How to contradict someone, when you do in customer support?

At times, conflict arises in customer support. A says a thing, B says the opposite to that affirmation:

  • Client, person A: You should take the first road left on the street.
  • Customer care representative, person B: No one takes that road! (notice the exclamation point)

If you’re person A, and a customer care representative (B) gave you that answer, it’s very hard to continue from here. You have just taken all the possible liberties of person A to continue. Even if you are right, even if really no one takes it on that road, you should avoid communicating like person B. What are some alternatives to this scenario?At times, conflict arises in customer support. A says a thing, B says the opposite to that affirmation:

  • Client, person A: You should take the first road left on the street.
  • Customer care representative, person B: No one takes that road! (notice the exclamation point)

If you’re person A, and a customer care representative (B) gave you that answer, it’s very hard to continue from here. You have just taken all the possible liberties of person A to continue. Even if you are right, even if really no one takes it on that road, you should avoid communicating like person B. What are some alternatives to this scenario?

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First, let’s better understand the problem. What’s wrong with: “No one takes that road!”. See this downward aggressiveness:

  • High aggressiveness:
    • You’re stupid!
    • You’re stupid, since no one takes that road!
    • No one takes that road, you stupid!
  • Average to high aggressiveness:
    • No one takes that road!
  • Low aggressiveness:
    • No one takes that road because …
    • In my personal opinion, no one takes the road …
    • I haven’t seen anyone taking that road, why would you do it?
  • Very low aggressiveness:
    • If you decide to take that road, the consequences would be … Are you sure you’re up to it?

There may be moments in life where too much thinking and analysis might hurt you. At those time, bluntly saying “you’re stupid!” might yield results. But, in general, one should go as lower aggressiveness as possible.

The trouble with an assertion such as “You’re stupid!” is that there is no real way of answering to it. Even if the person answers “I’m not stupid!”, this implies, actually: “I’m not stupid, you are stupid for saying this”. Instead of focusing on the matter at hand, the problem is on the people’s characters, and these should be out of the debate (no ad hominem, please!).

Alternative I – Alternative answers, saying pretty much the same thing, but allowing the liberty of a continuation of the discussion – get personal, say that it’s your view, not general:

  • Customer care representative, person B: From my experience, no one takes that road. (remove the exclamation, keep it cool; now it’s my experience, I can contradict this easily)
  • Customer care representative, person B: I personally know no one who takes that road.
  • Customer care representative, person B: I find this surprising, since I know of no one who takes that road.
  • Customer care representative, person B: I’m surprised to hear you say so, since I know of no one who takes that road.
  • Customer care representative, person B: You might be right, but I personally I know of no one who takes that road.

Alternative II – Another approach is to just give reasons. So instead of: “no one takes the road”, say the reasons for it:

  • Customer care representative, person B: I saw no one taking that road, and I think the reason is that it’s just a too long distance, compared to the path you are suggesting.
  • Customer care representative, person B: To me, taking that road would take too long, it’s much shorter on the other road. Plus, I never saw anyone taking that road.
  • Customer care representative, person B: I find it much simpler to take the other road, and I saw that a lot of people take that road, too.

(note: you can say the reasons for which you think person A is wrong, you can also say the reasons for which you think you are right; there are two ways of going deeper into this.)

  • Customer care representative, person B: I think you might be wrong in taking that road, it’s a much longer distance than the other option, which I suggest.
  • Customer care representative, person B: I think your option for a road is wrong, since it will take you much longer than the option I’m suggesting.

Alternative III – Another option would be to keep the options opened:

  • Customer care representative, person B: Why do you prefer this road? I saw no one taking that road, and I think the reason is that it’s just a too long distance.
  • Customer care representative, person B: What makes you say so? I saw no one taking that road, and I think the reason is that it’s just a too long distance.

In my opinion, this question requires an answer and also limits the freedom of no answer. I prefer alternatives I and II, since the third alternative forces and pushes me to explain myself “Oh, I take this road because …”. The first two alternatives I gave make a statement, which can be ignored. Generally, a person would find it necessary to explain itself “Oh, but I take this road because I prefer a long walk”, but at times a person might just want to ignore your assertion. Or it can just say “Thanks for the tip”, or something like that. To make a joke out of this, “I’m afraid to ask you a question about this, since I’m afraid I might get an answer”.

Some general rules, based on the examples in this article:

  • In a contradiction, avoid at all costs increasing the tension. No exclamation marks, no imperatives! (pun intended)
  • When you contradict someone, try to make it clear that it’s your personal opinion. “In my view”, “from my experience”, “well, I find it”. This can make it easier for the other person to contradict you. It’s not a universal rule, it’s your own personal rule. That can be easily contradicted.
  • When you present a contradiction, try, at times, instead of summarizing things, to go into details. “You’re wrong!” is general. More specific is “You’re wrong, because …” is more specific. Even more specific is “I think you are wrong because of X. The evidence which leads into X is O, P and Q.” Try to go from very general (“Take the umbrella!”), to more specific (“Take the umbrella, it’s raining!”), to even more specific (“Take the umbrella, it’s raining, and you’ll get a cold”). This going-into-details thing actually never ends (“Take the umbrella, it’s raining, you might get a cold, this will provoke you sufferance, generally people don’t like sufferance, you should avoid suffering”).
  • You might want to ask the other party, when you contradict it, of their reasons “What makes you think so”, but to me this is rather limiting the options of answer, and, thus, I don’t favor it as much.

There are other paths to go, like first saying why you think persona A might be right (“If you wonder if the other road has a better view of the city, you are right”), or by first stating that you also do some things which person A might relate to (“I also take other roads at times …”), you might even want to cut the other persons possible objections (“Also, if you think there are stray dogs and beggars on that road, you are wrong!”), but these are rather optional. Avoiding cutting liberties, as the example I started the articles with, is not something which is optional. You should always avoid cutting liberties from that other person.

This blog post was inspired by a friend which said, while meeting me at a certain point: “But you gave me a wrong map!”. Even if I knew I probably haven’t, there was no way for me to answer this assertion without starting (even a small) conflict.

If the tension of reading this article was too much, have a one minute laugh:


Note: Also see the Yahoo! Group on which I present similar issues:IMRo. To join, email imro-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and reply to the confirmation email.

I am a Freelancer. My expertise is in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) / UX (user experience) / WordPress. Co-founder of lumeaseoppc.ro (series of events on SEO & PPC) and cetd.ro (Book on branding for MDs). On a personal level, I like self-development - events, sports, healthy living, volunteering, reading. I live in London, and lots of things live in me.

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