5 Hostage Negotiation Techniques to Defuse an Angry Guest


We’ve all been in the situation a hundred times. There’s an angry guest and you are the one who has to make them calm. You try your best to resolve the issue but the guest is still angry and will likely give a bad review to their friends or online. You’ve tried your best and leave the situation wishing you could have done more to make the guest happy. In these situations, you often feel as if you’re in a hostage negotiation. The following five critical but easy steps are a modified version of Behavioral Change Stairway Model that is used by the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit. By utilizing them you will be able to calm an angry guest and resolve the conflict positively.

1.       Actively Listen

The first step in any discussion is to actively listen to what the guest’s concerns are. Often times we listen to the words that the guest is telling us and not as much to the message the guest is trying to convey. Be sure to listen to their side and make them aware you’re listening. You can do this by asking specific questions and repeating back to the guest what they’ve shared. A good way to do this is to use the phrase “Just so I’m sure I understand, your concern is…..”

2.       Empathize

The next step in any negotiation is to empathize with the guest. Do your best to imagine yourself in their situation and how you would feel. This will help you get an understanding of where they’re coming from and how they feel. It then becomes easier to imagine what you would like in that situation to resolve it positively. Once these feelings become clear, show them through your words and body language. Using phrases like “I see how that would make you feel… ” or “I can understand your frustration..” convey concern. Be sure to avoid confrontational body language such as crossed arms, eye rolling, or angry facial gestures.

3.       Establish Rapport

The third step in any discussion is to establish a rapport. Empathy is what you feel. Rapport is when they feel it back. You can establish rapport by showing your empathy and using language that includes both of you. By using phrases that include words like we, us, or together, you reinforce the feeling that you both are in this situation together. By establishing that it isn’t you vs. them, you eliminate sides and open the guest to trusting you. You can use phrases like “Let’s find a solution together” or “We’ll figure out a way to make this right.” establish that you’re on the same side and you want to resolve the issue for both of you.

4.       Propose a Resolution

Now that you’ve established a rapport and they trust you, you’ve earned the right to work on problem solving with them and recommend a course of action. If the resolution is a clear one, ideally the guest will be pleased with the result and both parties will be happy. If the resolution isn’t necessarily a clear one, propose the solution that you feel would best resolve the problem if you were the guest. Before proposing the solution, make it clear that this is just one possible solution and you are open other possibilities if the guest has a different preference. Using phrases like “If I were in your position, I would want..” or “Here’s what I think we should do…” are good ways of introducing a possible solution. During the negotiation, be sure to use both active listening and empathy to maintain the rapport you’ve built. Once a solution has been agreed upon by both parties, be sure to act on the resolution as quickly and efficiently as possible. Communicate to all staff involved what the solution will be and ensure everyone works toward executing the solution with no further issues for the guest.

5.       Reaffirm the Connection

The last step to a negotiation is to reaffirm that the rapport you’ve established is still important to you. In many cases, the guest will feel that once the issue is fixed that the manager is no longer interested in continuing the communication. Always leave any discussion with an invitation to reach out to you if they need or desire anything additional to make their experience exceptional. It can also be a good idea to reach out to the guest a day or two after the resolution to follow up and make sure everything was done to their satisfaction. This can be done by phone call or email as long as the message is sincere.

Frequently encounters with angry guests can be a challenge and can be dreaded by most managers. However just like any other interaction, an angry customer can be opportunity to wow a guest and cement a positive long term relationship. Keep these steps in mind and soon handling these tense guest situations will be second nature.



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