editor friend of mine says, “Clarity trumps everything.”

Once a misunderstanding has occurred, what exactly do you do?

Kill them with kindness. It’s the go-to proverb for dealing with difficult people for a good reason.

When you employ kindness and empathy when confronted with difficult people or miscommunication-induced confrontations, you literally disarm your “opponent.” They are often taken aback by your attitude because, when you act with kindness, they begin to think they might get what they want. They stop looking for a fight and start looking for a solution. They see a light at the end of the tunnel.

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A coworking space is no exception here.

It’s tempting to think, especially if as the Operations Manager, that a member with a problem is a problem member. It’s tempting to think that when a member needs something they are interrupting our “real work.” This just isn’t true. All members have problems and all members have different ways of looking at the world than we do.

The trick here is to employ real empathy. You can’t fake empathy; don’t event try. Fake empathy comes off as this sort of underpaid-call-center-employee-esque form of  bullshit, and people can smell it from a mile away.

Employing real empathy is hard. It often means suspending disbelief, suspending judgement, and giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. Doing so doesn’t mean you need to admit fault right now. You only need to admit that there is clearly a misunderstanding, that this person’s feelings are valid, and that you are invested in finding a solution.

As facilitators of community, it’s imperative that we listen, empathize, and if it’s reasonable to do so, admit fault for not being as clear as we could have been.


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