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Not all words carry the same weight, even when they have very similar meanings. To be successful in validating the feelings of your next angry caller, make sure you have an arsenal of words ready to capture the correct degree or level of the caller’s emotion, suggests John P. Biancardi, MA, chief training officer for Conflict Solvers, a health care training firm in Laguna Niguel, CA, which specializes in conflict resolution and mediation.
"The two primary feelings case managers must deal with are anger and frustration," he notes. "Telling an angry caller they sound upset’ or miffed’ simply doesn’t cut it, if your caller is truly angry. If I use either of those words, I’ve missed the level of the caller’s anger and lost any hope of gaining the caller’s cooperation and possibly resolving this conflict at the same time."
Case managers don’t have to be mind readers to gauge the level of a caller’s emotion, but with a little practice and an adequate "feelings" vocabulary, case managers can develop a more sensitive emotion barometer, Biancardi says. He adds that case managers should not underestimate the value of finding the appropriate word to match their caller’s emotional state.
Biancardi compiled the following list of words to help describe emotions case managers must deal with regularly. The words are listed from "mild" to "moderate" to "high" levels of emotion.
Anger: annoyed, discontented, miffed, perturbed, irritated, agitated, aggravated, furious, livid, outraged.
Distress: confused, puzzled, baffled, hindered, dissatisfied, offended, disgusted, sickened, anguished.
Fear: uncomfortable, tense, anxious, concerned, apprehensive, agitated, panicky, frantic, desperate.
Belittlement: neglected, ignored, ridiculed, discredited, maligned, abused.
Depression: unhappy, discouraged, lonely, blue, downcast, excluded, left out, abandoned, mistreated, crushed, despondent.
Inadequacy: helpless, powerless, unimportant, exhausted, useless, inferior, demoralized, broken.
Elation: at ease, calm, glad, cheerful, good, happy, excited, content, enthusiastic, ecstatic.
"Case managers must never forget that there are several degrees of emotion between miffed’ and enraged.’ If you make the mistake of downplaying the degree of someone’s emotion, you won’t be a successful conflict solver," warns Biancardi.
However, he cautions, it’s not enough to accurately gauge your caller’s emotional state. You also must be as concrete as possible when you validate the caller’s feelings. For example, Biancardi explains that saying, "You seem to be angry," is not as effective as saying, "You seem to be angry that Dr. Jones is no longer a preferred provider under your health plan."