Top Tips for Handling Difficult People

When did you last have a bad day? Perhaps you weren’t feeling well but struggled through the working day only to find that your boss seemed to criticise everything you did. On your way home you stopped at the supermarket to buy some milk and got angry with the checkout person because there was a queue.

Perhaps you were late for work because the alarm didn’t go off and the traffic was really bad, you got to work to find that there was something wrong with your computer and you spent hours on the phone to the helpdesk trying to get it sorted. You were then under pressure to complete a project by the end of the day so that you were late picking up the children and then you found yourself shouting at them for something minor.

Would you call yourself a difficult person?

I have seen a common theme emerging amongst the training that I have been delivering over the last twelve months – that of handling ‘difficult’ people.

Here are some of the typical comments that clients have been saying:

• “We need help with handling difficult customers”
• “We get lots of difficult phone calls”
• “Some of our members are quite difficult to handle”
• “Through our new performance management system we are finding that we are having some difficult conversations”

What do you think of when I write ‘difficult people’? Quite often one person’s definition of a difficult person is not the same as another person’s. For example you might find someone who is upset ‘difficult’ and another person won’t. Their ‘difficult’ person might be someone who shouts at them.

Typically we call someone ‘difficult’ because they cause us a problem and often that is a communication problem. Quite often these people are angry, upset, distressed, defensive, argumentative, unresponsive or even verbally abusive.

So why are people difficult? From my experience very few people are deliberately difficult. Perhaps they are just having a bad day.

Our behaviour is a result of our thoughts, beliefs, values and previous experiences – we are what we think. A ‘difficult’ person might display difficult behaviour but it does not mean that they are a difficult person.

Here are my top tips for dealing with difficult customers and colleagues:

1. Think of why they are being difficult. Step into their world and see if you can get a glimpse of what is causing them to behave in this way.
2. If things aren’t working, change your approach – you can’t change theirs.
3. Listen – quite often an angry person just wants someone to listen to them.
4. Ask questions – take time to understand.
5. Acknowledge their position and their emotions.
6. Look for a solution and, if appropriate, apologise.

Remember that people are rarely what they seem and someone is only difficult in our perception.

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