Virginia, US

The other night, my husband was cooking dinner and called me to the kitchen, shouting, “Look at this!”  He was amused.  He was holding a frying pan splash guard that had somehow taken on enough fat and heat to catch fire.  When I saw the fire, I did not react with such amusement and suggested he might want to extinguish the fire quickly.  At that point, he made an error and put the fire under the tap.  As anyone who has dealt with a grease fire will appreciate, this was not a smart move.  The fire leapt higher.  My husband, no longer so amused, quickly remembered that he needed to cut the oxygen to the fire and smother it.  He did so, and although the kitchen was filled with smoke, everything was ok.

As we sat down to dinner, he wondered out loud at what point he should have realized that the fire would escalate. Me being who I am immediately associated this incident to the escalations I see on cases we’re handling for our clients. A blog was born.

Catching the Fire Early

Rather than sit in wonderment as flames spontaneously appeared, it would have been wise to smother the fire immediately.  Similarly, in most service escalations (complaints) I see, had the early signs that something was not going well been caught, and quick action taken, escalations could have been avoided. Although these signs are not as obvious as flames, we can start to recognize early signs of issues such as:

  • Back-and-forth emails repeatedly asking the same or multiple questions
  • An indication of frustration with communication, processing times, responsiveness
  • A lack of any communication at all from the client

Seeing these early signs and acting on them is crucial to avoiding a future escalation. Suggesting a phone call, ensuring prompt replies, reaching out to find out why there is no communication and digging a bit can make all the difference. On the other hand, ignoring these signs is only likely to lead to more trouble later.

Do Not Try to Extinguish a Grease Fire with Water

This only makes it worse. The fire will leap up and create a dangerous situation in which your home could burn down around you. Likewise, if we have a case showing the early signs or even more advanced signs of escalating, the first rule must be to not make it worse. If there are complaints about responsiveness, then efforts must be taken to prioritize responses. If there are issues with clarity of communications, even after a phone call, then continuing on in the hopes that it will just get better will not help. Involving one’s management in the case should assist in such situations.  Moreover, it becomes even more crucial when there are issues about communication to be fully transparent about all steps being taken even if it does not seem important. 

I have seen too many cases in my time where a case was going off track, but people have persisted just hoping the case will find its way back on track through some kind of magic. It will not happen. Proactive steps to address the situation have to be taken or it will only get worse.

Stop and Think. Plan how to Extinguish the Flames

As soon as my husband realized his error with adding water to the fire, he took half a moment to think about what he had done and what he had to do next to avoid the house burning down. By taking that half a moment, he recalled he needed to smother the flame. 

Likewise, it is wise to sometimes stop and consider for a moment what the issues really are. What is causing the client anxiety? What pressures are they under? What can be done to address the issues in a way that will ensure everyone involved that you are in control, have a plan, and understand the issues? Sometimes the answers to these questions need to be achieved through assistance from management. Regardless, stopping a moment and thinking about how to avoid an escalation, how to smother an escalation, and how to address the needs of the client, can turn everything around.

Anyway, who knew that grease fires had so much in common with immigration case escalations? Catching them early and addressing them quickly with thought and consideration is the key to success in both scenarios.  

Learn more about Janis Bailey.