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How to Resolve an Adult Temper Tantrum

A conversation devolved into a temper tantrum at a restaurant we dined at last week.

We were the only guests seated when some new diners arrived. They missed their reservation time by half an hour. Since the restaurant was empty save for my family, it did not seem problematic. Boy, was I wrong.

The guests wanted our table.

Out of all the 14 tables in this little restaurant, they wanted to be seated at our table.

The hostess, whose primary tongue wasn’t English, explained that because they were late, she had offered the table at the back of the restaurant to us.

The guests began to argue.

They reserved a table and, even if they were late, they deserved to be seated there. Why did the hostess seat the other guests at the one table at which they wanted to be seated?

Again, the hostess explained that they were late.

They got angry and said the hostess wasn’t treating them respectfully. Voices got raised. Unsurprisingly, they demanded to speak with the manager.

When the manager arrived, the husband and wife (it was a family with two children) argued their point of view. The wife interrupted the manager each time he spoke to say they were being treated disrespectfully. The husband grew sullen and petulant.

The end result?

Nothing changed. The manager supported the hostess. The diners remained at their table as did we.

But the consequences were apparent: frustration, disappointment, feeling let down, resentment, anger. And the spill out affected not just the hostess and manager but the couple’s children and our family too. It was ugly.

I wondered if there was a better way to handle it.

Language Matters

Sometimes when there’s a language barrier, people cannot express themselves as clearly as they would in their native language. I’ve experienced that myself when trying to speak a foreign language, so I have tremendous sympathy for the hostess.

To be fair, it’s possible the hostess could have explained how their lateness impacted their choice of tables in a better way.

Adding another twist: English wasn’t the first language of the other family either. You could apply the same “language matters” point to them.

Escalating to Anger

The anger expressed by the husband and wife seemed disproportionate to the situation. Clearly, this was not about losing the table. Perhaps they have a sense of entitlement, or they feel wronged generally.

Either scenario generates attack thoughts, an us-against-the-world point of view that places them firmly in defensive mode.

To de-escalate the situation, the guests could have owned up to their lateness and expressed remorse.


Perspective makes a difference. If I feel like it’s me-against-the-world, guess what? I will regularly encounter circumstances that support my belief. I will feel wronged, maligned, mistreated.

In contrast, if I view the world through a benevolent lens, I’ll experience that too. In this case, the willingness to consider other perspectives would have helped secure a better outcome.


Kindness can smooth the way in difficult situations.

I don’t think the husband and wife were willing to feel kindness in that moment. They felt defensive, wanting to prove they were right. In coaching, I’d call that a full “saboteur hijacking.”

And yet, even in those moments, opportunity exists.

Pause, take a deep breath, briefly transfer your attention elsewhere, and you can regroup.

By identifying with their Leader Within instead of their saboteurs, the guests could have accessed the kindness within themselves. Then they could have transferred that kindness externally to the hostess.

Next time you feel hijacked by your saboteurs, ask yourself, Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?

Header Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

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