12 Smart Methods for Handling Difficult Colleagues and Customers

In your personal and professional life, there will always be “difficult” people, people who complain or point out perceived problems. Sometimes those issues are legitimate, while other times they are a simple misunderstanding. So what is the best way to handle the situation?

Instead of being argumentative and defensive, it’s best to take a calmer, more tactful approach when handling a challenging colleague or customer. To find out how, we asked a panel of Young Entrepreneur Council members the following question:

Q. Difficult people are part of life. What is your preferred method of handling challenging people or customers?

Here’s what they advise:

1. Know the Facts and Be Confident

Be patient with your customers or clients and be confident about knowing the facts. Let your customers or clients speak without interruption, then respectfully request the same politeness in return. If you respond confidently with factual data, it will be very difficult for your customers or clients to continue being problematic. – Duran InciOptimum7

2. Know When to Say No

Some people just aren’t worth doing business with. Too many times, business owners are chasing the money and, at the end of the day, sacrificing their company culture. You would be surprised how many great deals are out there, and you don’t have to settle working with difficult partners or vendors. Interview hard and don’t be afraid to say no to someone who doesn’t fit your culture. – Drew GurleyRedbird Advisors

3. Try to Meet Them in the Middle

Sometimes the most frustrating thing is when customers don’t follow your protocols or systems. I’ve found it’s best to see what works for them and what works for me, before trying to meet somewhere in the middle. This helps me to get what I need, allows the customer to feel understood, and, most importantly, allows the job to get done as painlessly as possible. – Kim KaupeThe Superfan Company

4. Assume Good Intentions and Have Empathy

When dealing with challenging people, it’s important to have empathy and to assume good intentions. Most difficult people don’t operate with the sole intention of making your life miserable, and sometimes it’s easy to overreact to minor criticism because of the person. – Kyle WongPixlee

5. Overcommunicate

With difficult personalities, the natural inclination is to minimize interactions. However, by overcommunicating, you can identify hot topics and sensitive issues to help diffuse situations before they even present. While it may not be the most enjoyable conversation regardless, at least it helps keep issues at bay so you can concentrate on running your business and not putting out fires. – Amanda ElmsMetis Genetics, LLC

6. Ask Them About Their Preferred Communication Style

People can become difficult because their expectations aren’t met, which often is due to different communication styles. Give them the benefit of the doubt and learn about what they prefer. Do they want a presentation, to talk over Slack, or small messages? If you tailor your communication to them, they see you care, and you’ll probably alleviate some pain points. – Dan GoldenBFO (Be Found Online)

7. Practice Kindness and Emotional Intelligence

Killing someone with kindness holds true. I maintain a kind and caring demeanor no matter what. It’s important to always take the high road rather than react to what they may say or their effort to make you angry. This requires emotional intelligence and requires a lot of patience and practice. I focus on the fact that giving in and acting like the challenging person only makes things worse. – John RamptonCalendar

8. Set Clear Expectations

The best way to manage a difficult personality is to ensure they don’t have a substantive leg to stand on. Remove personal emotions from what should be a professional exchange. The best way to do this is by setting extremely clear expectations, which you can return to and reference as needed. An unpleasant personality can complain about you, but they should not be able to complain about your work. – Ryan WilsonFiveFifty

9. Don’t Take It Personally

No matter how challenging people become or what they throw at me, I remind myself that it’s not personal — even if they try to make it that way. I keep a distance between me as a person and me as a professional. This helps me stay calm and responsive to their emotions. I also try to focus on how to solve the issue for them to diffuse the anger or frustration they are feeling. – Serenity GibbonsNAACP

10. Ask How You Can Help

When challenging people or customers are creating difficulties, ask them how you can help alleviate their frustration. Maybe they just want to vent, so you can help by listening. Or, maybe they have a specific issue or problem, so offer a realistic solution. Show them you are interested in providing assistance, as this will typically alleviate the challenge and diffuse the situation. – Peter DaisymeHostt

11. Stay Nice and Reflect on the Situation After You’ve Both Moved On

It’s easy to be sensitive to unreasonable acts against your business and react emotionally. The best thing to do is be amicable, understanding, and move on. With people, just find a way for both of you to move on. Stay nice, run for the hills, and reflect on it as a learning experience. “Did I react too much? Did I take it personally? How could I have handled it better?” Future you will thank you. – Philip MichaelReal Estate Wealth Hacking

12. Know Your Limits

One of the key fundamentals to both listening and being honest with customers is to know your limits. This is especially important if you are the type of person who over-promises. In business, you need steady answers to questions with boundaries clear and promises that don’t disappoint. That said, listening is an art form of its own, capable of diffusing many tough situations. – Brandon StapperNonstop Signs

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