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Sep 01 2018
Dealing with Difficult People
Joanne Martin, CCE, L.K.L Associates

As credit managers we all have marginal accounts that are higher risk. These accounts take extra monitoring, time and care, to be able to protect the balance due to your company. As you know, any account can become past due. In your attempts to collect that past due balance, your customer may give you various reasons for non-payment, broken promises etc. At that point, decisions must be made that the customer, as well as the sales department, are not happy with.

In the construction industry, we have the ability to secure the balance due for the materials supplied on a project/property, by filing a lien on the property. However, in order to be able to file a lien, certain steps must be taken when you first begin to supply materials, or labor, or services to the job. First, you must file a preliminary notice on the State Construction Registry within 20 days of your first work. Once you have done that you have lien rights on that property. As an account becomes past due, and you make the decision that you need to add some leverage to obtaining payment, you may decide it is time to file an actual lien on the property. Once the lien is filed, a notice is sent to the property owner.

During my years in credit, I have had many phone calls from irate property owners and general contractors. Here are a few examples of the conversations I have had with angry people:

A. Someone gets a notice in the mail that we filed something on their property. They want me to explain what this means. I then attempt to explain what the lien is, as well as explaining that since we provided materials to the improvement on their property, and we have not been paid, we filed the lien. At that point the property owner often becomes quite upset. Often resulting in the person to begin yelling, crying, sometimes cursing, and even using threats.

B. I have been told that we have no right to lien the property because they did not have a contract with us. Some property owners, and/or contractors, have threatened to file a wrongful lien lawsuit against the company I work for, as well as against me.

C. I have been told that I don't know what I am doing, or that I don't know what the lien laws say. Sometimes the person is yelling, or rude etc. Apparently, they are doing that as it has always worked in the past to get them what they want or need.

During conversations like these, it is often difficult to avoid allowing the yelling, crying etc., from drawing you into responding in the like manner. Why? Sometimes this may be the result of your internal turmoil over the matter at hand. I know for me, staying calm in these difficult situations is not always easy to maintain. However, in June I was able to attend the NACM National Credit Congress, held in Phoenix, AZ. There I was able to attend several seminars that addressed dealing with difficult people and situations.

In those sessions, I learned that there are some physical things you can do to assist you in toning down your responses, as well as increasing your power in that situation. Such as:

1.         Pause - Take a moment to pause. This may be difficult to do when the other person is carrying on. However, by deliberately taking a moment to do so will help to calm you, and lets you know remember that you are in control of your response.

2.         Breathe Deeply - This helps to calm you as it releases toxins from your body, getting you out of the fight or flight mode. Do this both physically as well as mentally.

3.         Move - Even if you can only stand up and take a couple of steps. Again, do this both physically and mentally. It helps calm you while it prepares you to move forward with more clarity.

4.         Relax Your Face - Changing your facial expression not only changes your appearance, it changes your brain processes, and often changes the tone of your voice.

5.         Get a Drink of Water - Water cools your system, improves your mood and helps you think clearer.

Once the situation is completed, sometimes in the same day, you need to release the anxiety and stress from your body. Moving, going for a walk, doing some exercise, talking to someone, or writing it out, are a few ways to achieve that.

Since I returned from Phoenix, I have had multiple situations (both at work and in my personal life) where I have had the opportunity to use these very helpful tools learned at Credit Congress. This is why I would strongly encourage all credit managers to take advantage of the upcoming October 2018 NACM Western Regional Conference. The Conference will be held here in Salt Lake City, allowing you to take full advantage of the educational opportunities NACM has for its members.  I hope to see you there!