Looking at the World Through the Eyes of Robin Williams

Robin Williams was an incredible talent and will be missed.  Perhaps it’s a little weird that when I learned he had died, Sesame Street popped to mind.

Almost two years ago, I shared a Sesame Street clip with Robin Williams and the two-headed monster talking about conflict.  (Find it here.) Recently, I discovered a different Sesame Street clip (an old one!) with Robin Williams and Elmo.  Watch at all the different uses Robin William came up with for a stick.

Very often, we get stuck on one right answer, one right way of doing things or or one way of seeing the world.  What exciting changes could we bring to the world around us if we all opened our mind up a whole world of possibilities?

R.I.P.  You left a legacy and will be missed.

What Makes Your Customers Angry, Frustrated or Upset?

angryman2About three years ago, I was in Prince Edward Island facilitating customer service workshops for a client. When we started discussing the question “What are some things that make your customers angry?”, one of the participants said “Snowstorms and I have no idea what to do when someone yells at me because the roads and airports are closed and they can’t get off the island.”

There are times when our customers are angry and upset because we messed up.  And then there are the times our customers are angry and upset because of something we have absolutely no control over, like the weather.  When it comes to knowing how to manage those moments, start by taking a moment to list as many causes for customer frustration as you can think of.  Next identify which of the four following categories they fall under:

Unrealistic expectations:  Sometimes our customers come to us believing we provide a product or service that we don’t.  Now ask yourself,”Why don’t we offer this product or service?  Is this something we can do?”  If the answer is yes, make it happen.  If the answer is no (and sometimes it is), who does offer this product or service? Then be prepared to send your customer there.

Policies and procedures:  I had a friend walk into a restaurant about 11:00 am.  He ordered the Denver omelette. The server said “We don’t serve breakfast after 10:00.” So my friend flipped to the sandwich section and ordered a Denver sandwich.  No problem with that order!

Take a good, long look at your policies and procedures.  Who are they designed to protect … you or the customer?  Do they make sense to the customer? Chances are they might not, for the simply reason your customer doesn’t understand all the ins and outs of running your business. So have some fun or be prepared to offer an alternative.  I imagine my friend would have share the above story from a whole different perspective if the server had said something like “We don’t serve from our breakfast menu after 10:00 am, so how about I ask the cook to make you a Denver sandwich, with the bread on the side?”  (Or perhaps have separate menus for breakfast and lunch to avoid that confusion all together.)

Human error: This list could get long.  Focus on the errors that happen most often or have the most significant impact on the overall customer experience. Ask yourself “Why are they happening and what can we do to prevent it.” Then take action.

External factors:  There are some external factors that come at you out of the blue.  Your customer may have had a fight before leaving home for the day or had terrible, horrible, very bad day at work or just received some difficult news.  There are some external factors you can pretty much count on.  Plan for those.  For example, if you run a business in PEI, chances are pretty good that at some point in any given year, bad weather will hit, roads and airports will be closed and customers will be stranded.  Put a plan in place to deal with that moment.  Work with your team to recognize the frustration and teach them how to respond with empathy.  What can you do to help them pass the time?  Perhaps some games or a quiet room for them to read or get caught up on other work.  Who will keep them up-to-date on travel updates?

Two important things to remember when confronted by an angry, frustrated or upset customer are:

Don’t take the anger or frustration personally. Sometimes the person is angry with you because you are a handy target. They are angry or frustrated and they need to express it. It may not be fair but it happens.

View complaints positively. Instead of looking at them as a negative, look at them as opportunities to improve your conflict management skills and the service you and your company provide. Changing the focus from a negative to a positive helps you be in the right mind set to successfully manage those moments when they arise.

And one last suggestion, this is a great exercise to incorporate into your next team meeting.  Get your team together, ask them to identify when and why their customers are not happy and to come up with potential solutions to either eliminate or minimize the frustration.  This activity generates some laughs, group sharing and some great ideas.

Three Ways to Make Bad News Worse

Recently, I was reminded of the statement: “90% of the time, conflict is escalated because of how the message is delivered, not by the message itself.”

There are a number of reasons bad news messaging is delivered poorly so often.

1. We are uncomfortable doing it so try to get it done with as quickly as possible.

Sometimes we put off sharing the bad news.  Other times, we rip the band-aid off to get it out of the way as quickly as possible, and then shut the conversation down as soon as the difficult deed is done.

When delivering bad news to an internal or external customer, allow the person hearing it a chance to respond and to ask questions.   Some of the initial responses may not be pleasant.  Take a deep breath and recognize the emotion, frustration, anger or disappointment, behind the words.

