If there is a chance the person will become violent, forget this material and focus on keeping yourself safe.
If the person is not going to be violent, try:
Step 1. Pause. Collect yourself. Discover what the confrontation is about.
Pausing can slow your heart and your thoughts.
If you can let the person vent without you feeling violated or threatened, let them vent.
Step 2. Listen to the person explain why they are angry, and don’t interrupt them.
Step 3. After the person has stated their case, pause again.
Again, you need time to collect your thoughts and consider your response. If the person badgers you, ask them to wait. Tell them, ‘Hang on, I’m thinking. ‘You have every right to take the time that you need to think about the situation.
Step 4. Ask questionsif you don’t fully understand the person’s concerns.
‘Give me an example.’
‘What precisely have I done to prompt this anger?’
Step 5. Prove you have listened by summarising their concern:
‘You’re saying that you don’t like the way I mock you. Is the correct?’
‘Your concern is that . . . . Is that correct?’
This lets the person know that you have:
– listened to what they have said,
– understood what they have said.
– taken them seriously.
It also gives you further time to collect your thoughts, and it can reduce the intensity of the situation.
Step 6. If you can empathise with the person, express it.
(Imagine what they might be feeling, and let them know it.)
‘I can see why you’re angry and I wouldn’t like that either.’
Step 7. Give your response.
Work with them to solve their problem.
‘What needs to happen?’
‘What can we both do to rectify the situation?’
‘From now on . . .?’
If the person treats you badly, respond with something like,
‘When you speak to me like that I have trouble focusing on what you are saying.’
‘If you speak to me like that it makes it harder to find a solution.’
‘How would you feel if someone spoke to you like that?’
‘It’s not okay that you speak to me in that way. Speak to me with courtesy.’
Q. ‘I won’t remember any of this.’
You could make a game of it with a friend.
At least remember to pause. Give yourself time to collect your thoughts.
Q. ‘How do I deal with hostile customers?’
If you are an employee, ask your supervisor for their policy. Ask for training, including role plays. Expect clear instructions and scripts of possible scenarios.
When I encounter a retail employee standing at the door to prevent theft, I sometimes ask them what they would do if someone walked out with unpaid goods? Are they supposed to tackle the thief? Follow them? Invariably, the employee doesn’t know. The employer hasn’t given them a procedure to follow!
If you don’t know how to respond to a hostile customer (or a thief) ask for training.
If you are the employer, or the sole trader, figure out your own policy regarding hostile customers. (You might want to get legal advice about what you can and can’t do.) Do you want to keep the customer for the future, or can you afford to reject business?
The steps above apply to friendly discussions as well. The next time you’re with a friend having a chat over a cup of coffee, take turns to apply the technique. One person can talk about a problem in their life, and the other can respond using the tips above. Have this page in front of you and follow the steps methodically.
Do it regularly and you will become adept at dealing with hostile people.