Recently, I had a window replaced. Consistently poor service left me disgruntled. After expressing my frustration to the installer, I received a call from the company’s district manager.
Still frustrated, I quickly rattled off a list of the company’s wrongs. As I did, I thought, “I’m behaving like a crazy woman.”
That’s when it occurred to me. How many times have I been on the other side of this conversation, the rational person trying to calm down a difficult person?
Having realized this, I began analyzing this conversation. In doing so, here’s what I learned about how to deal with difficult people:
1) Ask questions and then listen: The district manager of the window company did a stellar job of listening to me. At the beginning of our call, he asked me to explain the problem. He then listened, interrupting only to ask clarifying questions designed to help him better understand the problem.
2) Speak calmly and softly: When people are frustrated, temper’s flare. To help mitigate this, speak calmly and softly. Your tone can do much to prevent a problem from escalating.
3) Restate the problem: Often, difficult people are also emotional. As a result, communication breakdowns happen easily. To prevent this, do what the district manager did. After listening well, say, “I want to make sure I understand this correctly.” Then restate the problem in your own words.
4) Tame tangents: Though my fundamental issue with the window company was their failure to install my window in the guaranteed time, my anger caused other problems to surface. By the time I talked with the district manager, one problem had ballooned into several. Yet, every time I attempted to catalogue another one of the company’s faults, the district manager skillfully steered me back to the root issue. Recognizing he could not fix all that had gone wrong, this man wisely chose to instead deal with the one problem he could address.
5) Reiterate your stellar track record: The district manager repeatedly told me, “For 61 years – we’ve only had 8 complaints!” In doing so, he communicated that my negative experience with his company was not the norm.
6) Offer a solution: Take responsibility for the problem. Own it. Think outside the box and offer creative solutions designed to restore your relationship with the person.
7) Restate the person’s value: Before closing our conversation, the district manager thanked me for alerting him of the problem, ensuring me his company values it’s customers and wants to correct problems. In the same way, no matter how difficult the person or the conversation, thank people for their feedback, letting them know it matters because they matter.
Certainly, a comparison like this one has limits. Even so, as youth workers, let us not forget that there’s much we can learn from others about how to deal with difficult people that might just strengthen our ministries and relationships with others.