“How do I not to turn negative after being yelled at by customers all day?” asked a workshop attendee. My first thought was “I hope she’s not talking about me!” My second thought was “Yelling? Are you sure? Or, is that how it sounded in your head after a long day.”

So when someone else is being negative, how do you stay or get positive? You need to know why the volume has been turned up. Chances are the yelling person isn’t the cause of the loudness. How could it be something other than them? Do a “volume” inventory to double check that the external yelling is where all of the sounds are coming from. After going through the following checklist you may just say “thank you” to the person who is yelling for providing this very important information!

“Customers are yelling at me” inventory checklist:

1. Am I tired?
What is the status of your personal energy? In my first customer service position, I worked full-time and went to school. Rushing everywhere, I felt stressed and tired and I was certain everyone was yelling at me. Overscheduling, under-sleeping, poor health habits and life events can turn up the volume in your head. Everything and everyone sounds louder than it is.

2. Am I getting enough attention?
What is the internal customer service strategy? Service people must be served. In other words, customer service people require attention (equal to or greater than what is desired by the customer) in order to provide the same level of service externally. Sometimes it’s as simple as having a manager notice your effort, having a co-worker help without being asked or having someone ask how your day is going.

3. Is a system component broken? Policies and procedures do not (or no longer) work as intended. What is the check-out procedure? What control do you have and what needs authorization? What are the paperwork/documentation requirements? Does the physical layout help the process? When the starter on your car begins to go bad there’s a catch – a delay – before the engine turns over. If it’s not addressed the problem will get worse until the car won’t start at all. System problems create more perceived noise the longer they are unattended.

4. Am I bothered by something outside of work? If none of the above are true, (you are rested, cared for, and operate in a well-oiled system) then something is personally bothering you. What you see (or hear) in others is only a reflection of what you feel. When I only see “angry” – and I’ve had enough sleep, loving family/friends/co-workers support me, the system is well thought out – then I know (even though I don’t want to know) that something is wrong in my camp. Are you where you should be? Do you need to make a difficult personal change? Do you have someone to forgive or something difficult to say?

5. Is it everything? It’s likely a bit of everything or a couple of issues happening at the same time. People (and, therefore, customer service) are complex. You are not taking care of you. Other people are not taking care of you (because they are not taking care of themselves), the system is not firing on all cylinders and you have at least one (I have several) unresolved issue. This is the crap of being human.

What can you do? [WARNING: you are probably not going to like this answer. How do I know? Because I don’t like the answer!] First, start with #4 – the something that is bothering you that is separate from your work. Pull this Band-Aid off (confront the deeper issue) and you automatically take better care of yourself and see system issues for what they are – impersonal business problems.

If you do see a better way (system fix) to do things make sure you share it with people who can make changes (complaining about it to your coworkers or significant other releases frustration but doesn’t change anything). But, don’t try to address a system issue before addressing the “you” issues. The only way to see a system problem clearly is to remove the other issues. And, when you are energetic, cared for and have a “good” relationship with yourself people will listen to your concerns and ideas.

Then, (and this isn’t easy either) determine what you need (appreciation, breaks, training, time off, achievable goals) and ask for it. Find one way to take better care of yourself (in my retail job I admitted that I overscheduled and my work hours were reduced to a manageable level).It might not be easy but give it a shot. You may sleep better, balance life better and be a better judge of when the yelling is real or amplified by other things.

Someone might actually be yelling at you. If that’s the case and all things are right in your world, empathy and patience will feel easy. When it doesn’t feel easy, there is more to the volume than the other person’s mouth. The yelling you hear is information. It’s a signal that it’s time to check in. Tired? Getting enough attention and support? System malfunction? Something more personal bothering you? Now smile and say “Thank you!” to the person who sounds like they are yelling. It may turn out to be the best information you’ve had all day!

Wishing you only pleasant sounds.