Imagine the following scenario: You're having a really bad day, dealing with tons of irate customers, disgruntled employees, the list goes on. You're at a breaking point when suddenly an aggravated customer you've been dealing with comes back at you, flaming. 

What do you do?

Before you answer, consider what happened to a Delta Air Lines representative this past weekend. On one of the worst travel weekends of the year, Memorial Day Weekend, Delta canceled or delayed hundreds of flights. Needless to say, Delta customers weren't happy.

Which led a Delta representative to give the following response, after dealing with one especially irate customer who appears to have had their flight canceled last-minute:

"Can you calm down and allow me some time to work please??"

This response may not have been the best one, but it's real--and it helps teach some lessons about emotional intelligence, an ability that can help you run your business more effectively, especially when the stress levels begin to rise.

Let's break down this conversation, and see what you can take away from it all.

(By the way, my colleague Jason Aten shares his own customer service lessons from this event in another great piece, which you can find here.)

The emotional hijack

It's impossible to say for sure, but it's probable the Delta employee's response came as a result of an emotional hijack.

An emotional hijack refers to what happens when the amygdala, the part of the brain that serves as our emotional processor, hijacks or bypasses the normal reasoning process, which takes place primarily in other parts of the brain. When you feel an emotional threat, the amygdala jumps into hyperdrive, pushing you into a fight, flight, or freeze response.

As a business owner, you may face frustrating, high-stress situations like this on a daily basis. With time and effort, you can train yourself to reduce the amount of times your emotions get hijacked; however, no matter how good you get at managing your emotions, you will continue to say and do things you regret, at times.

What should you do when this happens?

Here's where we can take a lesson from our Delta employee, who followed up the initial tweet by doing three things.

(If you find value in these lessons, you might be interested in my emotional intelligence course -- which includes 20 rules that help you and your employees develop emotional intelligence. Check out the full course here.)

Reassure the customer

Once the customer responded to the Delta employee's emotional plea, the first thing the employee does is tell the customer exactly what they are doing to solve the problem.

When things go wrong, it's not enough to tell your customer you're working on it. You have to tell them how you're working on it, what specific actions you're taking. This makes the customer feel included, like they're a partner in the process of solving the problem.

Focus on the task at hand

Next, the Delta employee doubled down on making things right for the customer. We know this, because the next day the customer tweeted:

"Thank you Daisy! You worked your magic and made things happen! Thank you!"

After an emotional hijack, it's natural to feel regret. However, it won't help anyone--you or the customer--if you get swallowed up by those negative emotions or throw a pity party for yourself. Instead, focus on the task at hand, and doing your best to make things right.

Apologize

"Apologies for the tone of that reply. We are glad we could help you and thanks for flying Delta."

Of course, there are times when an apology should come right away, but when emotions are running high and you're in problem-solving mode, that's not always practical. But here, the Delta employee does a great job: With emotions back in balance, and the problem solved, they offer a direct apology for the original tweet.

The result? In the end, you have an employee who got the job done, and a happy customer because of it.

So, the next time your emotions boil over, and you say or do something that you wish you could take back, remember this very real conversation from a Delta employee and an unhappy customer, and do the following:

  • Reassure the customer
  • Focus on the task at hand
  • Apologize

If you do these things right, you'll make the best of a tough situation. Because things don't always go the way we plan or even practice. But that doesn't mean that you can't still have a happy ending.