In this week’s professional development event, my De-escalation webinar, I’m going to open with a video clip from Jack Nicholson’s Five Easy Pieces. I’m showing the famous “Chicken Sandwich Diner” scene from the movie.
The clip shows Jack Nicholson’s character trying to customize a sandwich from the menu. I chose this scene because, as a vegan, I am ALWAYS customizing menu items in restaurants – the clip really resonated with me. In the clip, the waitress’s facial expression is sour, her body language is standoffish and to Nicholson’s request she responds, “No substitutions. Only what’s on the menu.” Calmly, Jack explains that he doesn’t want what’s on the menu, he wants to modify the sandwich. Unwilling to help, the waitress says, “Do you want to talk to a manager?” Within seconds, the situation escalates to the point of Nicholson yelling and breaking dishes.
I’m sharing this clip to set the tone for the de-escalation webinar. I share several proven de-escalation strategies that will de-escalate volatile customers. But it would be remise of me not to prepare my clients to pre-empt an escalation by avoiding things that are are known triggers.
After we watch the video, I’ll share what went wrong in this scene. The employee made 4 big mistakes; mistakes that led to uncontrollable escalation. Here’s what she did wrong:
1. Started with a negative.
Nearly before the customer could ask his question, the waitress said, “No substitutions.” Her initial negative response put the customer on the defensive and showed that she was unwilling to help. This negative response started the cycle of escalation, which I talk about in the webinar. The cycle of escalation is:
Initial Contact —> Employee Response —> Customer Reaction —> Employee Reaction
The employee’s initial contact was negative in word, attitude and body language. The customer responded with intensity, and then the employee became defensive and difficult. This led to an all-out explosive situation.