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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

Keynote speaker

  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

Keep calm and carry on: behind the service curtain

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

Many of us have been there. You are tired, you're stressed, it's the end of the day - and suddenly a client is winding you up. You're not even sure if they really ARE winding you up - your empathetic, compassionate mind thinks it's probably just you having a bad day, but it certainly feels like it.

You're not alone, and here are some of tricks to keep calm and carry on.

  • Distancing: Sandiford and Seymour found that bar staff were more likely to avoid customers with whom they knew there would be confrontation. Alternatively they would leave the room to find somewhere to “calm down”, or choose not to socialise in the vicinity of their work. This behaviour is reminiscent of Goffman’s (1959) “Backstage area” where one can relax and be oneself. Karolina Wagnar (2007) touched on the importance of a “protective” area by arguing that improvements in services rest on ensuring that the backstage elements support the frontstage performance (Wagnar, 2007:635) and recommended that managers include the views from their staff when designing the frontstage elements.

  • Veiled Authenticity: “…when customers were being unnecessarily unpleasant, [the worker] felt the need to make it clear to them that they behaviour and attitude were not acceptable, but she could not do so openly, and so endeavoured to veil her anger and/or disgust, but not quite enough to hide them fully.” (Sandiford and Seymour, 2011:1205). For staff, this "Margaery Tyrell" approach allowed them to remain in line with display rules, but did not mean they had to ‘put up’ with being treated with disrespect.

  • Humour: The use of sarcasm or self-deprecation eg. “Yes, thank you very much. I am a complete arse-hole, I know that. But would you like anything else to drink other than that?” (Sandiford and Seymour, 2011:1208). Similar to findings from Shuler and Sypher (2000), there was an understanding between the workers that there would be unreasonable customers, and much of the enjoyment of the job was also found to come from the ability to have a joke between colleagues at the expense of the customer “…you can laugh and joke about a customer…and it’s like a little secret. Of course we hate to think we might be talked about in this way - so as customers - don't be an arse! (...and certainly if you hear this sort of behaviour which is unwarrented, I would also advise you to complain to the management!)

  • Community of coping: This, Sandiford and Seymour liken to Korcynski’s (2005) “Communities of Coping”, where the worker sought solace in the understanding of colleagues who had been through the same, or similar, experiences. This, as seen in Chapter 1, is quite commonly recognised as a mediator to the effects of emotional labour performance (eg. Grandey, 2000; Bolton, 2000; Shuler and Sypher, 2000; Korcynski, 2005; Theodosius, 2006 and others)

Perhaps there are other tricks of the trade - I'd love to hear how you continue to offer service with a smile when times get rough.

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt

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