How to Deal with Stress and Difficult Guests


I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago. I was having coffee with a couple of friends and we were discussing all the different ways our jobs have gotten harder, as well as how well we have learned to pivot and readjust while so many different and unexpected obstacles keep coming in a way they never had before. Working in any kind of customer service position is difficult. If I were queen of the world, my first decree would be everyone (I mean everyone!) must work in the customer service industry in some capacity for at least two years. My thought process is that, by doing this, everyone will hopefully become a bit more patient and understanding when they are the customer. It has certainly helped me when I have been the recipient of bad service! As I teach in my service classes, things WILL go wrong. To quote John Bender in the movie The Breakfast Club, “the world’s an imperfect place.” It’s how both parties react to those service failures that really has the most impact.

Is Bad Behavior Escalating?

Now, let’s be honest. If anyone has worked in the casino industry (or any industry that deals with the public) for any length of time, working with the public can be difficult. But it seems as though bad behavior has been escalating at a rapid pace. We all know that staffing shortages are a big cause of service issues, but as the pandemic has forged on, people have seemed to be getting meaner than they ever have before; less understanding and increasingly less understanding. We seem to have lost our manners. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were “in it together.” We were supporting each other, our doctors, nurses, mail carriers, grocery workers, and all other critical frontline people. We saw people shopping for their elderly neighbors and many other beautiful, selfless actions. But now …

What We Can Control

This caused me to start thinking about why. Never before have we ever witnessed something that has literally caused so much stress, not only in our industry, but worldwide. I know I’m not the only one dealing with this feeling. We all are! There really hasn’t been any place to feel “safe”; a place to let our guard down and relax. We are constantly being inundated with all sorts of stressful messaging everywhere we turn. We are stressed at work and at home. We humans HATE feeling as if we are not in control. Here’s a hard truth … we don’t have control over anything, except how we react to situations. We function in the denial that we are in control. I won’t sugarcoat it; the last couple of years have been TOUGH and, quite honestly, have SUCKED! The stress level for everyone was off the charts. There was so much unknown … How long will we be dealing with this? How long (and how many times) will we be shut down? What’s next? Just when we think it’s starting to get “back to normal,” BAM! Another variant, or another issue arises. It has all been too much!

Here’s the deal. The reactions we are seeing are quite normal. You see, when humans get stressed, our brain begins to react in the “fight or flight” mode, aka dealing with an issue or avoiding it. This all happens in the brain’s limbic system, where there is no language, just feelings/emotions. Our amygdala is in overdrive, hyperdrive, pumping out chemicals (cortisol especially) that affect every area of our being. When we are in that state, we cannot think clearly and we make bad decisions. Studies have shown that a brain under chronic stress can increase the size of the amygdala, which makes us MORE receptive to stress. It can also shrink the brain. That includes areas of the brain associated with emotions and memory, which can also make it harder to deal with future stress. So, as we are dealing with our guests, we need to keep this information in mind. None of us are thinking clearly. Let’s face it, we are TIRED! The stress is getting to all of us.

I want to offer up a few tricks that, through my study of the brain and why we do what we do, can help you during those difficult situations that we seem to be experiencing more and more often.

    Take a DEEP breath. This is a proven technique that not only helps decrease blood pressure, but also helps calm the amygdala and will help you make better decisions in the moment.
  1. The customer is NOT always right!
    Yup! I said it and I mean it. Some will try to push your buttons and get your cortisol pumping just to take advantage and get what they want. When this happens, see rule number one! Control your reactions.
  1. Remember the Godfather Rule!
    Michael Corleone said it best, “This is business, not personal.” We have all been called so many bad names, we could never keep track. Again, they are trying to push you into the “fight or flight” mode. How many of us have just given them what they want so they will go away (flight)? STOP DOING THAT!
  1. Boundaries are vital!
    You teach people how to treat you. Do not tolerate disrespectful behavior. When you “give ‘em what they want so they’ll go away,” you are rewarding bad behavior. This causes a domino effect throughout the workplace. Calmly explain that their current behavior will not be tolerated and you will gladly help them with their problem, but they first must watch how they are speaking to you. I have my own three strikes rule. I will remind them two times (the first time is to help them decrease their cortisol level so they can think more clearly; the second is a bit more to the point), then the third time, we are done and may be given a 24-hour cooling off period.

“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional” ~ Max Lucado

Remember, we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. So, during these stressful times, breathe, look for opportunities to laugh, take a walk, listen to some music. Celebrate the victories! We did some good stuff during a very difficult time, so celebrate it! Most importantly, BE KIND … We are all going through something.

Janet Hawk 27 Articles