Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who exited his job by way of the emergency chute on the flight he was working, has set a new standard for reacting to a work situation that is tense and, in the moment, unbearable. Slater got a lot of press, some positive and some negative. Media coverage is good, even when it’s controversial – it will help you find followers and make you sales. But the bottom line for Slater is that his JetBlue job is over.
As an entrepreneur, you can’t afford to pull the emergency chute and escape when a customer has gotten under your skin. Here’s a few ways to avoid “pulling the chute” and blowing up your work with a customer who has gotten on your very last nerve.
- Remove yourself from the on-going drama by stepping away, but don’t go so far as to pull the emergency chute. If you’re in person, excuse yourself and go to the back of the room, the restroom, or the other end of the table. The key here is to physically move before you feel so threatened that in that moment you literally will do ANYTHING to get away, no matter the consequences. If you are on the phone, you can use your emergency exit script, which should go something like this, “I want to settle this disagreement in a way that is respectful to us both, but I can’t do that right now. I’m going to hang up to give myself time to think objectively, and I’ll be back in touch. Goodbye.”
- Close your mouth. By the time you’re totally over it, what comes out of your mouth won’t be anything worth repeating. I suspect that once Slater held forth, he got to a point that he realized his only way out was the chute. One way to stop talking is to train yourself to take a sharp, deep breathe in through your nose, and blow it out through your mouth. You can’t breath like this and talk at the same time. Really, you can’t – try it! When you are appalled and angry, it’s natural to sharply take in your breath. So you’re going to do that anyway. Just train yourself to blow that breath out through your mouth, like a big “ha”. Breathing out a big “ha!” instead of giving voice to a string of words that escalate the situation (no matter they may be well-deserved), protects you. It keeps you from getting to the point that you feel threatened, which is when your reptile brain takes over and common sense goes out the door. Do this, and you’ll find that after the first sharp inhale and “ha” exhale, the second and third are much easier. You probably won’t need more than 3 or 4. Your head will clear, you’ll feel calmer, and your brain will be refreshed by the new and better oxygen supply.
- Decide later where to go from here. It may be that you will want to fire this customer from your business. I don’t preach not to fire customers, although some marketing experts will advise against it. I understand why, because negative word of mouth about an entrepreneur typically spreads faster than positive word of mouth. But I’m hoping that you’ve already carried out the first two steps, and that puts you on an entirely different path. Along with removing yourself and closing your mouth, you’ve created better options than blowing up and disappearing down a sliding chute. You now have time to think objectively about whether to end the relationship. Let’s say that you are so turned off that you never want to sell to this customer again. You’ve now positioned yourself to “save it but end it” rather than blowing it to tiny pieces. You can end it in a way that respects both you and the customer, and that will likely prevent the customer carrying out a negative word of mouth campaign. Your goal is to end the relationship without hurting your business, and deciding later helps you to do that. Everyone cools off, and a space opens up for better possibilities than ending it with drinks in hand, heading southward toward hard concrete and jail time.
It’s wise to have an emergency plan in place in case you’re ever carrying out business in a small space with someone who pushes your button. Remove yourself, close your mouth, and decide later are three actions that keep you in control of your emotions, your actions, and your business. Unlike Slater, you won’t be instantly famous, and your entrepreneurial endeavor will be safe.