We all have to deal with people. Whether they are customers, clients, church members, coworkers, or whatever, these interactions happen daily in a professional setting. Sometimes everything goes smoothly. But sometimes, more often than we would like, dealing with people can frustrating. Oh, so very frustrating. Having worked as a telephone interviewer (calling different households to conduct surveys), as well as various other people-oriented jobs, I have had to develop strategies to calmly deal with extremely difficult people. Here are some tips that help me cope on a day-to-day basis.
Remember that they are not the enemy.
Generally speaking, whatever situation you are in is not a war-zone. Yet it often feels that way. An angry customer or an irritated church member storms in and immediately you get on the defensive. The guns and grenades come out on both sides. Everyone else, take cover, because the battle is on! But in reality, what are you fighting for? The bigger man or woman will be the first to raise the white flag and recognize that the other person is not the enemy. Lowering your guard helps you be more open to working out a solution.
Put yourself in their shoes.
People don't usually go off on something just because they enjoy being angry. Usually there is a reason behind their anger, and that reason—at least in their mind—has some legitimacy. Trying to understand exactly why someone is upset helps you be more patient with them. Even if they seem completely unreasonable and you really don't understand why, you should at least try to understand the emotions that they're feeling. Empathy is very helpful in diffusing tension.
Don't take things personally.
Even in a professional setting, people are rude. They may cuss at you, chew you out, and yell at you about things over which you have absolutely no control. How can you maintain your cool when someone is shouting profanities at you? Just remember that more than likely it's not about you. They aren't really angry at you and they don't hate you personally; they are usually just upset about their situation. Allowing yourself to take to heart every unkind word spoken to you will only frustrate you. It's best to just shrug it off and laugh about it later. Remember, only you have control over your emotions.
Focus on what's important.
It's easy to get caught up in the emotion of the moment, but don't let the little frustrations distract you from what's really important. What is important will be different from interaction to interaction. For some interactions, it may be making a sale, for others it may be keeping a customer, and for others it may be maintaining a positive relationship with the person in question. Whatever the situation, think before you speak and ask, “What is the goal of this interaction?”
So take a breath. Count to ten. Put on a smile, and be ready to face anybody!