Quick Tips on How to Keep Your Cool During Intense Moments (Companion Article for Nov ’21, week 4)

It happens.

A customer tells us how much they spend with our store and threatens to write to corporate because we won’t take back their used product.

Or a co-worker makes a comment about how we forgot to do something the day before, because we clearly ‘didn’t care’ that someone else would have to take care of it.

Or a boss casually questions if we care about our job, after we show up a few minutes late after closing the night before.


And boy, oh BOY, do we often fall into the trap of responding emotionally.

This week’s episode is all about controlling what we can control – ourselves – when the situation seems to spin out of our control.

We introduce three SUPER BASIC tactics to keep yourself in control when things come at you emotionally… in order to protect your position, your goals and your sanity.

Last week, Edward took us through some really helpful concepts to keep ourselves grounded and structured when it comes to how we approach projects or tasks that might fall into our laps during the craziness of the holiday season. If you missed it, you can listen HERE or watch on our YouTube channel HERE.

This week, Carrie tackles the basic human reaction of mirroring emotions and how, when those emotions are heightened during the holiday season, that human instinct can actually hurt our employment (or at least interrupt our trajectory.)

Everyone has a story of when they reacted poorly in a work situation, but Carrie’s summary below shows how one poor reaction can manifest in negative ways (full story in video or podcast):

Losing one’s cool when you are in a high intensity environment is never something you WANT to happen. Often times, it is when we least expect ourselves to crack that we do… and often in a spectacular fashion. The humbling part of those moments when they happen at work, is that we change others’ perception of who we are, what we are capable of and our potential. We lose a bit of trust from those around us. We must reflect and realize the risks involved in not knowing how to ‘keep our cool’. Real growth means owning up to those missteps, recognizing the lesson and committing to be better the next time you find yourself in a high stress moment. When you lead others, this skill is critical: to building trust with your team, to showcasing your ability to lead when others’ TRULY need a leader, and to keeping your own career goals on track.


So how do we keep our cool? Well, to start, there are some basics that we should all know about OURSELVES before going into this… namely: OUR TRIGGERS.

Most folks have them. Those things that just push you to the breaking point? We all have them when it comes to our personal life and relationships, pets… family… and work. DEFINITELY work.

While not mentioned in the episode… this is also a great place to speak of a myth: “WORK/LIFE BALANCE”. This concept, in our opinion, is pretty misleading. As the needs and stresses of one’s personal life and work change often, this then becomes a constant struggle. Frankly, it can lead to frustration and disengagement from either your work or your life outside of work, and neither of those things are particularly healthy for someone’s mental state.

In addition, the other concept of “Checking it at the Door” is one that, without serious thought, can do more harm than good. If work stresses are negatively impacting your home life – checking the stress at the door without addressing the issue at work WILL eventually mean you will continue to have that stress trickle through at home. Same with work, if you check your home stress when you punch in for work and do not recognize how it might impact your work, you nearly guarantee that your work will be affected (and probably not in a positive way.)

So first, what are our triggers?

  • Are they tone, when someone is speaking to us?
  • Are they body language? Folded arms or an inadvertent eye roll?
  • Is it feeling your authority is being questioned?
  • Is it being personally judged by a stranger (ie: ‘clearly you’re not smart if you work in retail’)
  • Is it when someone talks over you?
  • What about when someone keeps pressing you for a different answer?
  • What about when someone accuses you or demands immediate action when you aren’t prepared?
  • Is it when you haven’t had a break for HOURS?
  • Is it when you haven’t had a day off in 7 days?
  • When you closed late the night before and had an early shift?
  • Haven’t eaten yet?

OOOH, the list could go on and on… and this isn’t even inclusive of how outside stresses can trigger you at work… like stretched finances, family conflict, childcare challenges, physical illness, etc… the list can go on and on because we ALL deal with A LOT every day.

So, now that we have thought a bit about our triggers, let’s dig in!

Discussion Topic Summary:

Topic #1: KEEPING YOUR COOL WITH CUSTOMERS. It’s bound to happen. It probably has been happening all year, in fact. But inevitably, the holiday season and stresses of the world (and our retail industry) will build and build up to the point where a customer is standing in front of you, with many more customers around you and they will lose their cool. Not only will they lose it, but they will blame you. And call you names, and ask for your supervisor (or someone ‘smart’ enough to help them with their issue…. which goes against company policy, btw…) Working in the service industry is HARD and at times, when these interactions are at their toughest, they can cause us to question why we are even working in that industry.

The service industry is just that: serving others. Unfortunately, the ‘others’ don’t always act graciously (due to their own personal challenges or even perceptions of what ‘retail’ should be… because, you know ‘it was so much better back when blah blah blah…’) So our commitment to serve means that we also have committed to absorb a lot of shadows and spit back out sunshine. And that, folks, is HARD. It’s hard on a normal day and sometimes feels near IMPOSSIBLE after a 6 day stretch of 10 hour shifts and no lunch break yet.

The key to keeping your calm is to not let the negativity coming AT you to BECOME YOU. Again, a simple sounding concept but one that we often forget because… well, our triggers are being set off. Using THIS ONE simple tip will help you keep the focus on what that customer is asking you to do. We often immediately go into explanation mode when asked to do something we cannot. We use words like can’t or won’t, and phrases like ‘it’s against our policy’. And while those words might be truthful, they will just cause the situation to escalate and that is where we run the risks of losing it.

Instead, try this:

  1. Repeat back what the customer is asking you to do IN THEIR WORDS (not yours) with a level tone of voice
  2. Ask if this is correct.
  3. If it is something that you cannot do, tell them the best thing that you CAN do and phrase it in words similar to their request.
  4. If they say that isn’t enough, let them know you will bring someone to take care of them.
  5. Make the call and make sure to tell the supervisor (in the customer’s words) what they want you to do.

