Guests are People Too: Avoiding Toxic Behind-the-Scenes Venting

by Anna Altschwager,Assistant Director, Guest Experience, Old World Wisconsin on

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society


Anyone have school tours running around lately?  Anyone tired from a busy summer season?  Anyone have staff grumbling about students and guests and how badly behaved, or annoying, or dense, or stupid they are… whoa.  What’s going on?

I want to shine a light on a trap that we all risk falling into. And this is the time of year when the risk of this trap is even higher.

We’re burned out, and the days are long, and nerves are shot. So, of course it feels good to vent and say “Oh my Gosh!  That Teacher! What was that about?!” And then when a co-worked says “I know, right?!” that feels good. You share these stories and vent and feel like you’re building camaraderie with co-workers.  

Old World Wisconsin

Old World Wisconsin

I’d like to warn you all – don’t fall into the trap of making light of the gripes and grumbles. Don’t classify these words as normal camaraderie, or mere venting. Of course, camaraderie and a happy culture are essential to great work, but that should not be built on a foundation of belittling our strongest asset- our patrons.

Where is the line between venting and toxicity?

We know how damaging a negative review on TripAdvisor or Facebook can be. It takes work to rebuild ratings after negative feedback. Why aren’t we more careful about how we manage our guest’s image within our own halls?

When we belittle our guests we make assumptions about them. We create expectations about guests. We use these expectations when engaging with guests. And when our expectations are that kids will be annoying and teachers will be wackos, and parents will be lazy-what does that do to the quality of our engagement with them?

When we on-board new staff, I make sure to tell them they will have a unique perspective on social norms and our visiting public. They will have days that try their patience. The will have days that make them pull their hair and worry about the future of education. But they will also have days filled with wonder and amazement that restore their faith in humanity. It’s these days that we should be sharing. We need to very intentionally make this the core of our team building and sharing.

Old World Wisconsin

Old World Wisconsin

Each morning we start our day with a Morning Meeting to re-cap tours, updates, and other need-to-know info for the day. I’ve started to ask my team to share a stand-out example from the past day or week. Not everyone has to go, but if there is a hand or two in the air, that’s great. They share a spark, or a story that made them go “That’s why I do what I do.” These will be tiny moments, but they are the moments we can’t afford to forget.  

I’d invite you all to share the intentional actions we can do to shine a light on the good days so that the bad days don’t become the toxic sludge in which we risk becoming mired.


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