My employee escalates conflict

Dear Ryan,

How do I help my staff who “don’t get it” and escalate problems with our homeless patrons?



That is a great question and one I get a lot.

First, let me tell you what not to do. 

Do not “summarize.”

Avoid summarizing what your staff member is doing:

“Please be more compassionate with the customers.”

“You aren’t very empathetic when you talk to people.”

“Can you try to be more understanding?” 

Virtually everyone thinks they are compassionate, understanding and empathetic. 

When you challenge an employee’s character like this, they will almost always be very defensive (and closed off from self-reflection/growth).

It also isn’t helpful because it doesn’t actually tell them what to change.

Instead describe specific behavior

Instead of summarizing, describe very SPECIFIC behaviors you would like to see changed:

“You roll your eyes when people are talking.”

“Please stop interrupting people when they’re talking.”

“You need to work on not raising your volume when you get upset.”

When you describe specific behavior, it makes it harder for the employee to reject your concerns. 

Empathy/compassion is subjective, but eye-rolling and interrupting people are not.

Bonus tips

1) Go first. Describe some things you struggle with to show the employee it is safe to not be perfect. For example, I have a nasty habit of telling people to “calm down” which never helps people calm down!!

2) Pay special attention to the staff member’s nonverbal communication. If they are escalating problems with homeless customers, it’s likely because of their nonverbal communication. Here are a few things to look for:

    • How they stand when talking to customers (squared off or at an angle)
    • What they typically do with their hands (e.g. arms crossed dismissively, touching people in a confrontation)
    • Type of eye contact (avoiding eye contact, eye rolling, glaring)
    • Whether they control their volume (talking over customers, getting louder than customers)
    • Whether they rush conversations with upset customers or constantly interrupt when the customer speaks
    • What tone of voice do they use

Good luck!



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