De-Escalation: Recognize the Monkey!

Jane was having a great day at work. She loved working at the library, and felt pride in her career of helping others. She was working the reception desk on this day, when a woman came up to the desk with her preschool daughter next to her. “I’ve lost my water bottle, and wondering if you have a lost and found?”

Jane asked the lady to wait while she went to check. She came out apologizing, there was no water bottle in the lost and found just yet. The woman tensed up and raised her voice a bit. “It’s GOT to be in there. There is no where else it could be. Go check again, and don’t come out without it!”

Jane felt herself tensing up as well- “Ma’am, I am not sure what you want me to do, I checked already, and-“

“I WANT YOU TO GIVE A SH*T ABOUT ME!” and the woman began ranting at Jane, calling her stupid. Jane was glad she had the counter between this woman her poor child. The woman finally walked away in a huff, and Jane took a deep breath. That was tense. She went home that evening, still upset by the encounter. Her heart was pounding, and she went to the hospital, thinking she might be having a heart attack, and was informed that it was an anxiety attack.

People who help people often have to deal with people who are Cussing, Rude, Aggressive, and flinging Personal insults. Many take it on as “part of the job.” Most have no idea what to do- they are there for customer service, and if they stand up to customers like this, they are sure it may make things worse, and at the very least get them in trouble for not remembering that the “customer is always right.”

Our take on situations like these:Angry Monkey

1.    No one should have to tolerate Workplace Violence; especially the very people who live to help others! OSHA recommends a ZERO tolerance policy, and to take the time to socialize it from the mailroom up and the boardroom down.

2.    We need to recognize the MONKEY! Jane thought this was just another transaction with a mom and her little one. Jane did everything she could and the woman got more upset with her. We need to recognize when it stops being about the problem (the lost water bottle) and imagine a biting, scratching monkey on their shoulder. “OH you have a monkey, and you’re trying to throw it on me.” We MUST realize that no matter how much someone is flinging C.R.A.P. (Cussing, Rudeness, Aggressive behavior, and Personal insults), it’s not about you, it’s their monkey- their issues, whatever they may be (I don’t recommend trying to diagnose what that problem might be).

3.    We need to remember to be a pillar of calm (be an actor- choose your favorite super hero) in the face of someone who is escalating. Calm Reassurance- like you would with someone else’s two-year-old throwing a tantrum at you. Remember to model the behavior you want to see.

4.    Use the 3 Steps to Assertiveness (1. Name the behavior, 2. Give a Reason, 3. Treat them like they’re two, and tell them what to do, plus offer choices, followed by the magic words, “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?”),

5.    Ensure your personal space. Keep yourself out of reach, and preferably behind a barrier, like a counter.

6.    Report incidents like this. Organizations need a quick, easy, internal way to track instances like this so they know where their risks are the highest.

Be safe. Be Strong. Be EMPOWERED!

By Michele Maupin, Founder of Empowered, LLC and a personal safety expert who dedicates her life to “Empowering people who help people.” Contact us if you would like info to have Michele come speak at your next event; or we’ll come to your location for a workshop series.