We’ve all been there before. We have to approach a patron or customer and talk with them about something that they aren’t going to like. Maybe they’re wearing inappropriate swimwear, or they have brought something into your facility that isn’t allowed, or maybe they’re being unsafe in some way. Either way, you know in your head that they aren’t going to enjoy being approached by a manager or an authoritative figure. This is the moment in time when you can either make or break this interaction. Allow me to share some tips that I’ve collected over the years (sometimes learning things the hard way) that have helped me in these situations.
Number one-envision the interaction going positively in your mind. I know it sounds corny, but I’ve done this over the years and it has helped immensely. Whatever the situation, I always go through the scenario playing out in my mind. I take it literally one step at a time-I picture myself approaching the customer, introducing myself. Then I’ll ask them if they’ve visited our facility before and explain the infraction. They smile, laugh, say they completely understand and apologize for the misunderstanding, then we high five and I’m off to the next part of my day. Okay, okay, so it almost never, ever goes that way, but if you envision it going positively, you instantly gain confidence in the interaction you’re about to have.
Number two-use soft words during the interaction. Avoid words that are confrontational or demeaning. You don’t want to give any indication that you are above this individual or are in any way trying to put them down. Chances are, the individual you are approaching is already going to be on the defensive, so be cautious and think about the language and tone you are using. If a customer is breaking a rule you might respond with “You may not have been aware” rather than “You didn’t know about the rule.” It seems small, but it can make a world of difference.
Number three-this is the easiest thing you can do, but I find that not enough people do this in today’s world-SMILE! If you approach someone with a kind smile (and maintain it), it is much more difficult for that person to become angry with you. Sure, they may question your sanity and think it’s strange, but they will have a harder time holding onto anger and that’s what you want in the long run!
Finally, realize that even if you do everything that I’m suggesting, and throw in a few of your own, the interaction could still go sideways in a hurry. If that happens, take a deep breath, stay calm, and know that somewhere else, at that very moment, there is a recreation professional having the same conversation and feeling the same things you are. That should give you enough encouragement to carry on confidently!