Ways to Deal With In-Your-Face Customers

July 31, 2006
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In my last column (June 19), I made the case that personal problems may well be manifesting themselves in your business disguised as business issues - yours and theirs. These personal/business issues infect your business from within and without, impacting everyone from your highly valued employees to your most precious clients.

Have you noticed that some of your so-called "best" employees are often the very ones that create the most upheaval with co-workers and with clients? And, oh my goodness, sometimes it's you! (I quit being surprised a long time ago when owners or managers confessed to me they recognized that they were the difficult person in the company.)

Now, if you're an employee that reports to this person, this puts a completely different spin on dealing with difficult people. Many people are quick to point out it's one thing to manage the situation if it's a co-worker or client, and quite another matter if it's the person who can make their life miserable and even eliminate their job.

THE WORST

Let's take a look at one of the business issues from last month's column:

"My wife is like this. I tell her you've got to get in my face and make your case. If you don't, I'll win every time. And, don't take everything so personally. Most of the women here won't fight back. They just walk away mad or I think some of them are intimidated."

When people describe their most difficult person to deal with, in my experience this in-your-face person is hands down the worst for most people.

Early in my career, I encountered one of these in-your-face people. He was the new vice president of my department. In a meeting with four of us, he grabbed up a stack of papers flung them at the wall, and, in a thundering voice, ordered us all out of his office immediately.

It was fascinating to hear each person's response to this behavior. There was the expected, "He's a toxic jerk" comment. Then, one woman said, "No, he's really not a jerk. My Dad used to always act like that when he was under pressure. He's not mad at us. He's stressing about presenting this to the client. He's new and they don't know him." Another said, "That's exactly how my two-year-old acts when he has a messy diaper. He's just having an adult temper tantrum."

My life experience did not include adults in professional positions behaving this way. However, I did have experience with toddlers with messy diapers, and temper tantrums, which was remarkably helpful. These in-your-face people often yell. They are demanding and demeaning, and typically like to choose times and places when others are around. They use any intimidating, humiliating, and insulting behavior to get what they want. Some are just downright mean and seemingly enjoy creating fear in people.

Many describe this person as a bully and, in this case, he adds insult to injury by accusing the women involved in this case of taking his abusive behavior personally.

So what is the best approach when dealing with this aggressive person? The goal for you is to command respect.

WHAT TO DO

Here are the five critical action steps:

1. Hold your ground. Maintain eye contact and remind yourself to breathe deeply and slowly in order to maintain your self-control. One of my favorite tips that someone shared with me to keep yourself grounded and in control is to ask yourself, "What would Carol Burnett do?"

2. In the midst of the yelling, calmly and evenly repeat the ranter's name 5-6 times.

3. Quickly repeat their main accusation, "You know, I understand how critical this prestigious client is."

4. Get to the point immediately ("To save time ..." or "To prevent ...").

5. Let them save face. Let them have the last word - and, you decide where and when. (For instance, "When I finish this, I'll be glad to talk about options we can consider.")

Many people have a hard time with the notion of letting the ranter save face when they've been the target of the tirade. I'm always reminded of one of Abraham Lincoln's admonitions to people who got into wrestling matches: "Let 'em up easy." That is good advice, indeed.

WHAT NOT TO DO

Just as it's a very good thing to know what to do in a difficult situation, it's equally important to know what not to do.

First of all, do not show fear. Signs of fear tend to inspire even more abusive behavior. You gain respect by holding your ground and remaining calm. Whatever you do, do not launch into a counterattack. That is akin to throwing gasoline on an already roaring fire.

So what about the times when you did make a mistake? Answer: Do not grovel!

1. Admit your mistake.

2. Succinctly state what you learned from the mistake.

3. Don't miss a beat. Say quickly what you will do to make sure this never happens again. Then, take those action steps immediately to do precisely what you said you would do.

This approach is effective when interacting with angry clients as well. Many times we have the conflicts we have because the only time we talk to the "difficult" person is when there is a problem. Change that dynamic. Whether a client or co-worker, begin having conversations when there isn't a problem. It's very good for business.

I welcome your e-mails and look forward to hearing how you resolved your difficult situations. n

Sharon Roberts is a consultant who specializes in selling to women and couples. Please send your questions or comments to sharon@r2assoc.com.

Publication date: 07/31/2006

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