Besting the Guest From Hell
By Steven Ferry Chairman, International Institute of Modern Butlers | March 06, 2010
The basic answer to the guest from hell is to focus on educating employees on this kind of personality and then letting them have fun predicting what the guest will do or say next. When employees recognize the characteristics in a guest, they also know why they behave as they do, see them for what they are, and can predict how they will behave. Employees no longer think "mea culpa" and "mea lose my job" when assailed by such guests. One sees through the intensely mean-spirited and unjust smokescreen and confusion to a miserable individual whose only ability to create an effect has been reduced to upsetting others.
With such an understanding, one can still provide the smiling service expected of one, but without the dagger in one's heart. For violence, expressed or unexpressed, only exists in the absence of understanding. The analogy I like to draw is the martial art of Aikido. The basic principle is not to resist or try to stop the antagonist's motion, but to redirect it. In other words, one does not present a target for the opponent to connect with.
By empowering employees, one un-empowers the antisocial guests, for the only power these actually have is that generated by the employee in responding to the unjust and unkind remarks. An individual in a lunatic asylum thinking he is God has no followers outside the asylum. He has no power. But if people outside the asylum give weight to his words and form a cult, then he would have power. It's the same with the guest from hell. Recognize his or her ravings as those of a lunatic who has yet to be labeled as one (and may never be, because in real life such people can sound very convincing and may even have numerous letters after their name, titles in front of it, and great wealth), and he will have no power. React or give credence to his claims, and one empowers him.
That's the philosophy part. What about the application?
The inescapable truth is that such people are completely incapable of telling the truth. The angry, noisy type will at best twist the truth to make their point more egregious, or at worst, blatantly lie in a manner that is most destructive to the target of their ire. Those who are too timid to be angry, sometimes known as "passive aggressive" or "covertly hostile," will be most ingenious in their complete perversions of the truth, covering their tracks with great finesse.
The only thing an employee can do wrong is to believe anything such people say. The only correct way to deal with the information such people give is to start from the premise that whatever they just said is not true. This is particularly important when dealing with irate or covertly hostile guests for managers who might feel inclined to act against employees based on the guest's utterances.
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