How to Deal with Difficult People

It may seem overwhelming when considering what we need to do to please a difficult person, but the tenets of good customer service always prevail.

“You might be a Difficult Person if…

… you have to stand on your head to smile

… to screw in a light bulb, you stand there with the bulb in the socket and wait until the world revolves around you

… the devil tells you to take it easy on people”

the staff

Do you ever feel your customers fit these descriptions?

It’s not surprising there is a Website devoted to quips about difficult people. We all encounter them; they add stress and strain to our job, our life. Humor helps reduce the stress and brings a smile back to our face. Why are people difficult and how should they be handled to bring normalcy back into our daily routine?

Many factors contribute to a person’s unsavory disposition. Understanding why a person provokes us may be a clue in helping handling him or her.

Life gets in the way. A good reminder to us all is that we all face challenges on a daily basis; we have an argument with our spouse, our partner, our parents, kids. We get up on the wrong side of the bed. There’s a detour on the way to work. We encounter that “customer from hell”; the one we hoped would never return but keeps coming back. And what about that customer? What did he encounter on the way to your business? Maybe a delayed flight, a rental car with persistent problems, traffic delays. Then finally, he arrives, three hours later than expected. Not a happy camper.

Changes at your organization. Your customer walks through the door, discovers a new face at the counter or desk. She’s thinking how long it took to “train” the last rep to provide the service she expects. Now, she’s faced with an uphill battle, getting you on the right page. It’s frustrating for the customer, frustrating for you. Or perhaps there is an operational change being introduced within your company. It takes longer for service and procedures are not the same. Not only do employees need to learn a new system, so, too, does the customer.

Personalities: There are just some people who can never be pleased.

It may seem overwhelming when considering what we need to do to please a difficult person. Yet, the tenets of good customer service always prevail.

  • Acknowledge: In the form of eye contact and a welcoming greeting. In many industries, this is known as the 10/5 rule. When a customer walks your way, at 10 feet, acknowledge with eye contact, and then at five feet, verbalize your greeting.
  • Smile: Add this to your acknowledgement and begin to wipe your customer’s problems away. Who among us doesn’t respond positively to a kindly smile?
  • Be sincere: Add this to your smile and to your words. Be real in your delivery of your acknowledgement. A false approach can be easily detected.
  • Listen: Demonstrate you’re genuinely interested; not only listen to the words but listen for the message, as well.
  • Show compassion: Commiserate with your customer. Show you care and want to help.
  • Extend courtesies: Please. Thank you. I’m sorry. You’re welcome. How may I help you? May I help you with anything else? The list goes on.
  • Empathize: Verbalize your understanding of the customer’s situation. Unless you, too, have been in a similar situation, “I understand” may not be the best form of empathy. Find a word or phrase expressing the same thought without the directness of “I understand.”
  • Mirror the personality of your customer: I don’t mean be rude to a difficult person, but find those traits within that individual that are similar to your own. Then use them as a way to make the customer comfortable.
  • Respect: I think states it well: Respect is defined as esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability.” Regardless of anyone’s mood, demonstrate you respect them as a person.

Remember, everyone has an off day. What has this difficult person been through today to cause him or her to act in such a manner?

As Shannon L. Adler said: “In order to master compassion, you have to spend time getting to know monsters. When you can do that, you will see that there are no monsters, only people who acted like monsters because no one gave them the time or compassion to hear their story.”

Barbara Randi is a Training account manager at Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, OH-based company offering sales and customer service training, marketing, and mystery shopping services for a variety of service-based industries. For more information, call 800.398.0518 or visit You also can connect with Signature on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook.


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