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The Adventures of Dan the Project Manager Man - Carefully Worded Answers

My distraught client, who didn’t pay attention during training, sent me an email in all caps, in 18 point bold font, “I HATE YOUR PRODUCT!!!” 

We have the number one product in our market.  We are part of a large global firm.  If he truly hates our product then he is in the minority of users – namely him and maybe a few others.  My first feeling was one of disappointment, then frustration and then anger. 

This user preferred to fiddle with his phone during training instead of paying attention and asking questions.  He is a regular jokester who is always interested in a good laugh and having fun.  He knows how to perform his job function very well.   But he is intimidated by new technology and new ways of doing things.  To make up for his own shortcomings he sent this unprofessional email displaying his immaturity.

He copied my executive manager.  I took his criticism personally.  I brooded over my decisions.  Soon I reached a boiling point and I was about to send him an email with some choice wording of my own.

I decided to wait one day before I sent him a reply.  I was busy with other projects and I needed to cool off.  He didn’t deserve an immediate reply.

A few hours later I came back to his email.  I thought about this particular user, his background, and his use of our software.  I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and find out why he hated our product. 

Carefully, I began my response.  “Mr. Davidson, you appear to be having a problem with our product and I want to find out some more specifics so that I can help you.”  These were not the words that I was feeling but it was the words that he needed to read.  

I received a reply.  “Dan, I was having a bad day and couldn’t figure out how to login.  Eileen was able to help me and everything is fine now.”

My jaw dropped.  This was worth sending a juvenile message to my manager and me?  I couldn’t believe it.  If I had responded with angry words I could’ve made a manageable issue unmanageable. 

My blood pressure rose with his initial email, fell with his reply that the issue was resolved, and rose again when I realized the nature of the issue.  A carefully worded reply helped diffuse a situation that never should’ve occurred.

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Carefully worded answers in difficult circumstances help determine the long term success of a project manager.  Sometimes we get blind-sided by irresponsible complaints.  Have you ever helped your reputation by responding carefully? Have you ever replied rashly?  How can we improve our responses?

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