Fort McMurray Fires

Collecting Debt in Tough Times: the Role of Emotional Intelligence

Debt Collection  |  3 min read

Updated January 2023

Debt collection is never an easy business. A slow economy makes it harder still, and when disaster strikes, urgency and sensitivity rise to dangerous new levels.

Take what happened in Alberta in 2016. For two years, the province’s economy had been crippled by low oil prices, the brunt of which was felt in the city of Fort McMurray, the source of more than half of Canada’s total oil revenue.

Then “The Beast” struck.

That’s the nickname given by heroic fire chief Darby Allen to the wildfire that raged through Fort McMurray displacing 90,000 people from their homes. It was a human and natural disaster from which took many years to recover. An event like this also has far-reaching economic repercussions, and in shutting down thousands of businesses, and its impact was felt by companies in Alberta and far beyond. 

It’s now 2023 we find ourselves recovering from a pandemic that’s had an even greater economic, social and emotional impact.

First-mover advantage may be what saves your company–and the jobs that depend on it.
But how do you act appropriately?

Perhaps your business is one of them. As the smoke disperses and ash settles, what do you do if your customers are among the many financially crippled organizations? It’s clear you can’t simply ignore your own obligations to employees, the bank, suppliers and landlord. Yet the optics of trying to collect debt remain as sensitive as an open wound.

At some point, the money needs to start flowing again, or more companies than necessary will fail. You know quick action may be what saves your company and the jobs that depend on it. But when is the right time, and how do you act appropriately?

The key is Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence (also known as EI or EQ) is a quality possessed naturally by a few, and that can be taught to some others. In recruiting collections staff, my team and I tailor several of our interview questions to gauge the candidate’s emotional intelligence, including their self-awareness as well as their self-regulation abilities and overall social awareness. Together, these are the traits that enable a person to understand and regulate their own emotions, and their ability to empathize with others. 

Note that I say “empathize” and not “sympathize.” Empathy is the ability to put oneself in the other person’s situation and think proactively towards a solution, whereas sympathy is to passively (and often debilitatingly) feel sorry for them. In debt collection, we are usually helping the debtor to solve one or more problems. It takes compassion, creativity, common sense and enthusiasm. 

An effective collection agency employee can analyze the situation and assist the debtor in finding feasible solutions. It’s a very delicate balance of empathy and strategy, and should never be adversarial. The debt is a problem, not a barrier. To solve the problem, we seek to identify, understand, and navigate past the barriers.

Done right, debt collection is part of the essential rebuilding that follows a major economic impact. 

This is absolutely consistent with MetCredit’s core value of respect for the individual. Respecting someone does not mean overlooking their obligations and commitments. To the contrary, a mutually respectful partnership is one where those commitments are reinforced and delivered upon. 

Don’t view collecting debt in a negative light. Remember, resolving it is solution-oriented and necessary to everyone’s quick recovery. 

Just be sure it’s done with emotional intelligence and respect. 

My team and I are happy to answer any questions and to get your receivables on track quickly and ethically. We can also help assess whether the time is yet right to take action. Just give us a shout at 1-888-797-7727 to talk about the best approach and timing for your situation, or complete this quick form.

If you’re not quite there yet, click below to download my free tipsheet for timely expert advice to collect what is owed to you now, and eliminate bad debt forever!

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Brian Summerflet Author: Brian Summerfelt

President and CEO of MetCredit, Canada's top-performing consumer and commercial collection agency

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