“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you” – Rudyard Kipling

Published: June 22, 2022

Running your own business has its own unique challenges, from struggling to find a work-life balance when you ARE the business, to feeling compelled to do everything (even if you could technically outsource tasks to someone else) at all times, to dealing with cashflow issues when invoices are outstanding, and everything in between. However, one of the aspects of business ownership that I find the most challenging is when customers, colleagues or the general public seem to lose their heads.

I’m not referring to the French Revolution and their love of guillotines. I’m talking about customers suddenly changing their minds, panicking, experiencing utter confusion or making irrational demands, or colleagues who suddenly display characteristics that go against the values and ethos of your business. Even the general public can be challenging and irrational at times, and it can have a negative impact on you and your business.

It’s at times like these when I think of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘If’, and in particular the lines; “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” This is easier said than done, but it’s important to remember that not everyone handles stress and pressure in the same way and that everyone has ‘moments of madness’. I once spent £15 on two small semi-precious stones with googley eyes stuck to them…

Although I’m not an expert in conflict resolution, I’ve experienced my fair share of negotiation and mediation in business settings, so I wanted to share a few of my top tips to help you deal effectively with challenging customers and colleagues. I hope they help!

1.) Take a breath before you respond. It might sound obvious, but it’s important to stay calm and not get drawn into an emotional argument, and sometimes pausing for a moment to gather your thoughts can make it easier to avoid saying something on impulse!

2.) Try to see things from their perspective. They might be feeling stressed, anxious or under pressure, and this can cloud their judgement and lead them to behave in ways that they wouldn’t normally. It’s frustrating, but it can happen, so give them the opportunity to explain their situation.

3.) It can help if you keep your voice calm, measured and at a level volume and pitch. This will help to diffuse the situation and make it less likely that things will escalate.

4.) Try to avoid using ‘you’ statements, as these can come across as confrontational or accusatory. For example, instead of saying “You’re being unreasonable,” you could say “I understand that you’re feeling frustrated, but…” (even if you want to!)

5.) Remove yourself from the situation if necessary. Sometimes there is no winner in workplace conflict, and it can feel as though you’d have a more satisfactory conversation with a door stop. If the other person is being verbally abusive, it might be best to end the conversation and talk to them another time (or not at all).

6.) Never underestimate the healing powers of a good walk. Stressful day? Challenging customers? Get out in the fresh air, away from your computer and phone, and take some time to settle yourself. It can help you feel better, or at the very least give you some time to think about what you might need to say in order to resolve the situation.

I hope you find these tips helpful, and remember – keep your head when all about you are losing theirs (or at least try to)! Particularly when the weather is hot and everyone is feeling uncomfortable and crotchety. Good luck!