There are a lot of things we have to cope with when dealing with

customers – demands, negotiations, condescension, boorishness, etc. One of the things we don’t have to accept, however, is rude language. Swearing is a pretty clear line, and most customers are aware of the line as they are crossing it. When that happens, we are rarely obliged in any business sense to continue the interaction.

To identify the best way to deal with it, it’s worthwhile trying to understand the reasons that people swear. There are four primary reasons why people use profanity:

1. For effect, or attention

2. To intimidate, or establish dominance

3. Because they are frustrated or angry

4. It’s part of their normal speech pattern

The first two

are bullying tactics, the third is a result of a situation (or something you’ve done), and the fourth is often a subconscious habit.

What should you do? Well, the most effective approach to the swearing customer involves two parts:

1. Give them a mulligan

Just in case their behavior is subconscious, or in case it was actually you who pushed their buttons and drove them to this behavior, it doesn’t hurt to give them a second chance. Say something like, “Mr. Smith, I really do want to resolve this issue. But when you use that kind of language it really makes it difficult for me to focus. Can we back up and try this again without you saying all of those things about my mother?”

This, of course, won’t always have the desired effect. If it doesn’t, move straight into part 2:

2. Walk away

Be firm and unequivocal. Say something like, “Mr. Smith, I think we will have to revisit this when we can approach it more civilly.” Then walk away, or hang up the phone. No apologies.

It’s not a pleasant or an easy solution, but not many of us get paid enough to have to deal with this level of disrespect.

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