How To Deal With Difficult Customers
Always keep in mind that people are different, not difficult

by Peter Urs Bender

Whenever we buy a gift for someone, we're buying something we like too. We justify it by saying we're getting something we think they'd like. But suppose topaz is that person's favorite color, and we hate topaz. The chances that we'll buy something in topaz are nil. That's because it's very difficult to see things through someone else's eyes.

Yet that's what's required to handle difficult customers. You must see things through their eyes, feel through their heart, smell through their nose, touch through their fingers. In other words, you must walk in their shoes. And that is very easily said, but very difficult to do.

Many of us were trained to handle difficult customers the way we would like to be handled. The Golden Rule says, "Do unto others as you would like to be done unto you." But think about that. The emphasis is on "you." How would "you" like to be treated?

The rule should be, "Do unto others as they would like to be done by." That makes us think about others. Not about ourselves. It's tough, but not impossible to shift our viewpoint for a short time. Today we know a lot more about basic human personality types than we ever did before. We also know how each personality type needs to be dealt with. Only by doing this will people feel they have been treated sympathetically and properly.

The process starts with "listening" your customer out. Don't say a word. Just listen. Reflecting verbal expressions of sympathy and understanding is very helpful. But use this only to demonstrate you're actively listening. Don't make any statements before your customer has run his or her course. That could take some time. For you it might feel like forever...But let it happen. Your customer will feel better for it.

While you're listening, you can analyze your customer. There are only four basic personality types, although some analysts suggest as many as twelve and more, counting sub-types. The most common are: Analytical, Driver, Amiable and Expressive. Other experts use other names, including those of colors, animals, and even numbers.

To deal with difficult people you must identify which personality type they are, then deal with each individual as he or she would like to be treated. To do this properly, you should determine your own personality type. It will determine your own actions. (Visit and take the free Personality Test to figure this out).

The Analytical person wants to know "how" things work. This person values numbers and statistics, loves details, fears losing face, and tends to be introverted. In a problem situa- tion, the Analytical wants exact answers. Written material. No emotional stories.

The Driver, as you might expect, wants to know "what." This person wants to save time, values results, loves being in control and doing things their own way, fears giving up control, is extroverted and shows little or no emotion. In a problem situation, the Driver wants results. Tell him/her exactly what you will do. Then do it!

The Amiable person wants to know "why." This person wants to build relationships, loves to give others support and attention, values suggestions from others and fears disagreement. This person displays a lot of emotion. In a problem situation, the Amiable would like reassurance, reassurance, and more reassurance that the problem will be fixed.

The Expressive wants to know "who." This person values appreciation and a pat on the back, loves social situations and parties, likes to inspire others, fears being rejected, and is extroverted, readily showing emotion to others. In a problem situation, the Expressive wants you to understand him/her.

Let's take a few examples:

You're an Expressive. Your customer is an Analytical. As an Expressive, you really want to understand your customer as a person. You like to get enthusiastic about things. Don't get too personal. Don't rush and prepare to repeat yourself on specific points. Use as much evidence as you can. The Analytical will truly appreciate your ability to stick to the point, provide the details, and focus on results.

You are an Amiable. You are faced with a Driver. Instant conflict? Not necessarily. It depends on how successfully you have understood the personality types. If your client has a hard-driving "I want it done my way" approach, you can be very successful at working with the Driver. As long as you deal with the Driver in the manner you think she wants or needs.

Here are some tips for your own personality type when dealing with those "different" others:
Analyticals should speak and smile more. Show appreciation and personal interest. Relax. Share information and be more open to others. Remember, enthusiasm won't kill you.

Drivers must slow down with "slow" people. Take more time to listen. Try to hold back from dominating and learn when to relin-quish some control. Show more patience, and act more relaxed.

Amiables need to speed up when they talk with "fast" people. Talk more, listen less. Take control occasionally. Be assertive. Take some risks.

Expressives should listen more and slow down. They should write things down and set specific goals. Check details and remem- ber to stay calm. Learn to focus.
In dealing with anyone, especially in difficult situations, it pays to remember that people are different, not difficult. It takes a lot of guts to change one's own behavioral pattern. But it will always pay off.

Peter Urs Bender is one of Canada’s most dynamic and entertaining business speakers. He lives and works out of Toronto. He is the author of four best-selling business books: Leadership from Within, Secrets of Power Presentations, Secrets of Power Marketing, Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication, and Gutfeeling.
To read excerpts from his books visit