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Dealing with Difficult People

By: Dorothy Pederson
Tel: 909 557-7270
Email: Email Ms. Pederson
Website: About Frontline Consulting

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The business of service is an interesting one to say the least. The subtle path to success lies in knowing ourselves. You might ask what I mean. What I am saying is that it is only in gaining understanding into our own feelings, reactions, and habits that we master the real art of relationship. It is always all about us!

Don�t leave me yet, let me explain. Feelings are backed by thought. When you are aware of what you think and feel you can manage what you think and feel; and cordially and assertively manage a customer interaction. Unacknowledged negative feelings can translate into a rude tone and/or condescending attitude. We don�t want that. Acknowledging feelings allows us the mental and emotional space to use concurrent logical thinking skills and maneuver a customer that is testy, rude or abusive. We then truly manage both ourselves and the interaction with the customer. Always remember, you are not responsible for the customer. Your responsibility is to listen and manage the interaction through to conclusion. Keep personal judgments out of the mix as much as possible.


Think of one of your more irritating customers. Do you have them in mind? Now forget about them for a moment and look instead at how you feel when you recall them. Do you feel afraid, agitated, put off because they irritate you and you don�t want to be bothered with them? Do they make you feel stupid? Are you impatient and just want to move on? Are your offended by their crude behavior? Get to the deeper feelings and thoughts here. I understand that a customer may be obnoxious, mean, or elderly and slow, etc. This discussion is about how you think, feel and react however, so take them off the discussion plate for the moment. (See Understanding Customer Personalities)

Do you have an idea what you are feeling about them? If not, continue to be quiet and just listen to the thoughts rumbling around in your head as you recall the customer and trace them to your feelings, or vice versa. Take as long as you need to get some insight into yourself. Now that you have become aware of your feelings, ask yourself if the feelings are valid or irrational. For example, if the customer always peppers the conversation with the "F" word for instance, you have a valid reason to feel offended If you did validate your feelings as reasonable, decide to take a breath and let the feelings go for now and take your mind fully to this moment where you are reading this material. You can decide if you need to look closer at the feelings later to gain deeper insight. Use this process when dealing directly with the customer. Example: I notice I am feeling upset by this guy�s tone. This is just a momentary acknowledging. Giving momentary validation to what we feel keep the feelings from building up inside us; a condition that might cause us to become agitated. Customer� read agitation from a service person and may react negatively.

Once our feelings are out of the way, we can decide to not take the customer�s attitude personally. New self talk: "It is not worth it for me to give my good mood away" "His tone is about him, not me. I will just stay neutral and take care of this person" This is called choosing your battles wisely.

If you deem your feelings to be irrational, then own that and change your thinking. A change in how you view the person or situation will change how you feel. If you change the focus of your thinking you can change the outcome of the interaction with this customer. Use some solid reasoning to balance your emotional upset. For starters: Decide to stop resisting the person. A customer knows you are withholding and they react! Open your mind to the bigger picture and decide to be quiet inside and listen to them, listen to them through their gruffness, slowness or any other "ness," but with this shift: You are not responsible for their problem, in the least; and you cannot change their personality or how they communicate. Your only requirement is to be quiet and listen. Don�t fill the quiet space with defenses or rehearsing what you are going to say when they finished! Don�t fill it with impatience or negative self talk either. True listening involves the ears and the mind. When you are truly listening to people they know it. Your focus is now where it needs to be to satisfy almost any customer. When you quiet your own mind of thoughts and emotional reactions not only does the customer react in a more positive way, but your quiet mind leaves space for your own intuition to bubble up a good workable solution. Take your mind off the irritation and on a win-win solution and it will arrive.

Changing Negative Self Talk

Our routine thought patterns are mostly habitual. The same thoughts/beliefs rumble around the periphery of conscious awareness and act as an undercurrent that can determine our outcomes in life in general and with customers. Catching a glimpse of what is running is a key to changing circumstance. The best way to change a negative belief or thought pattern is to replace it with something positive. Our mind operates in such a way that it respond to statements that reflect an established truth or principle. For example:

Negative self talk: I hate dealing with this customer. He/She is a real pain.

Positive Self-talk: I like that I have the talent and ability to handle difficult people and not be stressed.

Negative Self-Talk: This job sucks. I hate it! The only reason I am here is to pay my car payment!

Positive Self-Talk: My work is meaningful. I am using my talents, skills and ability to help people. I know I make a difference. When no one else can handle a difficult customer, I can. I am a real professional when it comes to serving difficult people. I am successful and find my job rewarding.

Lean to ferret out negative, destructive self talk by paying attention and just noticing your feelings. When the feelings are negative there is negative self talk running at some level. Once you notice a thought or pattern you can revamp it. You will be surprised how using this technique quickly changes negative circumstances.

Dorothy Pederson is A 26-year veteran of teaching corporate personnel how to deal with customer complaints, Dorothy is now the owner of the communication and customer service training company Frontline Consulting, LLC. She is available for speaking, workshops, teambuilding training and management consulting. Speaking topics include:

  • Handling Difficult Customers
  • Customer Satisfaction-Advanced Strategies
  • Telephone, Email and Voicemail Communication
  • Managing Conflict
  • Critical Listening Skills
  • Mitigating the Negative Undercurrent in the Workplace
  • Coaching & Mentoring Skills for Supervisors
  • Management Consultant

  • See Ms. Pederson's Profile on

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