Dealing with Difficult People

While compassion won’t make difficult people any less difficult, it does make it easier to help them.

Some people are cranky.  You may never know why.  They just are mean and angry.  Dealing with these people is unpleasant. And that’s obviously being kind.

It is very easy to dislike difficult people. They are difficult to deal with and I know I would prefer to interact with people who are pleasant and nice and understanding.

But I live in the real world and that isn't always possible. Our instinct, when confronted with difficulty is to want to get away from it. But if you encounter a difficult person as part of your job, you can’t do that. You have to find a way to deal with them.  So you do your best to not be cranky back and them and do your best.

But what if you decided to override your instincts and decided not to dislike them. I’m not saying you should like them, but not disliking them, as difficult as that may be, can make a huge difference in how you respond and whether or not you allow these people to ruin your day.

Here’s why whenever I deal with a difficult person, I try to think of them compassionately. I don’t know why they are cranky and difficult.  I have no idea what their life story is. I don’t know if they are mentally ill, or suffering from a mental health crisis. I don’t know if they are terrified of being out in public and their cranky demeanor is their way of coping. I don’t know if they are going through a bitter divorce right now. I don’t know if they have recently lost a loved one and it is all they can do to keep themselves together and their gruff exterior is how they are protecting their fragile emotions.  I don’t know if they were abused their entire lives and so don’t trust anyone.  I don’t know.

And because I don’t know, I don’t like to assume. Whatever is causing this person to be so difficult is a problem for them. Their behavior isn’t about me. It’s about them and their pain and discomfort and anxiety. And it seems to me that if they are stupendously difficult to deal with, then whatever it is they are dealing with, is probably pretty bad.

So instead of getting annoyed with difficult people, I feel sad for them. And I don’t have to fake being kind to them. I genuinely am kind to them, because I feel so bad for them. Even if they yell at me and call me names and do whatever it is they are doing in their crankiness, it doesn’t upset me. I don’t have to take their crankiness towards me personally.

My compassion for them won’t help them be any less cranky because I’m unable to fix the underlying cause of their emotional problems. But whatever I can do to help them be a little less stressed – I am willing to do. And instead of feeling crappy about these encounters, I feel good. It’s like in that moment dealing with that difficult person, I did being human right by being the best most compassionate person I could be with someone who is clearly suffering.

Can compassion help you deliver better customer service, even when your customers are difficult? You bet it can.

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