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19 May 1999 Issue
“The “I”s Have It”

by Kate Myers

“You obviously have an anger management problem”. This accurate
observation was made by an animal care worker after 19 minutes of being
called an “F---ing Bitch” and other things by a client whose voice over the
telephone could be heard across the room. The worker never raised her voice,
never got flustered, but she did get in trouble when the client called her boss
to complain that she had “diagnosed him over the phone”.

Unfair? Yes. Maddening? Yes. True? Yes. The fact is that no matter how
right you are, telling the other person what’s wrong with them won’t help.
It just makes them angrier and gives them something to focus on other than
the problem at hand. We’ve all done it. Sometimes, I do it with my spouse.
“The trouble with you is . . . .”. It doesn’t work very well there either.

I had two suggestions when the worker called me for help. First, no one
should take verbal abuse. That is a boundary. A boundary is a statement of
truth about yourself. Boundary setting is difficult for people in animal welfare.
We take on too much, work too hard and beat up on ourselves. We let people
violate our personal space, in order to make a difference. But, you can make
a difference without sacrificing yourself.

At the first sign of verbal abuse, you need to make your boundary clear.
How do you do that without making the person angrier? You use “I”
statements. An “I” statement is about you, not them.

“I don’t allow people to swear at me. If you swear again, I’ll need to hang up
and have you call back when you are able to speak without swearing (put
you on hold until you can stop).”

“It is difficult for me to listen to what you are saying when you raise your voice.
Are you able to lower your voice, so that I can help you?”

“What you are saying is important to me, but I am having a hard time with
the bad language and yelling. Would you like to call back when you’ve
calmed down?”

When you set a boundary -- not being sworn at – do not allow the person to
violate it. If they swear, hang up. If you don’t follow through on your
boundary, don’t blame them. You’ve made a choice to let them violate it.
If you can’t follow through, change your boundary.

This is just one simple technique that helps in dealing with seemingly
irrational people. It is part of a toolbox you need to develop if you are
going to be successful in communicating and educating people about animal
care and welfare.

Kate Myers has over 20 years’ experience of direct service in animal care
and control. She has a Masters Degree in Psychology and is a Certified
Training Specialist. Specializing in communications, customer care,
wellness and planning programs, she works as a consultant, trainer, speaker
and “organizational therapist” exclusively with animal groups. If you have
a question, comment or would like more information, contact her at
onlyhumane@seanet.com

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