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3 Steps To Win When People Seem To Suck

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3 Steps To Win When People Seem To Suck

How to reframe any interaction so it works for you, not against you.


When you work behind the wood, you’ll interact with more people in one night than many interact with in an entire month.

Sounds great, right?

You get to hone in on your communication skills, meet interesting people, and build your network.

But sometimes people just seem to suck- and (you know, since you’re human and everything) a string of these negative interactions can serve to seriously bum you out.

So, what do you do?

Rather than let a few lousy interactions ruin your night, you can reframe interactions. Use these 3 steps to turn those negative experiences into positives:

Step 1: Choose your thoughts

Here’s the deal:

Our stories, fears, insecurities, worldviews, and desires determine our values, thoughts, beliefs, and behavior (phew- that was a mouthful).

These defining narratives end up affecting us whenever we interact with others.

Our guests are no different. They act the way they do because of their own defining narratives.

Unfortunately, many personal narratives are rooted in fear and insecurities, and bartenders often experience the nasty results.

We want patrons to feel comfortable and unguarded, but sometimes the freedom we encourage means interactions can really, really suck.

Here’s a perfect example from just the other night:

A man in his early 50’s sat down at the bar…

Me: Hey! How’s it going?

(Naturally, I expected a warm response to my warm intro…)

Him: Gin and tonic.

(…but I got ignored instead.)

Me: …. Thanks for asking… I guess I’ll just go fuck myself, then.

I responded in my head; not out loud, of course (even though I really, really wanted to).

The problem was, even though I bit my tongue, I had already allowed my thoughts to influence my mood- and my thoughts were toxic.

So this guy, for a brief moment, had totally derailed my mood.

Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” I’ll take it a step further: “How I think makes me who I am.”

And guess what?

We let people influence the way we think all the time.

We can’t control other people, but we can control how we respond (both mentally and verbally) and how much influence others have on our thoughts.

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Patrons used to affect my thoughts as easily as a fat guy affects the water level in a bathtub.

Seriously, just the way someone walked through the door of my restaurant could affect my mood.

Every patron brings in a different energy, and those energies influenced me a ton.

A couple examples of personas that especially affected me:

  • Someone who’s hesitant as he walks into the room and has a passive energy.
  • Someone who walks into the room, patiently waits to be greeted, and has a kind energy.
  • Someone walks right past the “Please Wait To Be Seated” sign and has an impatient energy.
  • Someone who walks in the room full of piss and vinegar, like he owns the place, and has an arrogant energy.

Truth-bomb alert:

I have the power to choose how to evaluate and respond to these energies. I can choose to be influenced by my evaluation, or I can choose to take control of my thoughts.

(This is honestly one of the most valuable things I’ve learned in this job.)

So, let’s get practical.

How do we navigate this ebb and flow of human energy? More to the point, how do we manage our own energy to maintain peak performance behind the bar?

Question your reactions

When you think, “Man, this person’s negative,” take notice. Reframe.

Stop and ask, “Is this really how I want to think about this person?”. That simple question can change your own mood and the flow of the interaction.

Reframing changes your thoughts, your thoughts changes your mood, and, together, thoughts and mood change who you are.

Likewise, if you walk into work with a negative attitude, just acknowledge it; then ask yourself if you want to stay that way.

This kind of reflection can totally change the course of your night.

Whenever you notice yourself slipping into negative energy, just pretend there’s a big *Energy Reset Button* in your brain, and give it a push.

Sounds simple, right? It is.

Step 2: Stop judging and start understanding.

Remember, every single human behaves the way they do because of their own unique backstory.

If you want to reframe your interactions, ask yourself, “If I had the SAME stories as that person, would I behave any differently?”

Possibly not.

We can’t change someone else’s backstory (or their subsequent attitude); we can only change our own thoughts.

So, if you find yourself in need of an attitude adjustment, get this mantra running around your brain:

Don’t judge; practice empathy.

When you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and experience life from their perspective, you’re practicing empathy.

Here’s a powerful tool you can use to help you:

The Empathy Map

Empathy map

A simple empathy map.

We borrowed this idea from Business Model Generation who use something called an ‘empathy map’ to better understand end users and meet their needs.

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Luckily, you don’t need to have the empathy map in front of you to reframe interactions.

When guests are rubbing you up the wrong way, do a quick empathy audit by asking the following questions:

  • What do they care about that you don’t care about?
  • What do they see that you don’t see?
  • What do they believe that you don’t believe?
  • How do they speak differently from you?

Just apply the map to everyone you see.

Kinda like this…

Empathy map

Here’s how it works:

When you pause to imagine another person’s internal world, you’ll understand rather than judge.

You’ll react with kindness and positivity.

You’ll change your mood, and you’ll change the interaction.

Empathy is the first step to developing meaningful connections with those you serve.

Step 3: Take charge by practicing proactive authentic enthusiasm

When that arse-hole man in the bar ignored my greeting the other night, I completely let his inconsiderate behaviour take hold of me.

What good did that do? Absolutely nothing.

When we react to a guest without thought, we’re allowing their energy to control the interaction. Even if they’re the one who brings negative energy into the bar, it’s our own reactions that contribute to what we call a ‘negative feedback loop’.

On the flip side, when we consciously choose the way we respond and the energy we project, we break that feedback loop. 

So, what if you want to create a positive interaction?

Choose to respond with authentic enthusiasm. Not only will your guest benefit, you’ll also benefit yourself.

I can tell you from personal experience that I don’t always feel like greeting someone with enthusiasm. But when I choose enthusiasm over negativity, the interaction goes much, much better. What’s more, I feel a lot better, too.

In fact, sometimes guests will change their own moods simply through your positive questions and enthusiastic energy.

A helpful way to remember this:

Every guest presents a powerful opportunity for a meaningful connection.

The way you engage that guest has the power to change their mood.

Hey, listen, I’ve been there.

I’ve arrived at work with a crappy mood, and I’ve arrived at work with a great mood only to be brought down by a nasty customer.

The thing is, you absolutely can take control of your mood, and your customers will notice and respond positively. And you can reframe any interaction.

Give these three steps a shot. We promise you’ll like the results.

Want more?

We coach professional bartenders to master their craft and become leaders. Interested? Click here to find out more about the Nimble Bar School.




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