Like many guests, after waking up way too early, I arrived at my vacation rental in South Lake Tahoe tired from traveling and ready to put down my luggage and relax. I felt grateful for the detailed information on the helpful app I downloaded from RnR Vacation Rentals. From booking to arrival, everything had gone extremely smoothly.
I marveled at the keyless entry with a simple, easy-to-remember, personalized code. Connecting to Wi-Fi was a piece of cake. As I toured my beautifully appointed townhouse, I continued to be impressed with the welcoming feel and attention to detail. It was well equipped, immaculate, and all mine for the next several days.
Technology and automation have indeed made our lives and businesses more streamlined and, in many ways, simpler. In the hospitality industry, we all enjoy those days when everything seems to run smoothly, guests are happy, and the staff is functioning at peak performance level. Homeowners are grateful for your hard work.
Still there are those days, despite the latest technology and automation, when we are painfully reminded of the often-unpredictable human element. Conflicts arise. The day takes a sudden turn. After all, you are dealing with human beings, and some team members have strong personalities (which you admired when you hired them because it looked like courage). Often, there are guests or homeowners whose expectations have become increasingly demanding. With more choices than ever, wowing them is sometimes difficult, despite your best efforts.
If conflict, sometimes leading to difficult conversations, is inevitable, is there a way you can automate your response for greater effectiveness—with something more systematic? Sadly, major conflicts often involve highly emotional reactive responses. For example, a guest with unmet expectations can become a bully over the phone, unsettling any normally confident guest service representative.
My heart goes out to the unfortunate housekeeper who, confronted by an early arrival or a late checkout, may not be well equipped to handle grumpy, sometimes rude guests.
I am continually impressed by the genuine, caring individuals in this industry, each sincerely wanting to give guests “the trip of a lifetime.” Equipped with the right attitude, when managing conflict, these valued team members may appear polite and helpful on the outside even if they are less than resourceful on the inside.
While a positive attitude can be a great starting place, adding some core beliefs may take you and your team even further.
In my early days of studying neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), I heard, “The meaning of your communication is the response you elicit.” Was I suddenly responsible for everyone’s success in tough conversations? No. Did my flexibility improve as I adopted this mindset? Yes, absolutely. Simply put, I alone am responsible for my communication.
I like to think of it this way: I am responsible for whatever falls out of my mouth. Furthermore, if I do not get the response I am looking for, it is up to me to try something different and keep trying until I reach my desired outcome. No more waiting for others to get on board with my way of thinking—I need to join their way of thinking.
Even after becoming much more proficient practicing empathy over time, I still felt I needed more tools.
The late Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, added some key pieces: Be proactive. Exercise your power, freedom, and ability to choose your response regardless of external circumstances. Think win–win even in situations where others play win–lose. These mindsets allowed me to take a deeper level of responsibility for my communications.
I admit it was easier said than done. While continuing to study the factors affecting success in communication, I was struck by the crucial role of language and our use of words. You may be familiar with the statement, “It’s not what you said; it’s how you said it!” And although body language, tone of voice, and volume play roles, I often find what I say can make all the difference.
The work of the late Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, founder of The Center for Nonviolent Communication, may well hold the key to dramatically improving the way you and your team resolve conflicts and create the best possible guest experience we all strive for.
He called his approach nonviolent communication (NVC), using the term nonviolence as Gandhi used it—referring to our natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from the heart. Although we may not consider the way we or others talk to be “violent,” words often lead to hurt and pain whether for others or ourselves. The process I am describing is also known as compassionate communication.
Compassionate communication is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain caring human beings even under trying conditions. The intent is to remind us of what we already know: As humans we are designed to relate to one another, to experience and demonstrate compassion, and to work together.
Through its emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as well as to others—NVC fosters respect, attentiveness, and empathy. I find that with its use, the quality of information I receive greatly improves, giving me more likelihood of getting the response or solution I am searching for.
The form is simple yet powerfully transformative.
There are four components of the NVC model:
- Needs (values)
- Requests (solutions)
Observation: First, we observe what is happening in a situation. The trick is to be able to articulate this observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation. For example, the statement “You should have told us you needed a late checkout” is a judgement and is not likely to lead to cooperation.
Think about a surveillance camera. It captures actual footage only of what occurs in front of it. The camera does not judge what happened or make assumptions. It is only capable of video and audio recording.
We begin, then, with a simple statement we can all agree on. For example, “Our housekeeper has arrived and tells me you and your family are . . . (in the pool, etc.).”
Feelings: Next, we state how we feel when we observe this action: Are we surprised, sad, disappointed, or irritated?
“I feel surprised. Your contract states checkout is 11:00 a.m. Your housekeeper is feeling uneasy because she is not sure she can have the home ready for our upcoming check-in at 3:00 p.m.”
Needs (Values): And third, we say what needs of ours are connected to the feelings we have identified. In this step, consider what is important and what it is you value.
“I need your consideration and cooperation, please.”
Requests (Solutions): This fourth component addresses what we want from the other person. We make a specific request, starting with “Would you be willing to . . .”
“Would you be willing to partner with me to find a solution to benefit all parties?”
Obviously, this is a starting place, and the guest will most likely interrupt with comments, excuses, or perhaps even solutions.
A few different word choices here could make a big impact.
“Next time, or in the future, if you let us know, we would be happy to arrange a late checkout. I regret we are not able to offer it to you and your family today.”
“I can offer you help packing” is more effective than “I can’t give you more time because another guest is arriving soon.”
“I wish we could offer you more time” sounds more compassionate than “There’s nothing we can do.”
Note that, in the examples above, there is no genie in a bottle granting wishes. The guest still needs to pack and go. This approach is more likely to get cooperation than continued argument.
When speaking to team members, tell people what you want rather than what you don’t want.
For example, avoid saying, “Don’t be late tomorrow. We are meeting with a new homeowner.” You have just, by the power of suggestion, increased the likelihood that they will checkout late.
Say, “Please arrive a few minutes early tomorrow when we meet with a new homeowner.”
This one shift is amazing. Don’t believe me? Don’t think about pink rabbits. Can you? The phrase “pink rabbits” puts pink rabbits in your head. Think about who you want to try this with first. Would you be willing to test these approaches?
With each interaction, we have the opportunity to feed into the conflict with our own judgements and negative emotions or create cooperation through compassion.
As compassionate communication replaces our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking in the face of conflict and criticism, we come to perceive ourselves and others as all wanting the same outcomes: harmony, joy, connection, and happy times.
As I said goodbye to my new friends at RnR, I shared this advice from another favorite mentor, Jim Rohn. Jim said, “Don’t wish it was easier; wish you were better. Don’t wish for fewer problems; wish for more skills. You can cut down a tree with a hammer, but it takes about thirty days. If you trade the hammer for an ax, you can cut it down in about thirty minutes. The difference between thirty days and thirty minutes is in the skills.”