Retailers need to prep for in-store COVID conflicts
The NRF Foundation has partnered with the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) to develop online training tools to help retail workers prevent and de-escalate in-store conflicts, particularly around social distancing, mask and capacity issues.
Retail employees have had to deal with minor and major confrontations on selling floors since the pandemic emerged, largely over mask mandates. Scenes of “anti-maskers” berating store associates or being called out by other shoppers have gone viral across social media. Some incidents have led to violence.
The training covers mask requirements for shoppers, shopper-to-shopper conflicts and line management. Approaches include active and empathetic listening, withholding judgment, allowing silence, clarifying messages, developing a plan, recognizing personal-limits and de-briefing.
In the online training, “one of the major scenarios is around an employee asking a customer to wear a mask, and he reacts,” Adam Lukoskie, VP of the NRF Foundation, the trade group’s nonprofit arm, told The New York Times. “There’s another scenario where a mother and child are there and are upset this gentleman is not wearing a mask so then the employee has to help make peace.”
Among the de-escalation tips offered by CPI:
- Understand that behavior is communication: Look for signs of anxiety in body language, tone and cadence. Consider what it is the other person might want.
- Avoid the power struggle: Challenging or exercising authority over a person can escalate negative behaviors. Consider options that offer flexibility to address both parties’ needs and desired outcomes.
- Use limit setting: Setting limits can influence behaviors. Framing acceptable behaviors or outcomes can encourage the other person to choose the most productive option.
- Practice rational detachment: Don’t take behaviors personally.
- Develop therapeutic rapport: Learn from the conflict and help the other person learn from the experience. Put time and effort into repairing the relationship.
- NRF Foundation Introduces COVID-19 Trainings to Aid Retail Employees – National Retail Federation
- De-escalation Help Offered for Retail Employees Amid COVID Mask, Social Distance and Capacity Challenges – Crisis Prevention Institute
- Store Workers to Get New Training: How to Handle Fights Over Masks – The New York Times
- Anti-mask shoppers find themselves publicly shamed – RetailWire
- De-escalation is the new customer service: Training to deal with angry, maskless patrons – Salon
- De-Escalation Tips In Light of Coronavirus Anxiety – Crisis Prevention Institute
- Now that Trump tested positive for COVID-19, will shoppers be more compliant with mask mandates at stores? – USA Today
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What obvious and less obvious advice would you have for store managers and associates on how to prevent and de-escalate conflicts over COVID-19 requirements? Is the tension around in-store mandates lessening and will it become a non-issue in the months ahead?