Carmen Coose

Story Vault

By Carmen Coose

We’ve all had a caller who refuses to follow our instructions, and, as you grow as a dispatcher, you will learn to recognize the point where a conversation has transitioned to an argument. This is where you should stop, listen, and take the time to understand why the caller is so frustrated. Keep in mind that the caller’s anger may stem from previous encounters with calling 9-1-1 or anxiety related to the emergency at hand.

There is a phrase, however, that may give you, the calltaker, an opportunity to make the caller stop and listen: “Let me see if I understand you correctly.”

This phrase works because an angry person wants to be heard. More often than not, a person is angry because he or she feels that no one is listening and no one understands. The person believes he or she is being ignored. Subconsciously, an angry person will raise his or her voice because that’s the only way the person believes someone will pay attention.

The common response to an angry or upset caller raising his or her voice is to raise yours, but we need to make a conscious effort to keep ourselves calm and use a steady, firm tone that is not condescending.

Before you can honestly use the phrase “Let me see if I understand you correctly,” you need to listen carefully and attempt to understand the caller; if you follow up the request with an inaccurate understanding of what is going on, this will only validate the caller’s feelings and progress toward the point of no return. The caller will have more ammunition to make verbal jabs at you, or the system, and your efforts to gain the caller’s confidence may be lost for this call.

You must always listen first and consider how the situation looks through the caller’s eyes. For example, a 9-1-1 caller who needs an ambulance does not know if or when one was dispatched, so in the caller’s eyes you will not send anyone to help until you are done asking questions.

Once the caller knows that you understand what he or she wants to happen, you’re removing the possibility of a misunderstanding and opening the door for calm communication. This also clears a way for you to be understood. This is not a guarantee that the caller will keep anger in check for long, but it does help create an atmosphere for peaceful communication that results in faster, more effective calltaking and dispatching.

We must also keep in mind that our encounter with a caller may carry over to how the caller treats the responders arriving on-scene. For example, the caller’s or patient’s family will often comment about the time it takes the ambulance to arrive because of the misconception that an ambulance is always ready for response. Instances like this can be used as “teaching moments,” with the calltaker explaining to the caller that a unit has been dispatched and that the continuing questions are to get more information to help responders.

We all share the goal to achieve the best outcome for everyone. Just like having a bad encounter with 9-1-1, having a good encounter may also have an impact on the caller and the flow of information throughout the experience. When callers know that you care enough to listen, they will likely respect the calltaker’s “Let me see if I understand you correctly” statement. Never forget that empathy is a powerful tool, and anytime we can move a conversation from one of hostility and anger to one that is a calm exchange of information, all parties involved are better off.