Managing difficult people

If you want to be really good at managing difficult people, you need to learn and apply the magic of rapport. I say magic, because if you develop that skill, you will make your life so much easier.

At the time of writing this, I received a phone call from my friend John. He was telling me about a recent trip to the airport — he was taking his mother and father to catch their holiday flight.

The check-in time was 6.20am and John and his parents arrived at 6am. John noticed two girls sitting behind the check-in desk having a chat. He approached one of the girls and asked if it would be possible to check the bags even although they were 20 minutes early. He received a curt “No” and was told to print out a boarding pass at one of the machines.

This annoyed John, not so much because he couldn’t check in, but more about how he was spoken to. The girl at the check-in desk had almost no rapport-building skills. She possibly was unable to check John’s parents in, due to technical reasons, but these were not explained. She just gave a straight “no”.

As a customer, John is likely to interpret her response as a lack of willingness to be flexible and helpful. In a customer service situation, it’s how you say the word “No” that matters. This check-in clerk is setting herself up to receive lots of difficult customers.

To minimise the number of difficult people you have to deal with, or to improve your ability to manage them, you need to be good at building rapport.

Rapport is not just about speaking to other people; it’s about listening and understanding how the other person sees the situation. It’s also about being able to empathise and appreciate how others feel.

There is a story about three people taking a walk through a beautiful forest. One of them is an artist, the other a botanist and the third person works in the timber business.

As they walk through the forest, the artist is thinking: “What a beautiful forest. Look at those stunning views! I’d love to come back here some day and capture this scene in a picture.”

The botanist is walking through the forest with her nose to the ground, and she’s thinking: “I’ve never seen so many wonderful plants. I’d like to spend more time studying them.”

The man who works in the timber business is examining every tree and thinking: “There are some wonderful woods growing here; I could chop this lot down and make a fortune.”

Everybody sees the world in a different way. The person with good rapport skills understands this and thinks about it when communicating with other people. Good rapport-building skills are about conveying to the other person that you see the world in the same way that they see it. - Source: ST/ANN

Article by Alan Fairweather, author of How To Manage Difficult People.