“Hey…I’m not very happy with the way your company has handled this.”

These were the first words of a highly stressed father as he stabbed his finger at my face.

As he quickly stepped into my office looking like he was ready to go all mixed martial arts on me, I pushed my chair back and readied myself for a fight.

I knew exactly why he was there- His phone call from earlier gave me a clue I’d be seeing him soon.

But why so angry?

All this…Because we towed his son’s wrecked car?

The back story: After midnight we received a call from the Highway Patrol to recover a vehicle that lost control on an ice-covered private drive (not the vehicle owner’s drive)…it ended up in the woods.  When the wrecker driver arrived the road conditions hadn’t gotten any better, and since the vehicle was not in traffic and we couldn’t safely hold the hill, we decided to come back the next morning.  We came back after the road was cleared but somewhere along the way the tow destination wasn’t communicated from the evening crew to the morning crew, and since we were ultimately responsible for the vehicle, we took it to our storage facility for safe-keeping—Standard operating procedure.

So here I was challenged with relaying this information in the midst of mortal combat.

I don’t have a degree in the Psychology of Post-Traumatic accident victims, but after having helped thousands of people wade through the aftermath of traffic accidents I believe I’ve learned—a little bit—about how they think.  And one thing I know is that when put in a position—where they have little or no control over what’s happened and what’s to follow—They freak out.  And then after a few hours or days, whatever it takes, they’ll get around to mopping up the mess.  This gives them a measure of control.

Even so—their brains, nerves or something else physiological seems to remain tender and any small amount of negative stimuli can cause them to fly off the handle again.

Of course, anger isn’t the first choice for everyone, some people plan for the worse.  And although they sometimes stumble through the process of retrieving their belongings, haggling with the insurance company, and finally deciding what to do with their vehicle—they’re calm. They’re more relaxed as a rule, either because they’re fully covered or understand that liability only insurance means; when an accident happens…They pay the bill.  Rarely will there be an altercation or a disagreement from this lot.

But then there are those who never thought it would happen to them.  They’re from the “Oh-No—I had an accident who can I blame?” crowd.  Instead of carrying the right amount of insurance or accepting responsibility in the event of an accident, their idea of damage control and loss mitigation is to blame everyone involved.  The way they see it is—The snow-plow driver, passing motorists, law enforcement, insurance companies, firefighters and the towing company have all conspired against them to take their property.  These folks find everyone else at fault for their misfortune, believing all who stand to profit from it evil.

So here I stood only 3 feet of wooden desk between me and this Goliath of a man.  No sling, no stone but secure in the knowledge that we’ve done nothing wrong.  My only obstacle: Helping him to understand that.

I had options—I could have come back screaming and thumping my head, maybe even step it up a notch and thump my chest.  But I knew—from the many mistakes I’ve made in the past—that reacting this way would only raise the stakes.  And I was fairly sure he wasn’t bluffing.

Instead of making a difficult situation worse and allowing my ego to take over I reacted in a manner he didn’t expect.  I could have used reasoning and explained the services we provide, our responsibilities, the 24-hour availability we must maintain and all the rest of it…But I didn’t.

I recognized his type—He didn’t care, at all, about our plight.  He felt he was being pushed into a corner, thinking we’d purposely done the opposite of what was asked.  In a calm tone, almost laughing about the confusion, I explained that it was only a miscommunication and that we’d be happy to take his son’s car to his home.

Stopped cold, his temperament quickly changed. He now looked and sounded more reasonable.  And after a few minutes of discussing his options and finally deciding to take it to a shop, he paid the bill and apologized for overreacting.

Now you might say that I gave in because he was just about ready to kick my neck off.  And yes I may have been slightly motivated by thoughts of self-preservation, but rather than insist that I win and he lose I quickly looked for a solution that gave us both a victory.

Working with customers is always best. Rather than taking an adversarial position and assuming that your needs are much greater and need more attention than those of your customers, stop and take a step back. Them employ a little empathy and understanding for your customers needs.  This can have the intended consequences or making everybody happy.