Five Steps for Coping with Difficult People

By Donald B. Stephens

An irrational boss; a spiteful coworker; a customer that is never satisfied and seems to take pleasure in watching you squirm – we’ve all had them and they can compound a stressful day and make it unbearable. But what if you could alleviate the pressure by simply changing the way you approach them? I believe it can happen.

With thirty years as a repair technician, I’ve dealt with cantankerous people from time to time.  They have taught me that it is more about the way that I react to them than what they may or may not do. Here are five ways to put things into a perspective that will help you take control over the stress.

“Cantankerous people have taught me that it is more about the way that I react to them, than what they may or may not do.” – Donald Stephens, Xerox repair technician
“Cantankerous people have taught me that it is more about the way that I react to them, than what they may or may not do.” – Donald Stephens, senior customer service engineer for Xerox

1. Accept them as part of the job. Years ago, I had a customer who was the Frankenstein of customers. Outrageous demands and lengthy service calls were the norm. I began to dread going to work. Everything changed when I accepted this as part of the job that I was getting paid to do. “It’s a good day when the monster calls,” I convinced myself; “it’s a great day when he doesn’t.”

2. Accept that they will not change. When I first met this chronically unsatisfied customer, I tried my best to meet his demands, thinking that I might turn him around. My reward was more grief and requests that went beyond the scope of my job. This only made for more frustration and friction. I finally accepted the fact that he was not going to change, no matter how hard I tried. This realization took the pressure off and freed me to treat him like I did all of my other satisfied customers.

This is not the defeatist ‘I’ll never make a difference‘ attitude. Certainly, excellent customer service can turn the majority of dissatisfied customers around. But there does come a point, with certain difficult people, where you need to accept that they will never be happy.

3. Try to empathize. Most difficult people are that way for a number of reasons. An awful home life, a demanding boss, too much caffeine – the list is endless. This doesn’t give them a license to treat others poorly, but it can help you cope knowing that they aren’t singling you out personally.

4. Seek help. This is an action that begins with an attitude change. Mediation isn’t a weakness; it’s wisdom. Don’t wait until you explode before you ask a manager to get involved.

5. Keep looking forward. Difficult people come and go; it’s how we deal with them that makes it seem to take forever. Keep in mind that when one leaves, another is around the corner. Learn how to deal with the one that comes to mind right now, because his twin might be twice as bad. He too will fade away, if you keep up the right attitude.

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  1. Rich Lawton July 28, 2014 - Reply

    Good insite to what we deal with on a daily basis.

  2. Wendy Baron January 31, 2015 - Reply

    On point advice!

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