Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Understanding and Avoiding Unnecessary Conflict and Confrontation

I've been sucked into this negativity for far too long, it's time to focus on the constructive. That's what this blog was created for, aside from entertaining my mind while other projects get blocked up in my brain.

This post is intended for bus drivers.

There are few things that hurt our job performance more than conflicts and confrontations with our passengers. Our passengers are our livelihood, and it's high time we begin to heal the tattered relationship we have had with them since we went on strike and lost their trust and respect. 

In the past few days, we have learned two ways not to deal with difficult situations on our buses. We simply cannot blow up and threaten to fill their pie-holes with fists, nor can we simply abandon a running bus leaving all others to fend for themselves. 

Yes, we deal with difficult people. The overwhelming majority of people we serve are pretty awesome, but the lingering memory always seems to be the one guy/gal who goes that extra mile to stick it to you. Here are some strategies to deal with difficult situations:

Identify your stress.

Are you feeling stressed? You need to figure out why, and use EAP to deal with it. Whether you're on edge because of family issues, or schedules at work, or a chronic situation with a passenger, you need to find a safe place to vent that pressure. EAP can help you by talking confidentially with you. EAP can help get you out of a chronic situation with a passenger. These are your peers, and they want to help.

Externalize The Conflict

It's high time you understand that the person who is standing there upset doesn't know you personally. When he or she makes a scene on your bus over service issues and takes it to that personal level, bring the conversation back to the service and the inherent problems with planning, traffic, transit, other passengers, etc. Use phrases that steer a complaint where it belongs. 
  • "I know this bus is always late. I've been asking them to help fix this crazy schedule by sending another bus, but they say we don't have the resources..." 
  • "This line keeps getting bogged down at an intersection with traffic. We should all give the company a call and see if we can fix this..."
  • "I have to ask everybody to pay. The company uses Secret Shoppers now, and I can't afford to get a days suspension if someone sees me letting you on for free..."
  • "We've got to work on a solution that will get all of the strollers and folks in wheelchairs where they need to go. Who's got an idea on how we can fit everybody in here?"
Externalizing conflict is your single-most potent weapon to diffuse a potentially explosive confrontation. Gain common ground with the passenger by siding with them in their complaint. Get on their team. Focus their anger away from the wheel, and allow them to vent without becoming the target. Give them closure by involving them in the solution to their problem. Allowing them to have the appearance of control over a situation is sometimes just as good as an actual resolution to their issue. 

Call Control...Ignore, Ignore, Ignore

We have all been in a situation where a passenger is uncontrollably belligerent. You cannot reason, deflect, externalize or resolve with these people. They are angry, and you are the target.
  1. Call control. 
  2. Park the bus.
  3. Open the doors
  4. Explain your actions to the other passengers
  5. Ignore the instigator completely, do not feed the bear!
  6. Let Transit Law and your supervisor deal with it!
You are done here. You are not on YouTube, you can call EAP to talk about it if you need it. The key point here is that if you cannot use an externalizing strategy and the anger is directed at you, you feel stressed and threatened, DO NOT engage them. Ignore, Ignore, Ignore. The only pure defense to unfounded anger is complete apathy to the threat.  You gain control of the situation by demonstrating that you will not be provoked, you will not participate, and you will not be baited. Yes, this takes a great deal of self control. At the time, it feels like you are losing. When the situation is over and your supervisor is getting yelled at, you will understand why you have won. :-)

Preventive Maintenance

Preventing conflict is all about attitude. We have a major disconnect with our passengers right now. As a matter of fact, our society has a major disconnect with each other right now. Whether you are driving your bus or your car, one small driving error is all you need to demonstrate that too many of us are walking time-bombs just looking to explode on the next "idiot" that happens to cross us. 

Take me up on this challenge. Be extra nice to everyone you meet tomorrow. Smile at everyone you can, greet them with a Hello, and thank them when they pay you. Wait for people, even the greasy teenager non-chalanting his way across the platform and holding up the bus. Offer help to one person a day, even if it is just walking back to raise or lower the chair-seat, or to give direction to someone who looks lost. 

What you will accomplish at the end of the day is a positive attitude. You cannot possibly avoid this outcome. It is contagious, and you will want to do it again tomorrow. People will treat you better, too. People tend to treat others as they are treated. When you go out of your way to project a happy persona, the folks you serve will reciprocate. You will also gain something very valuable. A reputation. I have one, and it is unbelievably satisfying to see regular passengers smiling before they board the bus. They are standing in line, smiling. They know what to expect from me. I look them in they eye, and I smile. 

If all of us try it, we can change this city.


  1. I love this. All great ideas. Kudos for putting it all into one place. Another effective strategy I use is whenever things get "silly" I try to imagine that I'm on a hidden camera show, more and more these days you'd be right, but it will help you to check yourself before you wreck yourself.

  2. This really is an interesting article and I have recommended that my son, who is one of the stressed out OC drivers, read it. You have a great attitude and I think many of the drivers would benefit from reading your blog.

  3. Hey, I'd just like to say I really enjoy reading your posts. I find them very well written and interesting. The poetry is pretty good too.