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Handling Difficult


Workshop Objectives
The objectives of this workshop are to:
1. Define difficult behaviors and determine why they happen.
2. Enhance relationships by managing moments that elicit strong
3. Improve rapport through increased understanding of non-verbal
4. Develop positive methods for dealing with difficult

People! They are everywhere, be it in your personal or professional life.
Survey after survey documents the ever-increasing expectations of people.
A world that once carried the motto of “faster, better, cheaper” now
demands, “Do it now, make it perfect, and I want it free!” In our
professional lives the customer is the boss, and often that same customer is a
co-worker. Taking good care of relationships, both internally and externally,
is essential to providing customer satisfaction.

Relationships are a constant balancing act between managing interactions

and meeting expectations. Since this balance is continually challenged, it is
important that people know exactly where they are going and what they are
trying to accomplish.

Table Exercise:
As assigned, describe the behaviors of the person in your case study.
Explain to the larger group the difficulties presented and strategies you could
take to maintain the relationship.

Discussion Questions:

Where do “bad” behaviors come from?

Why are some people harder to get along with then others?

What can make the silent person difficult to get along with?

Everything is about relationships!

Did you know that perceptions are established in face-to-face communication by

• Your words (7%)
• Your voice, tone, tempo, volume, pitch, rhythm (38%)
• Your body, face, posture, gestures, movements (55%)
Because there is no body language in telephone communication, voice becomes 86% of
the story, with words impacting 14%.
That’s right…86% tone and 14% words!

After the greeting, seek to “establish and maintain rapport.” You can do this by having a
friendly attitude, listening actively to the person’s needs, and showing empathy for their
situation. Research has shown that communication often breaks down between what a
person says and what another person interprets through their perception of the non-
verbals. We will discuss how you can enhance customer relationships, reduce
communication obstacles, and develop your rapport skills by making your intention agree
with your non-verbal signals.
This state of agreement, called congruency, happens when your words, voice, tempo,
volume, tone, facial expression and body language all match. Congruency builds rapport,
and from rapport, relationships advance. The three steps to using non-verbal
communication to create rapport are matching, pacing and leading.

1. Rapport is a condition of deep trust in which people are open to influence from each
2. Rapport is essential to all effective communication.
3. Short-term rapport can be established with matching and pacing skills.
4. Long-term rapport is built on trust, competence and follow-through.

Rapport is about how you relate to another person. It is a natural condition of alignment
that occurs when communication flows successfully. You do it naturally. You do it
everyday with ease! Let’s go on and learn more about matching, pacing and leading.

What You See:
Eye Contact is the most powerful of all body language skills. It is called an
attending skill because it lets the customer know that you are interested, receptive, and
attentive to what is being said. Eye contact allows you to listen to feelings as well as

• Effective eye contact is achieved by putting a soft focus on the customer's face. For
example, the moment a customer walks up to you, regardless of what you are doing,
make immediate eye contact by focusing on the whole face, not just the eyes. As the
conversation moves on, look away from time to time to avoid giving the impression
that you are staring.

Your Facial Expression is like a billboard that lets everyone around you know if
you are happy, sad, or excited. Be careful not to let the stresses of the day gather on your
brow so that you resemble a scrunched-up prune. Most people don’t care if you have had
a bad day. As far as they’re concerned, this interaction is your first, and most important,
of the day.

• Make sure your facial expression sets a positive tone before you begin speaking. A
relaxed or pleasant facial expression is ideal most of the time. However, when
customers are concerned or upset, you need to adjust your facial expression to match
their state of mind.

Body Posture -and body movement show your level of energy and interest in the
customer. You can tell when people are listening impatiently or want to end the
conversation by some simple body language clues such as:

• Leaning back or stepping away

• Turning their bodies away from you
• Pushing away from their desks or tables
• Gathering up papers
• Closing their briefcases while you are still talking
• Looking at their watches repeatedly
To show that you are intently listening to and interested in a conversation do the

Nod Face the customer Lean forward

Hand Gestures are a natural way to express your feelings. We all know someone
who talks with their hands, appearing to conduct an orchestra as they speak.
There are two varieties of hand gestures. The first is hands and objects. These gestures
require props and can give you very clear signals about your customer’s state of mind.
What do the following hand gestures mean?

