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Grocery Store Workers as Mental Health Workers

August 10, 2020

“When a person screams about not wanting to wear a mask, one de-escalation strategy is to treat the person as an ally, not an enemy; and that’s why we teach empathic responses that build a connection.”

Russ Turner, our Training Institute Director, discusses with the Progressive Grocer three verbal de-escalation strategies to convey empathy and help grocery and other retail workers defuse confrontations over mask-wearing.

Read the complete article.

Article excerpt:

Empathy can be generated quickly by following some simple steps:

  1. Paraphrasing or reflecting back what you think you’ve just heard. This could be responding to an outraged customer by acknowledging that “you’re not feeling the mask thing.” This can be disarming because it’s non-confrontational and shows that you’ve heard the person and are sensitive to their feelings. Empathy promotes connection, and connection reduces tension. It’s a skill that can be quickly developed and embodies the idea of being nonjudgmental – another important element in de-escalation.
  2. Provide options, not threats. Threats will quite predictably set off a defensive response in the brain. Instead of saying, “If you don’t wear the mask, you can’t come in,” we teach people to create options: “You can wear your own mask, or grab one of our free ones.” Again, this is disarming – the thinking part of the brain tries to work out what to do.
  3. Seek common ground. This is about finding a shared goal: “Help us out with the mask thing so we can keep the store open” is the kind of script that matches this idea. We both want the store to remain open, so we’re working together toward the same goal. We’re looking for things to agree on, rather than focusing on areas where there’s disagreement.

Ultimately, the goal is the person’s voluntary compliance, even if it’s reluctant. Workers who realize that they’re not going to be able to make someone comply are halfway there. The next step is to create the kind of interaction where someone will de-escalate themselves and potentially start to comply, because fighting about it isn’t something the associate is doing with them.