But I Just Don’t Like You | Communicating with Difficult People

by Betty Lochner on May 24, 2012

Do you have a difficult person in your life at work or at home?  If so, you are not alone – they can be anywhere.
You may have one in your neighborhood, your family, at work, as a customer, or maybe even your own household (if you have a teenager, you know what I mean).

I’m talking about someone that, at the moment anyway, you just don’t like. Something about them pushes your buttons. Maybe it’s the way they refuse to look you in the eye. Maybe they are acting a lot like your stupid demanding and nasty principal from middle school who made you miss the bus that one time. Maybe they are complainers, or whiners and they think it’s your job to make them happy. Maybe they are yellers.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains – that last thing you want to do is deal with them.  I call these people “difficult personalities” or “DIFs” (a code sometimes used for identifying difficult customers in a database system).

So, how do you communicate with a DIF without getting upset, frustrated or going a little crazy?

Read on! Here are 9 strategies that will help you deal with your DIF that you can use right now.

1. Prepare for the Interaction.
Take a second to breathe in and think positively about the upcoming conversation.

2. Initiate rapport.
Use their name and make eye contact. Work to make a connection. Be pleasant.

3.Actively Listen.
If you need some work on this, check out my blog archives — there are several posts that will help.

4.Clarify your understanding.
Say something like: Let me make sure I understand what you are trying to tell me….Help me understand what you want me to do.

5.Kill them with kindness (figuratively speaking, of course).
Don’t stoop to their level, get defensive, or be sarcastic. You may need to say something like: Please don’t yell at me, I can’t understand or help you if you don’t stop yelling. Do it with a pleasant voice that doesn’t acknowledge that they are getting to you.

6.Be silent when necessary. 
If they begin ranting or become hostile, stop talking and wait for them to run out of steam.

Important note: you never have to respond to hostile or abusive language. You can end the conversation at any time by saying: We are done here. Good-bye. If you are threatened, call 9-1-1.

7.Wait to be invited back into the conversation. When there is silence, say: As, I was saying…So, what would you like me to do? Use a lower, more authoritative (but not bossy) sounding  voice.

Remember – you are the messenger. Don’t engage with someone who is being hostile. Go back to being completely silent until they wear down, or say Good Bye.

8.Confirm if they want follow-up.
Give them a realistic date that you will get back to them with a status. Assure them you will follow-up. And, don’t make a promise to respond or follow-up that you can’t or won’t keep.

9. To end a conversation.
Say: Thank you for sharing/for your information/feedback. I have what I need. Good-bye Mr. Smith.
If they refuse to finish the conversation talk over them, be a broken record and say over and over: Thank you for sharing. We’re done now. Good-bye Mr. Smith. If you are on the phone, say: I’m going to hang up now… Then hang up! If in person, just say: we are done here, and calmly walk away.

And, remember, you are in control. You can end the conversation at any time.

I’d love to hear about any of your strategies you use to deal with the difficult personalities in your life. Leave a comment with your thoughts and strategies!


Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home. It’s also now available on Kindle!



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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Jaron May 24, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Great tips..I wish we had this kind (or any kind) of training when I dealt with upset customers at Verizon

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