1.) Placing the cap on the pen and putting it in a pocket


2.) Tapping fingers


3.) Repeatedly clicking a ballpoint pen


4.) Rattling loose change


The second variety is hands only. These include:

1.) Open hand gestures


2.) Closed hand gestures


Head, hand, and body placement/positions is about spacing. If you see

customers moving away from you, they may be doing so in an attempt to create more
space for themselves. If this is the case, step back and keep your distance. By matching
their need for space, you facilitate communication, comfort, and trust. The three distance
spatial zones are Intimate, Personal, and Social.

Some big don'ts in body placement

 Putting your arm around someone
Unless they are going to faint!

 Slapping someone on the back

Unless they are choking!

 Mussing up someone’s hair

Unless you are their hair stylist

 Hugging tightly and refusing to let go

Unless you are dating or married to them!

What You Hear:
Since the majority of customer service is done on telephone where 86% of the
understanding linked back to voice tone, it is very important that your words are
perceived as caring and professional. The following provides valuable insight into
meaning what you say vs. saying what you mean!

Voice tone and inflection - No matter what words you use, the tone of your
voice reveals what you really think and feel! The peaks and valleys in your voice let
your customer know how interested or uninterested you are in what they are saying. It
also shows how interested you are in what you yourself are saying to them. Without
inflection, your voice is a robot-like monotone. To improve your voice tone

• Practice exaggerating your tone.

• Practice stressing words—it can change the entire meaning of what you are saying.
• Remember to breathe. Practice taking long, slow breaths.
• And yes, smiling when you are talking really does help!

Volume - Consider the power of a whisper. When you whisper something, people
around you seem to strain to hear. The power is uncanny. It is the magnetism of volume
control. You can use this is if someone is angry and yelling at a high volume: don’t yell
back (even though you may want to). Instead, speak at a lower tone. In most cases
they’ll reduce their volume too.

Intensity - This is the strength of emotion that is projected along with your words.
The level changes with the level of concern you are expressing. An example of this
would be the phrase “I’m not ready yet.” It would have a different level of intensity if
you were dressing for a party than if you were next in line to jump out of an airplane!

Rhythm/pacing and rate of speech - Pacing involves matching your

customer’s rate of speech and intensity of feeling. This is the best single tool you have
for creating rapport. Note that rate of speech can be significantly affected by the area of
the country people come from.

Words and speech patterns - Beware of words that your customer might not
understand, especially jargon and abbreviations. To ensure that your speech is
considered courteous and respectful, it is better to err on the side of formality.

Group Exercise
What message is given when words are spoken in
1. A monotone/flat voice:
2. An abrupt speed and very loud tone:
3. A high pitch and emphatic voice:
4. A high pitch combined with drawn out words/speed:
5. A slow speed and low pitch:

The second step in rapport building is pacing. Pacing is a continuation of matching.
When you pace with your customer, you do more than match one aspect of their
verbal/non-verbal communication patterns. For example you would change your tone of
voice to match theirs and you would use some of the same physical gestures they are
using. For increased rapport, move in rhythm with the customer’s movements, their
breathing, and/or their speech patterns. Pacing allows you join another person’s
conscious and unconscious reality by communicating through similar verbal and non-
verbal behaviors.

Step three in rapport building is known as leading. Leading is a method of testing the
degree to which you have established rapport by matching and pacing the non-verbal
behaviors of your customer. Leading is done by gradually changing your own verbal and
non-verbal behaviors. For instance, if you and your customer are both leaning forward in
your chairs, you sit back. Allow a minute or so; if the customer also sits back, you know
you have established a powerful rapport. If they don’t follow your lead, you need to go
back to matching and pacing their behaviors.

