Monday, September 13, 2021

Retreat Briefly After Incivility

When your child throws a temper tantrum, the best remedy is usually a timeout. The same is true for your consumers, although instead of sending them off to a backroom, you’ll go there yourself for a short time. If you’re the supervisor of front-line employees who do this, think how the technique can improve, not interfere with, overall employee performance.
     Evidence about the value of the backroom retreat comes from researchers at University of Edinburgh, University of Sydney, and UNSW Business School and concerns a category of frontline employee especially likely to provoke temper tantrums—parking enforcement officers.
     After enduring an angry offender, the officer could immediately move on to the next enforcement situation or could take a short break. The problem with the first alternative is that the officer is likely still agitated, so the quality of professional service is impaired. Another way of looking at this is that maintaining courtesy toward consumers requires energy, and energy is depleted by handling incivility. Bad feelings also have been shown to spill over into rudeness toward coworkers.
     Briefly stepping away from the work situation was found to work better for the parking enforcement officers and then, in another study, for nurses in a children’s hospital. All the positive results were for brief breaks. The researchers point out how prolonged absences from the servicescape decrease employee performance. There are more uncompleted tasks to be made up, and irritation of other staff disrupts teamwork.
     Similar conclusions for these two quite different types of service workers indicate that the results are generalizable. The researchers’ review of past studies about a short retreat after incivility yielded tips about optimal use of the time: A snack can ease exhaustion. Chatting with colleagues about topics not related to work can restore perspective. Upon return to the servicescape, this perspective might lead to recognition of how to more effectively handle incivility, such as temper tantrums, in the future. One formula: 
  • Let customers express anger in bursts of up to about thirty seconds. This gives you time to understand their points. Beyond about thirty seconds, people often get more wound up. 
  • Avoid interrupting in the middle of a sentence. Wait for a breath. Keep your voice decisive, but calm. 
  • If the shopping experience has been responsible for the consumer’s anger, ask questions like, “What may I do to make things right?” Then say what you’ll do.

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