top of page
  • Joseph Crimmins

The Power of “Yes.” De-Escalating Violent Customers

Irate Customers in the Workplace- The Power of “Yes”

Due to the events of 2020, the stress that “essential” workers feel is at an all-time high. They are doing their best to show up for work and interact with customers, while at the same time taking care of their own needs and the needs of their family. Customers are not able to accomplish important tasks with the speed and efficiency that they are used to. They may be frustrated, angry, and even scared. This is a recipe for confrontation and violence in the workplace.

When confronted by an irate customer, consider starting your verbal response to the customer with the word “Yes.” This is a tool that I used as a police officer many times with great effect. It makes no difference that the answer to their concern will eventually be a “No.” When the first word the person hears is “Yes,” followed by an acknowledgment of their concern, it’s a game-changer.

Here are examples of responses that you could use when confronted by an irate customer;

Yes, I understand how that would make you angry…

Yes, I understand why you feel the way you do…

Yes, I understand what you would like me to do…

The power of “Yes” strategy- You may think that everyone will acquiesce or stand down when a police officer gives them a command. I can assure you that this is not the case. I have used this strategy when speaking to an offender squared off in front of me with their fists clenched. The power of “Yes” can often decrease the tension and the danger. “Yes, I understand you are angry because you were told to leave…let’s step outside and you can tell me your version...”

When an irate customer is asking you to fix their problem, and they hear “No, I can’t do that” or “No…that is not possible…” it heightens the fight or flight mechanism that is stored in their mid-brain sympathetic nervous system. They do not hear you explain any objective reasoning that follows the word “No.” Their autonomic nervous systems kicks in and they will continue to argue their position and express their upset with you and your company as if on automatic pilot. The fight is on.

There is an additional benefit to this strategy of “Yes.” Somehow, saying “Yes” makes the confrontation less of a personal dispute. Saying “No” can be perceived by the irate customer as a personal confrontation with the employee. This could increase the motivation of the customer to threaten or assault the employee.

I learned as a police officer that if an offender perceived that they were being disrespected by the officer, it became a personal battle between them. The offender would often fight, no matter the inevitable consequence. In contrast, I often witnessed a violent offender succumb to lawful orders if they perceived that the officer was showing them respect. As a bank teller, or a retail store employee confronted by an irate customer, you may be able to use these same strategies, rather than relying on your perceived authority as a company representative.

Of course you will eventually need to tell them the news they don’t want to hear. “Yes, I can see why you would be angry at the bank. I am sorry that this delayed the purchase of your house. However, the banker you are yelling at cannot solve your problem right now.”

This strategy of “Yes” should not give the impression that it is somehow our responsibility as an employee or a business owner to mollify a customer acting in this way. The purpose of this strategy is to give our employees more reaction time, and a better opportunity to succeed in a dangerous situation. Threatening behavior is never appropriate, and should not be tolerated. If you have a customer that demonstrates this behavior, act immediately to make sure they are no longer a customer. If you do not, your customer believes that they can act with impunity due to their financial value to your business. Acting to terminate this business relationship, no matter how profitable, also sends a clear and welcome message to your employees that their safety is a higher priority than a continuing business relationship with a person like this.

Joseph Crimmins

Serve and Protect Law LLC

We help companies plan and prepare for any Workplace Violence or Crisis Situation that could be dangerous to their employees, or to their business.



bottom of page