Working With Difficult People
Studying why humans interact the way they do has always fascinated me. Especially when it comes to how they respond to conflict. For example, have you ever been to a restaurant and hear someone at a table cause a scene over a minor detail like them forgetting to bring out the salad dressing? Or at the store when a customer tries to get into an argument with the cashier over a coupon that expired months ago?
As an outsider to the situation, we would consider these people to be difficult. You will come into contact with difficult people everywhere you go. It does not matter where you work, live, shop, dine at, or attend church. There will be difficult people there. I have always struggled with dealing with difficult people because of my personality and temperament. I do not like conflict so I end up avoiding it like the plague. Over the past few months though I have been trying to grow in this area and I have found a few simple ways to deal with difficult people.
Deep Breath and Smile
Have you ever seen the movie “Madagascar”? There is a scene where the penguins are saying “Smile and wave boys! Smile and wave!”. They did this so that no one would know or suspect what they were really up to. When you have someone that is being difficult or confrontational one of the best ways to deescalate a situation is to just smile. Keeping a friendly posture and attitude (EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T WANT TO) will help your thoughts and responses come across clearly and calmly. Before I worked at TLI I worked as a leasing agent.
When you are working with the general public like that you are going to come across difficult people. While I was in training they had mentioned that I needed to remain calm to help calm frustrated residents. I remember doing a walk through with a resident who was moving out and the apartment was a complete disaster. As I started noting damage I suggested that he get stuff moved out and cleaned so that it would not count against him. He got very upset and started cussing me out and even tried cornering me in the kitchen. I took a deep breath, smiled, and said “ I understand you are frustrated.
You have two options. You can let me finish and take the hit for cleaning and damages or we can reschedule when you have moved the rest of your stuff out and cleaned.” He took a step back and then agreed to reschedule and even apologized. This brings me to my next point.
Keep Tact and Lose the Temper
You catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar. You can be firm about your position and soft on the person. This is a skill that takes a lot of practice. It is really easy to tear someone down and to get an attitude when you are upset with them. It takes practice to keep your cool, to remain firm on an issue, and to not yell even when your blood is boiling. This past weekend I went shopping for a carpet cleaner.
I walked into the store on a mission and ready to purchase the one I saw online. I get to the carpet cleaners and the boxes are not under the correct display. I spent 10 minutes looking for this specific one and could not find it. I ended up asking a total of 3 store employees to help me and waited over an hour for no one to show up. My blood was boiling and as I was walking out I saw a gentleman that looked like a manager.
I told him what happened and that I was frustrated because I had been there for an hour and still did not have what I needed. I could have easily lost my temper on him and I had every right to be upset. I just knew me getting that upset would not help the situation. In the end, he gave me a discount on one of the nicer ones and told me he would talk with his team.
Don’t Take It Personally
Hurting people hurt people. When we are stressed we tend to project that frustration on to others. It is easy to take things personally when someone you usually get along with or even a total stranger lashes out at you. You just need to remember that they could be having a rough day and inadvertently taking it out on you. The week I got married my phone company had a bug in their app and somehow my payment got applied to June instead of May and they were cutting off my phone because they did not have May’s payment. I was under so much stress with my wedding that when I called their customer service I ended up losing it on this poor woman.
I was yelling and continuously saying how I wanted to speak to someone else. I was getting heated so she was getting heated. Eventually, she transferred me to a gentleman who was very calm and the moment I said I was getting married that weekend he understood where my frustration and stress were coming from. He remained calm and told me that everything was fixed and that my phone should be in working order within the hour. I thanked him and then apologized for yelling because I knew the stress I was experiencing had caused me to lash out. Had he taken my frustration personally there is a chance that they could have not helped me just because I was not being friendly.
Rise Above and Let It Go
When I was in college I was a member of a leadership society and we had a speaker tell us that we could either be chickens or eagles. The gist of the analogy was chickens stay where they are and the peck the ground and are easy targets for predators. Eagles can fly high and even if there is another predator coming after them because they are designed to soar higher than any other flying creature. We can choose to continue to peck at the ground HOPING to get something good, falling victim to those who want to see us fail, and remaining stagnant in growth.
Or we could also choose to be an eagle. We can choose to rise above, to go higher and farther, to not let negative people bring us down, and we can be an example of excellence to those around us. I understand that coworkers, family members, and strangers can be irritating. Let me encourage you to rise above. To take a deep breath and let it go, because being negative back is not going to improve the situation. Your time, energy, and sanity are worth more than getting the final word in.
I am not saying that doing this easy, I am saying doing these steps will help you grow as a leader and have a positive change in your environment. If you do not like the atmosphere be the change you want to see. Lead your team by example and I promise you will look back and see a difference in your family, office, and community. For more leadership tips subscribe to our new podcast High Impact Leaders.