important is that you are able to stop, or prevent escalation right from the beginning.

It is a lot easier to prevent
hostile behavior than to deal with it once it has emerged, full blown.
The escalation/crisis cycle is diagrammed below. Many of the tactics we describe are intended to stop this cycle.

The Escalation/Crisis Cycle
Initial Contact
Customer primed to get angry
• reactive
• sensitive
• feels powerless
• feels depersonalized
• fearful
• feels unimportant

Employee Response / Action





Customer Reactions



Increased frustration
Higher sense of helplessness and fear
Increases aggression
Becomes more abusive

Bureaucratic response
Gets triggered, takes bait
Responds defensively
Coldness or terseness
Unhelpful or passive
Lack of listening and impatience

Employee Reaction




Defends or counter-attacks
more triggered
less self-control
more aggressive or colder
even less helpful sounding

Escalation to
CRISIS
Loss of
Control
Violence
Potential

© Robert Bacal, 1995, 1998, 2010

Defusing Hostile Customers Workbook

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Chapter II Exercises & Assignments
Practice Exercises
2.1

Bait Identification

Below are some common things that hostile customers say to government employees. For each item determine
whether it contains “bait”, and explain what the customer is really saying to the employee. (the implied messages). Check your answers with the answers at the back of the book (Appendix A). Remember, you DON’T
want to take the bait and get hooked.
2.1.1

I want to speak to someone who knows what they are doing. Is there a man I can speak to?

_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
2.1.2

I don’t know what to do next. I have to feed my family, and can’t hardly put food on the table now.

_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
2.1.3

Look, if you reduce my cheque, my kids are going to starve, and it’s going to be your fault.

_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
2.1.4

I want your supervisor’s number, so I can call to clarify to make sure you are correct

_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________

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Defusing Hostile Customers Workbook

2.1.5 How can you say that, don’t you know your own laws? We’ll see who is right. Give me your supervisor’s number.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________

2.2

What’s Wrong With This Picture

Take a look at the following dialogues. Indicate whether you feel the employee’s response is effective or not
(i.e.. would it defuse the situation). Explain why and compare your answers with the ones in Appendix A.
2.2.1
Customer:

Look, if you reduce my cheque, my kids are going to starve, and it’s going to be your fault.

Employee:

“There’s nothing I can do about that, so you will have to figure out what to do, I guess.

_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________

2.2.2
Customer:

Look, if you reduce my cheque, my kids are going to starve, and it’s going to be your fault.

Employee:

I can tell you’re upset about this situation, and I will do my best to help you out. Would you
like me to suggest some alternatives for you?”

_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________

© Robert Bacal, 1995, 1998, 2010

Defusing Hostile Customers Workbook

Page 19

2.2.3
Customer:

I want your supervisor’s number so / can call to clarify to make sure you are correct.

Employee:

She’s just going to say exactly what I just said. If you want to waste your time, go ahead.

_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
2.3

Job Work

2.3.1 Tomorrow at work, observe people interacting. Identify any phrases or actions that appear to
contribute to the escalation cycle. Write them down.
Escalating Actions I observed:
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________

2.3.2

After your next interaction with a hostile customer, take a few moments to answer the
following questions:

Did I take the bait?_______________________________________________________________________
Did I do anything to contribute to the escalation cycle? (Describe).
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________

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Defusing Hostile Customers Workbook

At any point, did I act defensively or counterattack? (How?)
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
If I could do it over again, what would I do differently?
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________

2.4
2.4.1

Food For Thought
Child/Adult Hostility Similarities

Over the next few days, observe hostile and angry people around you. Pay attention to the ways that adults express their hostility and anger. What similarities do you find between the way adults express their anger, and the
way children do? When you are angry, what ways do your own behaviors resemble those of an angry child?
2.4.2

Playing The Hostile Game

Using your past experiences, identify very specific ways you have played the hostile game on the ATTACKER’S TURF, and by the attacker’s rules. What happened? What would you do differently?

© Robert Bacal, 1995, 1998, 2010

Defusing Hostile Customers Workbook

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