L – Listen
This is the first and most obvious step of dealing with wet cats, yet I think it’s the most misunderstood. We’re supposed to let them vent, make eye contact with them, and offer a few verbal and non-verbal nods to let them know we’re still listening. That’s what is going on, on the outside.
What’s going on inside you, though? A whole different conversation. You could be mocking them, cussing them out (especially if they started it first), or desperately thinking of something – anything – to shield yourself from the crap being thrown at you.
But it’s that defense mechanism that puts you in danger. Trying to maintain two different mood and behavior states makes you a prime candidate for burnout and any number of stress-related disorders.
So how do you shut off all the inner talk? It’s a matter of focus…giving yourself something else to focus on, that is, while showing the wet cat that you’re still listening to them. The best tactic I’ve seen is to start taking notes. Write down everything the wet cat says. It doesn’t matter if you can remember everything they say without them. To the wet cat, you have the IQ of a turnip. Writing notes sends a subtle yet unmistakable message that their words matter, and that you’re committed to helping.
E – Empathy
Empathy is feeding back your understanding of what the wet cat is feeling and why they’re feeling it. Merely saying “I understand” doesn’t cut it, and could tick them off all over again. You’re not trying to analyze them or have them talk about their deep-seated issues with mom. Empathy builds a bridge between you and wet cat to bring their emotional temperature down, which helps defuse the situation much faster.
Empathy was a valuable skill I first learned while working as a crisis and suicide counselor years ago. It helped keep folks in severe psychological pain from hurting themselves temporarily…or permanently.
A – Ask
“Who/what/when/where/why?” works for journalists and wet cats. And when you get the details, make sure you write ‘em down. You’ve gotten this far – you don’t want to re-dunk the cat by forgetting a key piece of info.
R – Refocus, Restate, and Resolve
The book Customer Service for Dummies features this fantastic question: “What does this customer need, and how can I provide it?” Not only does it give you a chance to prove to the wet cat that you’ve got the whole story, it helps you maintain your focus and listening skills throughout the entire interaction.
N – Next!
By using the first four steps – and they’re used in tandem, not necessarily in sequence – you’ve hopefully got a tame cat at this point. But what about you? You’re probably a little emotional, a little unwilling to deal with another wet cat immediately, and need a few moments to reset yourself physically and emotionally.
So what do you do? I’ll share those tips, and some final thoughts on this subject, tomorrow.