Defense and offense are words of opposite meaning, yet often linked together. Their obvious meaning is demonstrated on the football field. One team attacks an area defended by another, trying to reach the goal. The purpose of the defense is to stop the attack, to defend their territory, to protect the goal. Though these terms have most often been applied to armies at war, they can also be used to describe less physical competitions such as a game of chess. What characterizes each of these examples is a conflict or competition.
Two words derived from these terms are the adjectives offensive and defensive. The dictionary defines offensive as:
- Unpleasant or disagreeable to the senses; obnoxious, disgusting.
- Causing anger, resentment, giving offense; insulting.
- Carried on for the purpose of defending against attack or danger.
- Having an attitude of defense.
Everyone has heard the phrase “a good offense is the best defense.” This idea is especially useful on battlefields, football fields, and even chessboards. By keeping your opponent so off balance by relentless attacks, he has no time or resources to plan attacks against your positions. In this way your offense becomes your defense.
People have natural tendencies. Whether inborn or created by longstanding habit, they are part of our makeup and we express them without thinking. One such habit is the tendency to personally associate ourselves with that which we do. Just as the farmer has a proprietary interest in the fields he labors so hard to till and harvest, we all identify with our organization or place of work. A corollary to this sense of association is the natural inclination to protect that which we consider our own or with which are associated.
So it is natural for us to feel pride in our work and place of employment. When someone attacks it with criticism, disparaging remarks, or complaints, the natural tendency is to defend it, to assume a defensive attitude. This is all well and good unless you depend upon that someone’s goodwill for your livelihood. When you work in the service industry, you literally cannot afford to become defensive.
When you become defensive, many things happen physiologically and psychologically. Adrenaline starts flowing; you tense up, ready to repel any further attack; your heartbeat and respiration quicken. Likewise, your mind races ahead to your next move or response so you don’t hear what is being said and you don’t focus on the moment. Subconsciously knowing that a good offense is the best defense you become antagonistic; you raise your voice; you develop an attitude; you become abrupt and huffy with the other person. At this point, without even knowing it, you have become offensive; that is by definition, “causing anger, resentment, giving offense; insulting.”
How can you avoid the natural tendency to become defensive? The first step is to become aware that you become defensive when criticized or listening to a member complaint. Notice the giveaways. Are you tense and nervous? Do your hands shake or your voice quaver? Do you feel a tightness in your chest? Do you raise your voice? Any of these symptoms reveal your defensiveness.
Realizing this, what can you do about it? First of all, understand two important things:
- Complaints are not usually directed at you, so don’t take it personally. Allow some distance between yourself and the complaint. Not too much, though; you must show a sincere concern to resolve the problem.
- When a member complains, there is, in his mind, a problem. Whether we think there is a problem or not is immaterial. Furthermore, because of the nature of the service profession, the problem is ours. When considered in this light, the member is doing us a favor by making us aware of the problem. We should be appreciative and thankful instead of defensive.
In addition, there are some particular things you can do when confronted with a complaint.
- Where there is no conflict, there is no need for offense and defense. Don’t allow a conflict to arise. Disarm the situation by cheerfully accepting our problem. Listen carefully to what the member is saying. Apologize sincerely for our shortcomings. If you can solve the problem, cheerfully and quickly do so. If you can’t, get a manager who can.
- If you find yourself becoming nervous or defensive, take a deep breath. The inflow of oxygen will help quiet your system and the moment you take to breathe has a calming effect on your nerves.
- If you find yourself losing control, try to leave the room on some pretext. If you are a server, tactfully excuse yourself “to check with the kitchen.” Once there, take a deep breath and get control of yourself. Try to put the member’s anger into perspective. It’s not the end of the world. Resolve to overcome that anger. Take another deep breath and go back to the member.
- Go on the offensive in a positive away. Take control of the situation. Ask pertinent questions about the problem. Take notes as necessary. This taking ownership of the problem demonstrates a proprietary concern and a desire to correct the problem.
- While apologies must always be given, remember that easy apologies and facile excuses do not impress. Our actions speak louder than our words.
- Be sincere. You should have a sincere desire to help any member with a need or concern. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong business.
Two things you must never do:
- Pass the buck or evade responsibility. You may not have created the problem, but now that it’s been brought to your attention, you need to resolve it.
- Don’t become defensive. It is not us against the members. We’re on their team!
Responding to member complaints is one of the most difficult things we face in the service profession, but when we avoid becoming defensive, we often can create a turnaround situation where the problem is solved and the member satisfied. There is no more satisfying situation in service.
Thanks and have a great day!
This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.
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