How to Manage Guests with Emotional Health Issues

By Rita Anya Nara Author, The Anxious Traveler | January 26, 2014

Guests who thump their luggage up and down the stairs to avoid a claustrophobia-inducing elevator. People who leave unsanitary conditions in their hotel room – then leave the do not disturb placard on the door for days. People who call you to report every noise down their hallway. Guests who play head games with other patrons who, when they leave, will remember your hotel for "that guest" – not your good customer service. What will you do the next time "that guest" arrives with a reservation and enough "baggage" to weigh you down for days?

There are many thousands of business and leisure travelers who suffer from chronic anxiety, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety, OCD, or manic depression – and they all need a place to stay. Guests with emotional health problems can be disruptive, destructive, unreasonable, and just plain unpleasant, creating a stressful atmosphere on their best days – and disturbing the peace on their worst. They can engage in many antisocial behaviors out of frustration or unhappiness that have nothing to do with you, their fellow guests, or your hotel. Most everyone has hosted "a head-case with suitcase" at one time or another. What can you say or do to successfully manage a troubled guest – and even make them happy?

There are ways to put yourself in your troubled guest's shoes (if not their frame of mind) to understand what they're looking for, and how they communicate. If you go a little out of your way, you can keep the peace – and even bring out the best in someone who has been rebuffed elsewhere, and has repeat customer potential.

Read emotional cues, and start off on the right foot. "Difficult people" are fairly easy to spot: you notice them yelling at someone on the phone before checking in, or being snide to your doorman, or pulling you up and down their power-tripping roller coaster. People with emotional health problems – while occasionally suffering from outbursts of anger or frustration – often don't exhibit such obvious behavior, but can be just as challenging to interact with. These guests have a hard time making eye contact, may mumble or stutter, or get distinctly uncomfortable if their personal space is compromised. They're usually traveling alone (and not without good reason). They may grow defensive when asked casual questions about themselves or their travel plans, and they may have trouble focusing on you – or they may stonewall you, responding only to what they want to hear.

How do you put such a guest at ease, or even successfully check them in? Try not to focus on their antics, or start thinking about why the guest is the way they are. When people with emotional problems feel like they're being scrutinized or analyzed, they usually become more self-conscious and defensive. Compounding the issue is that many such guests suffer from self-neglect and poor hygiene; they're easily embarrassed and often feel deeply ashamed of their appearance. These guests can come off as cold, rude, or awkward even when confronted by your smiling face and a beautiful room. Don't lose your confidence, either in yourself or your establishment: remember, it's rarely, if ever, about you.

People with emotional health problems seldom intend to be difficult; in fact, they often go running from "difficult people." Many simply don't feel well, and have driven off loved ones who might have helped them. If your guest is stonewalling you, focus on their physical health, asking about jet lag, fatigue, sore feet, what they ate on the journey, etc. This almost always gets a troubled guest to open up to you – at least enough that you can get them to their room. Remember, you're not ever going to solve a guest's emotional problems – but you can get their mind on taking care of themselves (and your mind back to your other guests).

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