We have all been there. The dissatisfied customer, who phones you-screaming in your ear. The individual who complains non- stop about seemingly ridiculous things, or the person who blames you for something that was SO not your fault. While this is never pleasant, there are several tools and techniques that you can begin to practice, to help you better navigate the waters of dealing with the difficult person.
1. Listen. As hard as this may be, when you are getting yelled at, screamed at, accused, try to take a step back and listen. Every one of us inherently has a need to be heard. I remember once having a client angrily accuse me of not having helped her in sessions. I will not repeat the words that were used from this individual, but, let’s just say, that they were less than complimentary towards me. Armed with the tools that are displayed here, as hard as this was, I validated her feelings, and really listened to what she was saying. In the end, it honestly had nothing to do with me. This person was frustrated with herself, and her own lack of progress. It was being wrongly directed at yours truly.
2. Do not judge. Again, this is not easy to do, but you do not know what this other person may be experiencing. I will never forget many, many years ago, at a former house of mine, I decided to mow the lawn in the morning. Usually, I would mow later in the day, but this particular day was going to be extremely humid. So, I wanted to take precautions. All of a sudden, as I took a pause in between mowing the back yard, to move to the front, the older neighbor 2 doors down screams at me: ‘How ((*^^*()^Y dare you mow your lawn at 9:30 a.m.? What the hell is wrong with you-you idiot!’. I about came unglued, and -quite frankly, you do not want to know what I was thinking about this guy (quite judgemental thoughts!). 2 days later, I found out from the neighbor in between us, that he had just been diagnosed with cancer. He died 1 month later. I rest my case on this one.
3. Do not say, ‘I understand’. I see so many people using these words, and how in the heck could you possibly understand? If a woman for example, suffers a miscarriage, and you are a man, and you say, ‘I understand’, what do you think that she is thinking? She is thinking that those are just crap words coming out of your mouth. Instead, say, “Please tell me more, so I can improve my understanding”
4. Don’t act defensively. Again, easier said than done. You’re going to want to defend yourself. This is a natural, animalistic reaction that we ALL have.
We want to be right . Here is the problem though… It will literally get you nowhere. The individual that is in front of you, is charged, unrealistic, and completely vulnerable. You may as well bang your head against a brick wall for all the good it will do you. You cannot convince them of anything, you cannot argue your point(s), and by trying to do so, you are robbing yourself of valuable time and energy.
5. Practice a true apology. I am amazed how many people do not know how to truly apologize. It really is-an art. From the time we are born, most of us are taught to say, ‘I’m sorry’ when we misbehave. Do we mean it? I think most would agree with me, that particularly when you are a child, you speak it like a robot, so that you can get your privileges back (whatever they may be). Rarely, is it heartfelt. And believe me, you can surely tell the difference when you are actually issued a genuine apology! It feels like you are melting.. literally. It goes like this: (using a hypothetical situation with a difficult person): Let’s say, that you are the worker that takes a call from irate customer, ‘John’. He yells at you, that you are, ‘the worst company ever!’ He continues to yell and scream in your ear piece about how awful you and the company are.
YOU: (once he takes a pause): ‘John, I want to genuinely apologize for your experience (PART A). I cannot imagine how that must have made you feel. Likely you were frustrated and upset, and angry that the goods were not delivered to your satisfaction (PART B). I am going to do my best, to ensure that this does not happen again, and going to speak to my manager, about compensation for your unpleasant experience. Does that sound ok?’
Now, I am not saying that ‘John’ may still not be a bit heated, but let me tell you-sincerely less than he was when he first called. Studies have repeatedly shown that this approach is what makes customers stay with particular companies, and defuses so much further strife. I once had a dispute with my cell phone company, over charges that were accrued for international roaming while on a cruise. In the end, I was reimbursed FULLY for the situation, and I have remained with this company ever since. The customer service representative handled it just like the above apologetic example I gave. Can you imagine, if it went something like this instead:
Customer Service Representative: ‘Seriously? You are disputing this! You are the one that went on the cruise. You should have known that we would be charging those roaming charges. You should read your contract! That was not our fault!’ (they actually had not informed me of certain things that they were obligated to do, when I called regarding the trip, and so in truth-it was their fault). Bottom line, I would have been done with them-if that is the approach I had received instead.
Finally, I want to mention, that if this becomes abusive from the other party, and no matter what you do (having practiced the above strategies), it is not working, do not be afraid to find an exit door so to speak. If your gut is telling you this person is unsafe, you need to do what you have to do to keep yourself safe. This may mean, saying something like, (if face to face), ‘I am going to leave now, and allow you time to calm down’. If on the phone, ‘Sir, I want to understand, but I cannot hear you when you are this heated. I am going to end this call, and please call back when you are calmer’. Something to that effect.
Armed with the above strategies, you can in fact navigate difficult people much, much-more effectively.