5 Ways to Deal with Difficult People

When was the last time you had to deal with a difficult person? It may have been a client or perhaps it was a member of your team, a colleague or even – your boss!

I’m sure that you always want to provide exceptional service to both your clients and co-workers. However, in the real world, things go wrong and mistakes are made. These “customers” will often judge your level of service based on how you respond to a mistake. Do it well, and they’ll probably forgive you and possibly even say positive things about your business or your abilities to other people.

The important thing in leadership is to realize when dealing with an upset person is that you must first address their feelings, and then their problem. Upset people are liable to have strong feelings when you, your product or service lets them down and they’ll probably want to “dump” these feeling on you.

You don’t deal with their feelings by concentrating on solving the problem, it takes more. Here are 5 ways to deal with people’s human needs:

  1. Don’t let them get to you. Stay out of it emotionally and concentrate on listening non-defensively and actively. People may make disparaging and emotional remarks but don’t rise to the bait.
  2. Listen, listen, listen.  Look and sound like you’re listening. People want to know that you care and that you’re interested in their problem.
  3. Stop saying sorry. Sorry is an overused word; everyone says it when something goes wrong and it’s lost its value. How often have you heard, “Sorry ’bout that, give me the details and I’ll sort this out for you”. It’s far better to say “I apologize for …”.  If you really need to use the sorry word, make sure to include it as part of a full sentence: “I’m sorry you haven’t received that information as promised Mr. Smith”. (It’s also good practice to use the person’s name in a difficult situation).
  4. Empathize. Using empathy is an effective way to deal with a client or co-worker’s feelings. Empathy isn’t about agreement, only acceptance of what the person is saying and feeling. Basically, the message is “I understand how you feel”. Obviously, this has to be a genuine response; the person will realize if you’re insincere, and they’ll feel patronized. Examples of empathetic responses would be:  “I can understand that you’re angry”, or “I see what you mean”. Again, these responses need to be genuine.
  5. Build rapport. Sometimes it’s useful to add another phrase to the empathy response, including yourself in the picture. For instance, “I can understand how you feel, I don’t like it either when I’m kept waiting”. This has the effect of getting on the customer’s side and builds rapport. Some customer service people get concerned with this response as they believe it’ll lead to “Why don’t you do something about it then”. The majority of people won’t respond this way if they realize that you’re a reasonable and caring person. If they do, then continue empathizing and tell them what you’ll do about the situation. “I’ll report this to my manager” or “I’ll do my best to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future”.

Make no mistake about it; people are primarily driven by their emotions. Therefore, it’s important to use human responses in any interaction particularly when someone is upset or angry. If they like you and feel that you care, then they’re more likely to accept what you say and forgive your mistakes.


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