Dealing With Difficult People: 7 Strategies for Keeping Your Cool

Apr 08, 2015 - Joe Matar
In any job where you encounter a high number of people on a regular basis, odds are high that you’ll run into what have been affectionately labeled as “crazy people.” I’m not talking about the intoxicated, the disturbed, or those under the influence of some substance. For this unique brand of customer, I suggest keeping your distance, calling in a manager, or making sure you have another person there with you if you have to be the one to deal with this person. The crazy people I’m referring to are the ones who think the back room is stocked with everything they could every want, and that you’re the gatekeeper to said mystical place. Or, they pay with a stack of coupons, even though most of them are expired. They might be sure you possess in depth knowledge on every single product in your catalogue and have that information ready to go at a moment’s notice. Maybe they’re just a close talker who makes you uncomfortable. If you work in sales, hospitality, or customer service, you’re surely aware of the variety of irate customers. What can you do when dealing with difficult people at work is a requirement? Here are some strategies to make the experience go a little more smoothly. (Click here to tweet this list of strategies.)

1. Remember: they’re human

The crazy person who’s demanding the store be searched high and low for particular brand of salt may be stressed about something else. You never know what’s going on in someone’s life as they walk through the door. When you provide quality service, you may be making a difficult customer’s day a little easier. Sometimes a pleasant attitude can shift someone’s day from bad to good.

2. Listen to their requests

When you listen actively, you’re more likely to be able to determine a solution for a frustrated customer. You still may not be able to provide what they want, but you could direct them to a suitable alternative. It may take a little more time, but listening to a customer to best satisfy their needs is way better than finding out they complained to your boss.

3. Learn their name

When you learn their name, it can help take away someone’s “crazy” side. Introduce yourself as well — that customer might begin to see you as a human, too.

4. Go the extra mile

Even if it pains you to do so, go the extra mile for an upset customer. Even if you can’t reach their desired solution, it will show that you’re taking their request seriously. Your effort could be the difference between losing a customer and seeing them come back again (hopefully in a better mood).

5. Keep a smile on your face

Inside you’re telling yourself, “This guy’s annoying.” But your face is pleasant, even serene! Keeping your cool with a tough customer can prevent them from escalating the issue or causing a scene in front of your other customers. It may also make them more responsive to alternatives.

6. Record the experience

I’m not talking about taking video with your phone. When the frustrating experience is over, write it down, recalling as many details as you can. The next time a similar experience occurs, you’re more likely to recall what worked and what didn’t. Better yet: if that same customer returns, you’ll have a better idea of how to deal with their needs.

7. Tell your manager, supervisor, or immediate superior

Difficult customers have a way of making things worse for you if you don’t give in to their demands. Be sure to tell your immediate supervisor about these types of experiences. It’s important to share details about what took place and how you handled the situation. Your boss is more likely to side with you in the future if they know how you’ve handled previous difficult situations. It’s bad enough when you have to deal with a difficult customer. Wouldn’t you rather be the one to tell your boss about the situation than your angry, frustrated customer? You can’t run from the “crazy” people at work. It’s best to equip yourself with strategies now instead of having to figure it out later — after you’ve already seen the worst of the worst. And you never know, maybe someone out there sees you as a crazy person! How do you handle situations with a difficult customer? When is it time to get your boss involved? Kyle W. Weckerly is a freelance writer for hire. Find out how his eclectic work history can benefit you at