How to deal with difficult people

Our dealing with difficult people courses are one of our popular courses as it effectively demonstrates how to neutralise problem situations in the workplace. It covers a wide range of scenarios that occur in the workplace such as; working with aggressive people, disagreeing with others, handling bullies at work, dealing with ignorant people at work and working with unreasonable people. This course will cover mediation and will show delegates how valuable managing and mediating conflict is when managing or handling difficult staff/employee(s). The dealing with difficult people at work course also provides useful information for working with a difficult boss/manager and guidance on how to deal with bullying in the workplace.

How to deal with difficult people

To deal with the problem think first why people act the way they do:

  • They may be frustrated in many ways for reasons not connected with you. What you hear is the expression of that frustration. They may be nice people underneath.
  • They may be anxious. Even using the telephone causes some people anxiety.
  • Do not take what people say to you as a personal insult. They are not attacking you but may have become very frustrated with a situation they cannot control and as a result the quality of their normal communication takes a severe dip. Do not allow yourself to take offence – difficult as that often is.
  • Do not lose your temper. If both you and your customer end up in a shouting match (or worse) you are unlikely to solve anything – and after all that is your objective.
  • Keep your attention on the facts relating to your meeting. Try to minimise emotional reactions.
  • Think before you speak. Create time for yourself before you answer via a deep breath, a thoughtful expression, etc.

How to deal with complaints

Complaints tend to fall into two groups – the justified and the unjustified. Remember, until you know the facts you will not know which one you are dealing with.

Action Tips

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Keep your voice enthusiastic and friendly.
  • Listen to what is being said, take notes.
  • Do not interrupt
  • Get the speaker’s name and telephone number.
  • Get the order number so the complaint can be checked.
  • Sympathise without being disloyal.
  • If the company is at fault, apologise.
  • Never give excuses (the truth is always the preferred option here)
  • If you promise something (e.g. to call back) – do it. Remember – in times of stress a promise is sacred.

Never say or do the following:

  • You are through to the wrong department.
  • It’s not my fault.
  • I didn’t deal with this.
  • Will you write in (a solution is needed now. Delay will just make the situation worse).
  • We are having lots of problems you’re actually the sixth one today about that.
  • Interrupt – they will start all over again.
  • Automatically accept liability.
  • Jump to conclusions.
  • Talk down to them or accuse of them automatically of misuse or making a silly mistake.
  • Lose your temper.
  • Appeal for sympathy.


Aggression is a symptom of both anxiety and frustration. It is a by product of insecurity. Do not confuse it with assertion.

Action Tips

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Speak calmly at an even pitch.
  • Keep your temper.
  • Do not respond with aggression.
  • Ask, and keep asking, for the facts.
  • Say something like, “I know this is a problem for you but I can only help if you will let me” (an empathetic assertion).
  • Encourage the talker to talk out their feelings of aggression (the longer they talk the less aggressive they will become).
  • If you cannot calm the individual arrange for a break (e.g. tell a telephone caller you will ring back. Tell a personal caller you are going to fetch a document, look up a reference number etc).


Vague customers will go on for a long time and say very little. Be patient and try to bring them back to the issue.

Action Tips

  • Maintain your patience and good humour.
  • Write down the facts as you hear them.
  • Use the facts to bring the customer back to the point.
  • Keep a smile in your voice.
  • Be business-like.
  • Don’t be side-tracked.
  • Keep to the point yourself.
  • Don’t lose your temper.
  • Don’t be abrupt
  • Keep summarising regularly.


Some individuals are not fond of people. Some people confuse being business-like with unfriendliness. Don’t take it personally.

Action Tips

  • Smile as you speak.
  • Keep your voice up and pleasant
  • Deal with the matter as quickly as possible.
  • Don’t make personal remarks.
  • Get to the facts and stay with them.
  • Don’t be sarcastic (e.g. Thank you for calling).

A Plan For Action

Customer service is about constantly looking for ways to improve the way that your organisation does business with its clients. This may involve improving your communication skills but more and more organisations look at their practices and processes and how they can improve them.

One of the ways to do this is to examine current practice, create a vision for the future and then develop models to address the gap between present and future.

Our ‘feedback and retention’ checklist below allows your organisation to start to question its current operations objectively. Use this in team meetings, management meetings, as the basis for a customer survey or simply as an ongoing checklist of best practice.

Customer Feedback and Retention

How does the organisation obtain customer feedback?

  1. If the feedback comes in the form of a phone call, who takes the phone call initially?
  2. Does the call get transferred to the proper department?
  3. If the complaint is about poor service, who handles it?
  4. How is feedback given to the people responsible for the poor service?
  5. Are managers trained in how to give negative feedback to their staff?
  6. Who is responsible for evaluating customer feedback?
  7. Does customer feedback result in changes?
  8. If so, are the changes brought to the customer’s attention?
  9. How long does it take for feedback to be processed?
  10. Are there any examples of a customer complaint that changed the way we did things?

Delegates who attend our Dealing With Difficult People training courses will:

Other related courses include assertiveness skills, mediation skills, negotiation skills and communication skills for managers. Click here if you need more information regarding Dealing With Difficult People training courses or contact Total Success who will be delighted to talk to you via e-mail.

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