Having grown up in the hospitality industry, I was taught to always put the guest’s needs first. This mindset eventually led me to put everyone’s needs before my own and included positive communication skills, such as watching my tone and words to ensure that I was never offending anyone. Examples included not saying “you should” or “you need to” when talking with people. After all, who likes to be told what to do?
This also led to working too hard to ensure guests’ expectations were surpassed. Early in my career, I observed that many coworkers were moving to new companies every few years because of burnout. In parallel, my efforts to ensure everyone else was taken care of first meant that I forgot how to take care of myself. Obviously, I am capable of simple hygiene and ensuring that I appear professional, especially in guests’ eyes. However, I am talking about emotional care. Many years later, after repeatedly hearing staff members share that they cried because of the way customers talked to them, I knew that I needed to give them some tools to help prevent them from repeating the cycle I went through early in my career, when I had to leave great organizations because I burned out quickly.
The first area I want to focus on is not taking things personally when encountering a challenging customer or someone else who decides to take a bad day out on the next person he or she encounters. For years I had been beating myself up, wondering what I could have done differently to ensure people liked me, just like the employees.
In the end, it wasn’t about me. I think it is easy for us pleasers to fall into this mindset. I have found, during recent years of coaching team members, that the world of hospitality attracts givers and high-functioning empaths like myself. We want to make people happy. We believe that doing so makes us happy, and yet conversely, when things don’t go positively, we feel we are failing. Twenty-plus years into my career, I have decided to take care of myself first, so I can set boundaries and be okay with not pleasing everyone. After all, if you have worked with people long enough, you know that not everyone will be happy 100 percent of the time.
A book I have found to support my efforts at both ensuring self-care and giving top-notch service to everyone is one I use as the basis of my work in the hospitality industry. This oldie-but-goodie book by Don Miguel Ruiz is called The Four Agreements. The agreements include the following:
Be Impeccable with Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using words to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your words in pursuit of truth and love.
Brene Brown touches on this concept when discussing building trust in relationships. Some people think gossiping is a way of connecting. This is not the case. Gossiping builds the opposite of trust.
Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is directed wholly at you. What others say and do is often a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
We are in a challenging world right now, and people are more distraught than ever. A recent article I read stated that empathy has been on the decline since 2000, when technology started to become more prevalent.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
I have indicated in service points for salespeople, as well as for guest and owner service staff, that it is best to ask two questions. One question isn’t enough. Two questions make people feel you care and want to understand their needs or their situations completely.
Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy from the way it is when you are sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
Often employees will create negative self-talk because they weren’t able to get to all their responsibilities that day. I suggest they focus more on connecting with their customers in meaningful ways, letting that drive good feelings when they leave at the end of the day.
Ruiz’s book has been the base of relationship building in the work I do today. I have found that people who are quick to judge others are often truly hardest on themselves. Once I was able to have empathy for others, I was able to stop judging them as well as myself. Since I have been practicing the Four Agreements daily, as well as having empathy for people, for the last five years, I have felt emotionally healthy and confident that I am giving the highest level of service I can give. I believe that service is a way of life and that we can share our service through our work in the hospitality industry and our everyday actions.
Another book by Don Miguel Ruiz is called The Mastery of Love. It has changed my life and has formed one of my values, which I call “all actions out of love, not fear.”
This can be practiced by having honest conversations, even when it feels scary. I recently had a coaching session with a guest services representative for whom it was early in the coaching process. In our session, I could feel her pushing back against the scoring methods as well as the recommended communication techniques. It was not going well, and so I said, “I want to ensure our time spent together is valuable to you. Is there anything I can do to ensure you look forward to our coaching sessions and are open to the communication techniques we discuss?”
She said she didn’t feel she was prepared because she didn’t get her homework done. I empathized with her, and I understood that being prepared is important to her. I still felt the disconnect between us, and I reminded myself that I was still building trust, so I should be patient with the process. Later that day, she sent me an email apologizing for her anxiety and frustration at the beginning of our coaching session, explaining that it had nothing to do with me. If I hadn’t acted out of love and asked her what I could do, that email might never have been sent, and she wouldn’t have been vulnerable enough to allow us to build trust.
Being in the hospitality industry requires a good amount of energy and a giving nature, so it is crucial that we are mindful of how we are feeling and communicating because the body keeps score. If you are getting sick often or feeling bouts of depression, here are some methods I suggest.
- Define self-care more broadly. Understand what you need to be your most constructive, effective, and authentic self. This might include setting healthy boundaries.
- Take out the word “should.” Let self-care flow from the intention to stay connected to oneself and one’s overall mission.
- Operationalize self-care in your day-to-day work.
- Cut yourself a break.
- Value time, money, and resources.
- Take a victory lap.
- Surround yourself with good people.
- Update your workspace.
- Recharge and reboot.
Self-care is a constant practice. When you notice you are slipping, revisit those self-care tools that helped you originally. Another favorite practice I personally perform is gratitude journaling. When I notice myself getting negative about life, I write something I am grateful for every day, for 30 days. It is said that gratitude journaling can have the same effect as taking an anti-depressant. Research shows it is searching for something to be grateful for that makes the mind shift. I will say that if I am not diligent about doing this every day, I don’t reap the same rewards. If I am disciplined about the practice, it is like a reset button, and I look at everything with appreciation and gratitude.
“Self-care is a priority and necessity, not a luxury, in the work we do.” — Unknown