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Natural Disasters Highlight Government and NGO Need To Train Staff To Deal With Frustrated and Emotional Clientele


The overwhelming number of government employees are sympathetic to victims of natural disasters, but let's not forget that employees are under huge stresses themselves, and need to have the skills to cope with the angry, frustrated, needy, and even the desperate.

It's only May of 2011, and already reports of property destruction and loss of life are pouring in. Flooding and tornadoes are wreaking habit in the USA and Canada, not to mention the impact of disasters like the earthquake in Japan. And the American hurricane season hasn't yet begun in earnest.

Governments play central roles in helping "victims" recover both in the short and long term, but there's probably never been a case where the public feels that the government or a charitable/NGO has done enough.

Putting aside the issue of what is "enough", where does the brunt of the anger and frustration go? Victims of natural disasters are already upset, even devastated, before they interact with government staff. Sadly it is also the case that after dealing with "the government" already upset people hit the "rage" cycle.

Traditional Customer Service Training Is Not Enough

Angry, hostile, even aggressive people often act out of a sense of desperation and fear. Government personnel need the skills to help during a crisis, and defuse the anger so problem solving can occur.

Most governments and NGO's don't do a lot of customer service training even for customer facing personnel. When they do it's often of the smile and be nice type, which is fine as far as it goes, but is grossly ineffective in helping employees deal with highly emotional, and even aggressive clientele.

In a sense, when a natural disaster hits an area, unless staff have been pre-trained to deal with people in distress, they are more likely to create problems for themselves, for the clients, and for the government jurisdiction.

  • Mishandle an upset victim of a natural catastrophe and the employee (and and client) end up in protracted, vitriolic interactions leaving both even more stressed than before.
  • Media love to grab on to stories where natural disaster victims have been badly treated by an agency or government department, and that in turn means more managerial time has to go into public relations than it should, pulling people away from providing direct service to victims.

All in all, it's not a good deal for anyone, and it's shortsighted to ill prepare staff to deal with the rare, but almost certain, kinds of disasters that will occur. If it's not a hurricane, or earthquake, it might be a train derailment, toxic spill, catastrophic fire. Every government will deal with people in distress.

What Kind of Training WILL Work?

First of all, let's remember that government and NGO staff need not have counseling or highly developed clinical skills to interact effectively with victims of natural disasters. Most agencies that deal with disasters will have on staff, people specifically trained for catastrophic events, or will have arranged for those resources to be available, if and when clientele need psychological support. Here's what else is needed:

  • Government employees, often targets for angry behavior, or other difficult to handle emotional behavior, need to have basic skills in empathetic communication and listening that GOES BEYOND the usual pop psych. advice. It's too basic and often misleading, and used incorrectly, ends up inflaming situations.
  • Employees need to use the emotional momentum of clientele and turn that energy (to the extent possible) into constructive action, redirecting it away from aggression against government employees.
  • Employees also need to learn and use skills to stop angry, emotional clients from ranting (which, after a point, is not constructive for anyone), and get control of interactions so the client/customer starts listening and responding to questions, so problem solving can begin.
  • Employees need to know how to say "no" in ways that reduce the chances of customer violence and aggression.

There's a second area of training required, at least for some.

Employees who deal with groups of people need to understand and use techniques for dealing with aggressive and hostile groups -- or in other words groups containing people who do not want to hear what NEEDS to be said.

Want Specifics On Training Content?

Obviously I'd love for you to retain us to deliver your seminars on these topics, but I have a better starting point for interested parties, and it's free.

We have made available, some of the chapters from Defusing Hostile Customers Workbook For The Public Sector, including the detailed Table of Contents (TOC). If you are a trainer, government manager, HR professional, or work in an NGO working with emotionally stressed clientele, you can use the TOC to get an idea of what to include in training, and it won't cost you a nickel.

You can access the free chapters/material at the bottom this page

What about the skills needed to deal with hostile/resistant and angry groups? It so happens we developed a short summary "helpcard" with basic tips and procedures to enhance group presenter credibility and reduce audience resistance.

This helpcard, entitled Presenting To Difficult/Hostile Groups can be accessed here.

Please note that a helpcard has all its information packed into two sides of an 8.5 x 11 inch card, meant for busy learners who don't have time to read entire books.

About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


Robert Bacal

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