When Advice Goes Bad ...
The bald man is huffing and puffing and ranting and raving as he throws his bags down in front of the counter of gate 14.
Something is clearly off.
You can see it in his face. You can see it in the way he is breathing. You can see it in his eyes and in the way he wont even look at the lady behind the counter, but instead keeps looking off in the distance.
I am not sure what exactly happened. He is demanding some kind of re-reimbursement for $150 bucks for not being able to check bags, and TSA slowed him down or something ...
In the end ... the details don't matter. You have a grade 5 angry customer on your hands in the airport, on a Monday no less, at gate 14.
I try not to eavesdrop too much, but I can't help it. How will she respond?
She responds like a "Newbie Ref" does, at least with one of the most common communication blunders in reffing, and sometimes in life:
Do NOT give advice to someone who just screwed up ... it will just piss them off even more.
Try and help - try and have understanding, but don't give unprompted advice when someone is clearly still steaming.
In any conflict situation there are defusor’s and escalators. The problem is that much like people think they are better than average drivers, most escalators think they are actually good defusor’s. They use automatic, knee-jerk reactions that feel good to say, and make the situation worse. But they actually think they are making the situation better.
CALM DOWN - they might yell, thinking that they are helping diffuse the situation. JUST RELAX!
Wannabe defusor’s are normally good at one thing, defusing responsibility.
The airline desk attendant immediately says "we are not responsible for TSA, you will need to get a re-imbursement from them." Probably true, but a classic escalator phrase. Just a warm-up for the big payoff though:
"Sir, this wouldn't have happened if you would have gotten to the airport earlier ... "
And there it is.... doesn't matter if its a busy airport on a Monday afternoon, or a rainy Football Field on a Thursday night ... do not give advice to someone who has just screwed up.
He knows he screwed up. He has just suffered the embarrassment of carrying two huge bags to the LAST GATE at the end of the terminal. He is panting and sweating, angry, and upset.
And you think the best thing to do is tell him that he should get to the airport earlier next time?
Thanks for the free advice.
The man is stunned. "I would have loved to get to the airport earlier - but my company didn't let me ..." is what he is saying as I stop eavesdropping and get on the plane.
In reality though, this situation plays out over and over again. You have just made a big call, a big foul or penalty, and the player is furious. So your immediate reaction is to ...
Tell the player what they should do better next time.
Might as well tell them to leave their house earlier to get to the airport on time.
Your advice could be 100% correct. But your timing stinks and your context sucks.
Major customer service problems seem to come from the same fundamental place that conflicts with referees and umpires start from:
A person feels like they are not being heard.
A great way to make someone feel more pissed off, and un-heard, is to start telling them what they should do differently next time, instead of listening to why they are currently upset about this time.
You may not be able to do anything about the situation at all. You probably wont reverse the call. You probably cant refund anyone $150, and it might not even be your fault in the first place.
But you can still listen. You can show that you are trying to understand.
You can say "Man you had to carry those bags all the way here. I'm sorry sir, that's awful. I am sorry that happened to you."
Maybe it helps. Maybe it does not. But one thing for sure will not help ... the advice you hand out right after the mistake that no one asked for and no one needed.
In almost every case the person knows what they did wrong. They might actually be angry at themselves, and you might just happen to be the closest person around.
If they truly want advice, there will be a better time for it later on.
In the heat of the moment, listen and understand:
Understand how passionate people get about sports in front of their friends and family.
Understand that they might not even fully understand the rule you just called.
Understand that very few people start a play saying "yeah I am going to commit a foul here so I can get called out in front of everyone!"
Understand that you have the power, and that sometimes when people are the most angry, they just want you to use that power to listen, instead of handing out advice.
Think about all the times you have rushed to give advice right after a huge mistake by someone else, and next time, try just listening ....
Even at the airport.