This weekend I had to keep cool when verbally abused whilst staying at a hotel. Whilst it was shocking and stunned me, there are always lessons to be learnt from virtually every situation.
I was staying in a lovely hotel in Yorkshire. My room was on a small corridor with four rooms. At about 12.30am I was woken by the sound of a young child crying. At first I thought the child had woken up and needed consoling by a parent. But the crying continued; got louder and through a couple of walls (I was not in the adjacent room) I could hear screaming and “Let me out” “where is mummy” “I want my mummy”. It was really distressing hearing this, but even more distressing for the child.
I had two options: ignore the crying but not be able to get to sleep as it was so loud, or try to help. I decided on the latter and called the night manager, who came up to open the door. We found a very young child distraught, terrified and screaming for his mother. In front of the hotel manager and subsequently a guest from another room, I was able able to calm down the child, although this took a few minutes.
The night manager went to find the mother who came upstairs screaming and shouting at us. Instead of saying sorry or thank you, we received a barrage of abuse and the story that she had gone downstairs for a ‘moment’ to find a drink for the child and that she ‘wasn’t drunk’. Since he had been crying for over 15 minutes, there were mugs and water in every room, and she wasn’t carrying any drinks. We allowed her to rant and at no time judged her on her decision to leave a very small child alone in a room.
Upon leaving the room, the night manager, other guest and myself quickly discussed the drama, where upon the mother opened the door and screamed “I can hear you; I am at a wedding and have a right to do what I like”. So it didn’t matter that three guests were disturbed and verbal abuse had taken place. Okay.
Since the night manager and myself were really quite shaken by the whole drama – particularly that a small child was so upset, we decided to have a cup of tea downstairs. We chatted and chilled but were interrupted on two occasions by other guests from the same wedding party, who had a similar communication style: basically shouting at the top of their voices whilst waving their hands around pointing in your face. They had complaints, but didn’t ask for any help. They seemed angry and wanted to take it out on someone else.
I saw the same thing happen the next morning where the poor receptionist was treated to the same abuse. There were complaints about other guests – in fact the mother complained about me and the night manager too! Goodness, what some workers have to put up with….
It really made me consider how we react to abuse like this. Fortunately I was able to walk away from the situation, but if you are on the front line of customers behaving in this way it is touch.
So how do you deal with a screaming customer??? In my training courses I discuss different types of body language and how a neutral, none confrontational posture is more effective than a frightened or aggressive response. If you are able to maintain a neutral pose (and believe me it was difficult on Friday night), the abuser is going to grow tired of abusing since you aren’t reacting. Being aggressive back is like fire with fire. Although internally I was very stressed and shaken, I was able to maintain a calm exterior, avoiding escalating the problem.
I hope you never have to deal with being verbally abused, but if you are, try to focus on maintaining an open, neutral posture and body language, to diffuse the situation. If you would like to discuss speaking and communication training, contact me. I would be delighted to discuss different options.