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How to sail through a difficult conversation

J. Veronica Xu ( is the Chief Compliance Officer for Saber Healthcare Group headquartered in Cleveland, OH.

“When you answer that compliance line, you never know what you are going to get. Like drawing a lottery, you never know what number will end up in your hand,” one of my compliance team members shared during a departmental meeting. “The person on the phone could be crying, cursing, yelling, or screaming at you. It is so debilitating, emotionally draining, and mind-boggling when you get those types of calls.” I am sure this can resonate with many compliance professionals that handle complaint calls. Although we have a 24/7 compliance hotline operated by a third-party vendor, my team and I still receive a fair number of phone calls made directly to the compliance department.

Talking to a person about their complaint is never an easy task. The reporter could be nervous or agitated, and tensions may be high when an angry reporter is describing everything that your organization did wrong. The truth is, people don’t come to the compliance team just to have a nice conversation, although it can be more friendly and cordial than it actually is. They contact compliance because they have a complaint to file or a concern to share. Understandably, they are upset or even furious, and they would undoubtedly like to have their concerns addressed as soon as possible.

Sitting across from such an individual or being on the other end of the receiver, how would you manage these somewhat uncomfortable circumstances and obtain important information from the individual without further upsetting, irritating, or intimidating the person? In fact, it takes certain skills and techniques to tackle these challenging situations. This article aims to provide some effective communication strategies to help our fellow compliance professionals sail through difficult conversations with reporters.

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