How to deal with business travel rage

The reality of business travel

If you encounter business travel on a regular basis you will testify that globetrotting for work is no holiday. Things often go wrong. When there is a real fiasco, like a cancelled flight, the default behavior of most travelers is to shout and rage. But the best way to get what you want and keep your blood pressure down, is to adapt your own behavior to the culture you are dealing with, rather than expecting others to change theirs.

Cultural adaptability

First, are you travelling in a culture where saving face is essential, like Japan, or China? If you are, shouting will not help, it will actually do harm. Society works on a system of mutual respect and if you yell at someone, like a hotel receptionist or an airline ticket clerk, they will shut down. At best, they will do the minimum to help you and at worst, they may adopt a passive-aggressive approach and actually obstruct your progress.

Understanding cultures

Where saving face is important, among Asians and Arabs, for example, a person may try to get out of a stressful situation by telling you what they think you want to hear (for example, “The flight is departing on time”, even if it is not). Understand that this is their way of dealing with the situation, not an attempt to derail your travel plans. Use other means to get the information you are looking for.

Understand the cultural limitations of the person you are tempted to shout at. In countries where hierarchies are strong, the person at the bottom of the pile, who is checking you into your room, or trying to reissue an airline ticket, may not be empowered to buck the system. You may stand a chance of getting round the rules in Australia, or Scandinavia, or the UK if you ask nicely, but in Asian and sub-Saharan African countries, low-ranking employees are unlikely to bend rules – the hierarchy demands that they follow procedure. If you are really struggling, ask politely to see a supervisor.

Some individuals are not culturally programmed to accept responsibility, so do not get aerated trying to make them take the blame. Fatalistic cultures like Arabs and many African countries see things like travel delays as God’s will, or someone else’s fault. Shouting something like “You have made me miss my flight” is a waste of energy.

In a stressful situation, make the other person your friend. You are trying to re book a cancelled flight and everybody is tired and frustrated. You get to the front of the queue. Say something like “You must be having a tough day” and smile. Just a bit of empathy, acknowledging that the other person is a human being, will get you results, especially in a country like the USA where people tend to be fairly combative when under pressure.

Adapt your behavior to the local service ethic. In the Caribbean, service can be friendly, but slow, and you need to build a relationship with the person serving you, so pass the time of day with them and chat. In Russia and Ukraine, service can be downright hostile and you will need to take a deep breath and not take it personally. In France, people take pride in their jobs and expect to be treated as an equal, so do not talk down to them, which will cause resentment.

Finally, if all else fails, keep your cool and defuse your own rage by doing a simple yoga breathing exercise. Breath in through the nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale slowly through the mouth to a count of eight. Repeat four times and your stress levels should drop dramatically.

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For more travel tips and insights head to the Travel and Living section on our blog.

About the Author

Sue Bryant

Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer and editor specialising in global business culture and travel.

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