A word on e-mail: Electronic mail, better known as e-mail, has become a common
and often preferred method of doing business. Sometimes the format or style used to
type the message can be misinterpreted. (A communication sent in a bulleted format or
typed in all capital letters is often thought to be pointed, direct, accusing, and even rude.)
Before making any assumption about the “tone” of an email message, vary your methods
of communication to also include telephone and face-to-face interactions. This will
provide you the opportunity to better understand the customer’s intent.
So what do matching, pacing, and leading non-verbals do for the other person and for
our overall comfort level? The answer is simple -- Everything!

Job stress with difficult people often comes from being emotionally involved in
demanding situations. We stay off the rock-strewn path and remain on the smooth road
by listening well, staying calm and asking the right questions. The correct use of
questioning is an essential tool for solving problems.
There are many reasons for asking questions during a customer service call—the first,
and most important is being able to identify how we can help the customer. Questioning
is also extremely important in completing the transaction.

There are four types of questions. Working with a partner list the types and their

Type Purpose
1. _________________ __________________________

2. _________________ __________________________

3. _________________ __________________________

4. _________________ __________________________

A word on verification: Verifying is a powerful communication tool. The key in
handling difficult people is to verify often to ensure total understanding.

What are the two steps you take when you verify?

Provide an example of what you would say when you verify.


Another problem-solving tool is explanation - Explaining is a three-part

1. Organize the information you intend to explain before you deliver it. If this is a
new explanation, first write it down. If it is something you’ve explained many
times, you should be able to do it without scripting or an outline.
2. Present the information briefly and simply. Avoid jargon.
3. Ask if the customer understands what you have said.
What makes an explanation confusing and difficult to understand?

Give an example of a brief explanation you might give a person or customer.


Recovery - is a problem-solving tool used to “fix” a relationship after the customer
has had a negative experience. Recovery comes in many forms: it might include saying
you're sorry, expressing empathy for their situation, or sending a written note of apology.
Recovery is only used when the customer is upset. Follow-up, which is always important
in business, is essential when a customer is upset. Confirming customer satisfaction is a
great opportunity to rebuild lost rapport.

How have you used recovery?

A moment of truth is an episode in which a customer, needing service, comes in contact
with the organization, however remote, and thereby has an opportunity to form an
impression of that service. Keep in mind both internal and external customers form these
impressions and then make judgments or assessments of you and the service you’ve
provided. Often these judgments are not even made at a conscious level.

Searching for win-win opportunities will enhance relationships. Win-win solutions allow
everyone to win. In most areas of life, we have to cooperate with other people in order to
succeed. We live in an interdependent world and win-win is about cooperative behaviors
and actions. Throughout our lives we struggle with the concept of win-win because it is
difficult enough to know what we need, let alone what others might want. Often the
confusion can be attributed to differing attitudes and styles.

Understanding the motivation of others can turn lights on and create the “aha” to
happen. A better understand of attitudes and styles allows you to blend customer
satisfaction and win-win. It is here that true communication happens.
What do internal customers do when they are not satisfied?

What do external customers do when they are not satisfied?


Today we have discussed the importance of achieving balance in our worlds. This
balance is achieved by working at communication. Communication is the core of
relationships. When communication works, you build rapport, good will, and are more
effective at conducting personal and business interactions. You can create positive
relationships while solving problems if you know how to handle unacceptable or

unpredictable responses. The result of dealing with difficult customers and co-workers
becomes positive. Everyone wins!

Eight Step Process for Handling Angry Customers

1. Don’t buy into it.

• Take it professionally, not personally.
• Avoid dangers of personally, internalizing or denying.
• Separate the person from the problem.
• Show that you care.

2. Listen to understand.
• Does not necessarily mean you agree.
• Hear people out. Do not interrupt.

3. Show empathy.
• Reflect feelings first, then restate facts.
• Acknowledge both the feelings and content of customer’s message.

4. Identify needs and wants.

• Ask questions.
• Verify understanding.

5. Offer options.
• Tell people what you can do, not what you can’t.

6. Find a positive solution – Look for Win-Win

• Reconfirm what you will do and what the customer will do.

7. Thank the person for the interaction.

• Ask if you can help in any other way.
• Encourage the customer to call for help at any time.

8. Follow up on commitments.
• You’ll be known as someone who is more professional in your customer
service approach.