Everyone occasionally gets trapped in a bad mood for one reason or another, and their bad moods can lead to bad actions. Defusing people is all about giving them a dose of something that could alter their mood or their thinking.
My good friend Kate calls herself an "emotional fluffer-upper." Sometimes it's just her Flintstones' Betty Rubble laugh that's enough to defuse a person. Other times she's very specific and calculating about how she goes about fluffing someone's self-esteem and attitude.
On occasion, Kate will stop me dead in my bad-mood path, grab me by both shoulders, shake me until I look her in the eye, then ask, "What exactly can I do right now as your emotional fluffer-upper to make you feel better? What do you need right now?" Let me tell you something -- it works. Sometimes all I need is to know that someone recognized that I was stuck and was willing to help me get unstuck.
A friend told me the story of a man on his airplane flight who was in a miserable, complaining mood. When the flight attendant served him his in-flight meal, he quickly handed it back with a comment about how bad the sandwich was. The flight attendant didn't skip a beat. She took the sandwich, shook her finger at it, and declared, "Bad sandwich! Bad sandwich!" I don't remember my friend saying whether or not the man was defused of his bad mood, but I know it would have defused me.
In business, the best and easiest way to defuse a complaining, irate customer is not to make excuses or to place blame for the circumstances that made the customer upset. Even if there was an excuse, and even if you could place blame, angry customers rarely care about the reasons. The best thing to do is to let them vent, let them get it all out. Once they've done that, you need only say, "I'm so sorry you were inconvenienced. What wonderful thing could I do to make you happy?"
I once had one of those awful flying experiences where flight after flight was delayed, and none of the delays were weather related. What should have been a three-hour flight turned into a fifteen-hour, multiple-city, exhausting nightmare and caused me to miss meetings in my intended city. At 3:00 a.m., by the time I was finally within 30 minutes of landing at my destination airport, I suddenly smelled something wonderful: the flight attendants were baking chocolate chip cookies! As that sweet, comforting aroma filled the airline cabin, our small group of twenty passengers waited with anticipation for the flight attendants to make their way down the aisle, handing each of us a warm cookie. I instantly abandoned my plans for an enraged letter-writing campaign against the airline and was effortlessly defused of all my anger and exhaustion -- all by one soft, freshly-baked cookie.