How best to avoid the red mist

A fight broke out when the customer wasn't able to order chicken nuggets

We have all felt like bashing our heads against brick walls when we cannot get what we want as a consumer. Conversely, many of us have suffered awkward customers. So how do we stop irritation boiling over into anger?

It has been a bad week for customer-employee relations.

Firstly, Steven Slater, 39 - a steward for US airline Jet Blue - got fed up with a passenger who ignored instructions to remain seated, launched a four-letter tirade over the PA system and stormed out of the plane via the emergency inflatable slide - reportedly with a beer and his baggage in hand.

Then Melodi Dushane, 25, was so enraged by a fast-food outlet in Toledo, Ohio, refusing to sell her chicken nuggets - because it was still breakfast time - she attacked the drive-though employee and smashed a window.

Their actions have landed both in court. But how can those of us with a short fuse avoid following in their footsteps? The Magazine asks two experts:


Mike Fisher Phillip Hodson
Mike Fisher

Founder, British Association of Anger Management (BAAM)

Phillip Hodson

Fellow, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)

A "corporate-positiveness" culture prevents people dealing with workplace rage, Mr Fisher says.

"It's not about what triggers the outburst, but what's been going on for the last couple of weeks.

"When people are struggling they should be talking about it.

"But everybody has to look so tough, so infallible. It only takes one customer to do something fairly innocuous, then it's fireworks.

"Thousands of people I've worked with say 'I could never be so transparent about how I felt, they would think I'm weak'

"Actually, companies have HR departments, grievance procedures. The culture just tends to be that people don't use them.

"It doesn't have to be a professional, just someone with a listening ear."

BAAM's Keep Your Cool Kit advises people to look at the bigger picture, realise it's okay for people to have different opinions and to record feelings in an "anger journal" to bring clarity to a situation.

"Don't take anything personally - what others say and do is a projection of their own reality onto yourself," it adds.

If things have gone too far for that, it recommends calming strategies:

  • Remove yourself from the situation physically and emotionally
  • Count backwards from 20 to one
  • Visualise yourself in a calm, tranquil place eg sea, mountains
  • Remember life is unfair!

For Mr Hodson, the "nuggets that broke the camel's back" disguise a history of pent-up stress.

"There's nature and nurture involved.

"If you come from a family where anger is only expressed as a tantrum, you don't tend to learn there are other modes of anger.

"You let your temper rip, getting equally angry whether your spouse has bought the wrong type of cheese or been in bed with someone else.

"Other people are wired in that they find frustration incredibly difficult to deal with - this can also be the result of their parents giving in to them when they were children.

"If they have a row with the husband, their children won't go to school, they find out you have a tax bill and then are told their favourite comfort snack isn't available, they might explode.

"You have got to vent these feelings."

Mr Hodson says people should take action before this point.

Exercise can help by releasing endorphins - "nature's happy pills" - into the blood stream to relieve stress, along with a good diet.

If all else fails and you feel your blood begin to boil, Mr Hodson's tips include:

  • Sit in your car and scream to release energy and feel your body relax afterwards
  • Bring to mind a happy memory from childhood
  • Regulate breathing - in for three seconds, out for three and pause for one
  • Imagine your rival humiliated - perhaps naked and about to sit on a drawing pin

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