2. We don’t understand what the big deal is.

In the grand scheme of things, sometimes the bad news we are delivering seems pretty trivial.  And perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, it is pretty trivial, but to the person in front of us, it’s not.

We cannot see into the lives of our customers or our co-workers. Not knowing their stories as well as we know our own, means we don’t understand why they are so frustrated, angry or upset.  Just because we don’t understand the why doesn’t mean we can brush off their response with a shrug and “get over it” attitude.

3. We focus on explanation or solution, instead of empathy.

We may know why something happened and we may know exactly what we can do to fix it (or at least have an alternate plan in place), so we rush to fix without offering an apology or acknowledging the impact our bad news had.  Very often the customer simply doesn’t care why it happened.  Why’s sound like excuses.  Listen, apologize, empathize before jumping to fix mode.


Delivering bad news to a customer, a co-worker or an employee is never fun.  The bad news can be as seemingly simple as “We don’t have that available in your size” to “I have no rooms available” to “There is no longer a job here for you.” Whatever the bad news is, honor and respect the other person’s right to their emotion, acknowledge and recognize their pain or disappointment and then focus on finding a solution together.


(Note:  This is an edited repost of a 2013 blog.  I recently had to deliver some bad news and was reminded of the importance of getting past my own discomfort so I could focus on the other person.  It’s not easy, but the end result is better.)

How to Work with Someone you Don’t Like

Human nature means that at some point, we will meet someone we don’t like very much. Sometimes the feeling is mutual. Sometimes it’s one-sided.  Sometimes we have the choice not to interact with them at all or at least, very infrequently. Sometimes we work with them and see them a lot!

If you have to work with someone you don’t like, you can either stew and complain about, becoming more miserable with each telling of the story, or you can try and overcome it.

The first step is to own your role in the process.  Yup … chances are it’s not just the other person that needs to change.  Ask yourself why you don’t like the person.  What is it specifically you don’t like?  Is your co-worker too chatty, not chatty enough, too loud, too quiet, lazy? Very often when we ask ourselves this question, we end up assigning judgement type words.

Perhaps this person did do something to deserve your dislike, like taking credit for work you completed.  Fair enough. That sucks. Take a step back and ask yourself why someone would behave in such a way.  Insecurity?  Some workplace bullies use aggression to hide uncertainty. Gossip may be a socially awkward person’s attempt at conversation.  This isn’t about condoning bad behaviour.  Those behaviours need to be addressed.  It’s about trying to understand the reason behind the bad behaviour.   It’s easier to address the behaviour when the judgement is gone.

And one more thing …  recognize that sometimes the things we don’t like in person are things we don’t like about ourselves.  It happens!

Second, make sure you’re not contributing the negativity.  Don’t make your feelings of dislike obvious.  Interact professionally and positively.  Include him or her in invitations to group events.   Excluding someone only deepens the levels of hostility and that is not going to make your work situation any better.

Third, try and find something good about that person.  I have yet to meet someone who is entirely evil!   Instead of focusing on what you don’t like, try to find something you do like.  Yes, it may take a little longer to find with some people, but keep looking.  When you find it, focus on that.

Fourth, be proactive.  Somebody has to take the first step.  Why can’t it be you?  Let this person know what you appreciate about him or her.  If the negativity has been going on for awhile, approach your co-worker, acknowledge the tension and ask what you can do to improve the relationship.  Yes, what you can do. Don’t start off by letting him or her know what they need to do.  Remember, own your role.


Are these steps going to work each and every time?  No.  In the end, two people need to want the situation to change. You can only control you and your response to the situation.

If none of this works, keep your interactions with your co-worker as short as possible.  If you can, try to meet with them at your best time of day, when your patience is high.  If you hit a 3 pm energy and patience low on a regular basis, avoid 3 pm interactions as much as possible.  If you can meet with them in their space, even better.  That means you can manage the amount of time spent together, instead of having to wait for or ask the other person to leave.

In the end, it’s about doing what you can to improve your work environment.  Own it, do your best and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find out that you two have more in common that you thought.  If not, at least you will have tried.


Do You Recognize Any of these Defense Mechanisms?

When something goes wrong at work, when you have an unhappy, disgruntled customer, co-worker or boss in front of you, many of us go into defense mode.  Which animal defense mechanism looks a little familiar to you?


Or perhaps this one is more familiar?  Just talk and talk and talk and talk until the the unhappy, disgruntled person or uncomfortable situation goes away.