Christmas is coming, for many of us this an exciting time that we will be spending with our friends and family, away from the workplace. However, we tend to forget that while we are enjoying our time away from work, for many, it is the most dreaded time of year. In this case, I am talking about those who work in retail.

Having worked for one of the “big four” supermarkets for a few years, progressing through the ranks, I’ve experienced first-hand the kind of conflicts that your average retail employee can face on a day to day basis. If I had a pound for every Christmas I supposedly “ruined” and an extra pound for every disgruntled customer I had screaming aggressively in my face because an item they needed was not available just before Christmas day, I would never have to work again.

Now, I can admit that overall, I was fairly good with dealing with these kinds of conflicts, mainly due to the fact that I had worked my way up to a higher position and had the advantage of watching experienced managers deal with conflict situations. However, I had never received any formal training in this area, and unfortunately, disgruntled and angry customers do not have a radar which allows them to focus their anguish at the most senior colleague in the building. Everybody is effectively a target in these situations, it doesn’t matter if you’ve worked there 30 days or 30 years, in the retail environment, anybody could be thrust into a situation where he or she are dealing with conflict of some kind.

Too many times had I seen fellow colleagues in tears because they did not know how to deal with a situation like this, which often as a result merely made the situation worse. This was no fault of the employee, if they have not been trained in how to deal with conflict situations, then they can’t be expected to resolve it, as far as I’m concerned.

During my time in retail, events like this occurred on, more or less, a daily basis, and it was often just passed off as “the norm.”

However, once I was away from retail and focusing on getting my training qualifications, I was sent on a Conflict Management course by my current employer, this opened my eyes to the training that I could have (and I feel that I should have) received when I was working in retail.

This 2 day course was straightforward, and the knowledge and techniques that it bestowed upon me were, in theory, extremely simple. Over this period, I found myself constantly saying the same things: “I wish that I had learned this when I was in retail…”, “That would have been handy to know when I was working in retail…” etc, you get the idea.

Now, as far as I’m aware, members of management in retailers do get some form of conflict management training. However, management in retail is not the front line, and their skills usually only come into practice because of some form of escalation. This is due to the majority of those on the front line, the shop floor workers, have little to zero training in conflict management. When you consider that they are the ones who will be bearing the brunt of the initial conflicts, this just seems wrong. Just imagine how much time and aggravation could be saved if the initial spark of conflict could be extinguished by those on the front line!

There are undoubtedly a number of reasons that retailers won’t give all their employees sufficient conflict management training, with cost and time being the main two. But, speaking as an ex-retail employee who did conflict management after his time in the sector, I really, really wish that I had this training, and I’m sure a lot of my colleagues would have as well.

These are not just skills that one can apply to their retail career, these are skills that you can apply to almost any walk of life. The knowledge someone can take with them is invaluable.

Within the workplace, colleagues could feel safer and confident that they would know what to do when conflict inevitably arises.

I feel that many of us underestimate just how far conflict can go with customers, although it is rare, there has been instances where I have seen (and been told stories of) violence being used towards employees. Violence, that could have been avoided had the right training been delivered.

Consider Conflict Management, for a safer, more secure working environment.

By Jake Wade.

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