Think back to the last time you were in trouble with your significant quickly did you get defensive? Crossing your arms? Lowering your head and breathing heavy? Sighing loudly? And then you blew the lid off the house by dragging up the last three fights - where you felt she had wronged you - and then you went one step better by saying something mean about her mother?! You've got a full-blown fight on your hands!

Next time try this.....listen. Actively listen. Put down the I- Pad, turn off the ball game, and listen. Show with your body language you're listening. Look her in the eyes, lean forward a bit, etc. When she's done complaining and, yes, ranting, say you're sorry she feels this way and repeat back what she said....word for word if you can do it. "I am sorry you feel this way. So, I understand correctly, you're very upset that I leave my socks on the bathroom floor, my cereal bowl in the sink, and I was late picking up the kids yesterday, right?"

Listening, saying sorry, and validating the complaint by repeating the complaint word for word - or least paraphrasing - can solve the majority of the problems and diminish the need for fights. Sometimes people just want to be heard...hear their complaints and gripes about life validated. Doesn't mean necessarily you're wrong and they're right....they just need to blow off steam. Also, for some people after hearing their complaint repeated back it makes them realize they're making a mountain out of a mole hill....they're being unfair, unreasonable, and even silly.

Works for spouses and friends....also works for patients and families!

Try it next time a patient or family member unloads for a customer service problem or, worse, a medical issue or potential medical error. Listen, empathize, and validate the complaint by repeating it back to your customer(s). Also, the great thing about validating a complaint is while you are parroting back the angry words to your customer, it gives you a little time to a) calm down and b) think about how you might actually solve the problem, if a solution is necessary. And the only on-the-spot solution may be, "Again, I'm sorry this happened, I feel bad for you, and we're going to investigate what happened and get back to you by 3pm tomorrow afternoon with next steps, OK?" Remember, we don't want to throw colleagues or ourselves under the bus in a haste, but we need to be quick - and real - with the listening, empathy, and validation.

Bottom line is by listening, saying sorry, and validating, we reduce the chances of becoming defensive and escalating a situation, be it service-related or pertaining to quality of care, and give our customers the attention they crave. We avoid unnecessary fights and stay on the same side of the table as our customers - and that's the best place to be!

Sorry Works!