Now, this might seem like something that won’t work. And honestly, as in Carrie’s story about her most challenging customer, she felt the same way, but shockingly… it does. It calms the situation, lets the customer know you understand what THEY want and also stops it from getting personal or emotional. Ultimately, if the customer cannot have their request met, it would probably be best handled by someone without a line of customers waiting. Dealing with challenging customers this way does a few things:

  1. Keeps you in control
  2. Respects the customer’s request and shows you actively trying to find a resolution for them
  3. Respects the other customers’ time by not allowing the situation to escalate
  4. Respects your supervisor by giving them only the important info they need to decide how to handle the request (they don’t need to know you told them you can’t, that you read the return policy to them word for word, etc… these comments on the phone in front of the customer can actually only escalate the problem and give that customer reason to think they can push it further due to your accidental tone, or word choice, or even just embarrassing them in front of other customers!)

If you use this method with challenging customers, you will almost always be able to keep the interaction professional, not get emotionally involved and causing an escalation …. AND you will show your customers, co-workers and supervisor that you are in control.

How about a quick visual decision tree about the differences between being controlled versus being emotionally reactive? This is obviously not written in stone, but the overall theme is very valid: steer towards the green, avoid questionable resolutions that might impact you and definitely try to avoid the red zone (which most certainly WILL impact you.)

Finally, which wasn’t covered in the video/podcast, FOLLOW-UP if you are a supervisor or an elevated hourly who has helped out in resolving or assisting in the situation. Take 2 minutes to swing back around and recognize the control your hourly had. Often these moments are not recognized as a skill (which is something YOU can help change) and are a BIG step for some folks who don’t handle conflict well. For anyone looking to advance their career in retail, being able to mitigate intense customer situations is a HUGE skill development leap and one that should be celebrated. Even in Q4, executives!

Topic #2: WITH PEERS & CO-WORKERS. With a work inter-personnel situation … you most certainly can use the same template as above. In the heat of the moment, things are often said using words that aren’t TRULY what your co-worker would use if they weren’t emotional. And 100% what they say is all about getting it OUT of them, without fully thinking about the IMPACT it might have on YOU. Repeating back what they said in their words can often help them see that they are approaching the issue/conversation from the wrong angle, and that you are giving them a chance to better re-frame what they are trying to say. This keeps you in control of your emotions as well and de-escalates what could become a co-worker disagreement that might spiral publicly (or fester internally) and those take much more time to mend, folks.

The BIG thing with peers and co-workers is understanding each other. And this brings us back to that pre-work at the top of this article about triggers.

If everyone understands what triggers them, that is a BIG first step for a leadership team. Those teams with a true ‘team mentality’ are also trusting enough to share some of their biggest triggers with each other. Not only does this help others see when YOU might need help (a break, an extra moment, for someone else to take the next customer challenge, etc…) but it also helps you understand WHY someone might be coming at you differently during this time of the year. Are they on day 6 of a 7 day stretch? Did they just have 10 tough customer challenges in a row? Did they have callouts and are struggling to staff their floor today? Everyone has triggers. Understanding your personal triggers AND those of your teammates will help you all be more understanding of each other and give you all the ability to take these ‘moments of reaction’ less personally.

This team mentality and openness will also give you the confidence to follow up if you DO react emotionally. Mend the bonds quickly. Everyone has ‘moments’ they wish did not happen, and words they wish they could take back. Own up to it, commit to do better next time and recognize when those triggers get pushed so it does NOT happen again.

It helps. Trust us!

Topic #3: WITH SUPERVISORS OR ELEVATED EXECUTIVES. It will happen. But honestly, all of the above advice holds true for this as well.

  • Listening
  • Repeating in THEIR WORDS
  • Checking for understanding
  • Owning up to it

As a leader of leaders, when these things happen and a direct report reacts emotionally, give them time to process it. Don’t brow beat them. Allow them the opportunity to discover how they could have reacted better and give them the time to come back to you. And when they do, LISTEN. It often is a big step for them confidence-wise to re-approach you.

If you react emotionally to a supervisor, the most important thing to do is recognize the lesson and share your learnings with that supervisor. These moments of self-awareness and ‘owning it’ are HUGE milestones that all leaders must go through as they progress up the ladder to higher positions or more responsibility. Check your goals… if this moment might interrupt your ability to achieve them (on your timeline), be confident in your learnings about how you could have done better and go to your supervisor to follow up.

This does not mean that you should always apologize to your supervisor (unless it is needed, and sometimes it is,) but following up to say what you could have done better and sharing what made you react that way opens up a wonderful dialog opportunity for YOU and YOUR SUPERVISOR: to deepen the teacher/student relationship as well as flip it momentarily. Yes, you might share some feedback with your supervisor that helps THEM become better at their job, too!

The biggest part of these moments is to not have them happen in the first place. That is a bit unrealistic, though. They COULD happen and being better prepared on how to handle them in the moment, as well as after the fact (if they DO happen to not go as well as you would have liked), CAN positively impact your skills set, career path and improve your standing. Poor interactions are only missed opportunities for growth if you don’t find the lesson and take action on it.

Reacting poorly and simply moving on (and being thankful no one came to reprimand you about it) is most certainly a lost opportunity. Take positive action to promote yourself!

To recap:

  1. Listen
  2. Repeat (in their words, not yours)
  3. Ask if you understood
  4. Share what you CAN do, not what you can’t (or elevate, sharing the relevant info ONLY)

Good luck out there, and let us know what other methods you use that help YOU mitigate challenging situations in the comments below!

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