Often, the biggest stressors for guides are around conflict and confrontation: unhappy customers, belligerent locals, an annoyed vendor, etc…
These are situations that, thankfully, don’t come up too often for the average guide but perhaps because of that the lingering thought that it might happen can give even the most experienced guide a bit of anxiety.
I think there’s this connotation of role-playing that it’s an embarrassing & awkward exercise a corporate office might put their employees through.
But the unease that comes from the unknown can be solved with muscle-memory, which comes from practice, which, can be expedited with role-playing.
In this article, I’ll explain why role-playing is my favorite tool for combatting conflict and confrontation.
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Why role-playing helps guides prepare for confrontation.
As mentioned, conflict really doesn’t come up that often for a tour guide. Which means it’s not something they can practice on a regular basis.
When you’re dealing with confrontation, there are a lot of things to consider all at once.
There’s obviously something that needs your immediate attention, but while you’re trying to decide the best way to defuse the situation, you’re also aware of your other guests- who are waiting to see how you’ll react.
And perhaps you’re also aware of the fact that you’ve never been in this exact situation.
A very human reaction to this much pressure is to freeze or go into fight or flight (where your instincts take over). What role-playing teaches is that instinct.
Role-playing allows for you to be put in the worst-case-scenario.
So when scenario pops up on an actual tour, you’ve been here before (theoretically). And you can allow your body to go into auto-pilot, using the techniques & wording that you’ve practiced during role-playing training.
How to facilitate role-playing training.
Role-playing can be used to train guides on any uncomfortable situations that don’t often come up (a guest refusing to wear a mask, an intoxicated local who interrupts your tour & wants your guests’ attention, a guest who is giving unwanted attention to the guide or guest, a heated political conversation that gets out of hand, etc…)
An example Confrontation Training, step-by-step.
- Share with your guides the company policy on this particular scenario (e.g. do they have the power to kick a bully-off of the tour? How will management support them?)
- Have guides brainstorm different versions of this scenario (either situations that they’ve personally experienced, or what they fear might happen)
- Have guides brainstorm ways to defuse the situation (The trainer should, of course, have examples already prepared should the guides need some help to start off. This is an important part of the training as there are always options for how to handle a situation. Each guide has a different personality, and comforts, so giving them several options allows them to try out a variety of solutions)
- Simulate the situation (As cheesy as it might sound at first, in my experience guides really get into playing the ‘angry guest’. Pair guides into groups of three- one ‘guest’, one ‘guide’, and one observer to watch & make suggestions. Have them practice different ways to address the same situation again & again. You can change it up by switching groups, or having them pull a new ‘angry guest’ personality out of a hat. The idea is simply repetition.)
- Have guides share what techniques they will try out (After you come back together as a group, have guides share with each other which techniques they liked best. It reinforces the exercise, and might gives guides some extra options to try out)
BONUS- this exercise can be used for situations other than confrontation. It works for practicing anything that makes guides uneasy, such as asking for reviews or selling other tours.