Tools For Dealing With Difficult Customers (Internal or External)

1. Stay Reasoner. Breathe deeply. Remember the exercise “The holes in the soles of my feet.”

2. Listen and empathize. Put yourself in their shoes.

3. Remember their HUMAN need. Even if you can’t, with creative thinking, meet their business need, you can always meet their human need for dignity and understanding.

4. Let people vent. Sometimes they simply need to let off steam to someone. Agree with them every chance you get, even if it is only a “yes,” or “uh-huh.” If you listen long enough without arguing, often they will run out of steam and end up apologizing to you or explaining they have had a bad day.

5. ASK QUESTIONS. This buys you time to keep calm and puts the ball in their court.

6. Use Selective Agreement. No matter how upset they are, find something in what they say that you can agree with. You may have to use this skill 6 or 7 times, depending upon how upset the customer is, before they calm down so you can get to the business at hand. Using it will help you to keep more objective and not take the attack personally.

7. Don’t take things personally. When a customer is upset, he or she is upset with the organization or the circumstances, not with you as an individual. Remember YOU ARE THE ORGANIZATION to them!

8. Above all, DON’T GET HOOKED!


1. Use a scale of 1 to 10. This tool can be used in giving feedback and coaching, in assessing the magnitude of the need when requesting work from an internal co-worker, or in discussing the seriousness of an issue with anyone. It helps to objectively define how important the message is; however, it is built on the trust that everything won’t always be a “10.”

2. Use “I” messages. When discussing an emotional issue, “you” messages indicate blame. Take responsibility for your feelings and use messages such as, “I have a hard time trusting you when I hear that you shared our last conversation with several people in the break room. Can we agree that whatever we share today is just between us?”

3. Use “If you’lls”. When you negotiate internal work, especially when you are all trying to do the jobs of two or three people, always begin with “Yes, I will help you with that.” Then negotiate how you can get the job done together, using the variables of Quality ( Does it have to be a finished product? How complete must the information be?) , Cost (What will be the monetary cost to do this in the period of time desired, especially if extra resources are needed? What will be the human level cost to you to get it done in that time frame?), and Delivery (When do you REALLY need it? Can you get by with a rough draft this week and a final copy by next week?). Then negotiate how you can meet the internal customer’s needs in this frame using “If you’lls:” “If you’ll track down this part of the information, I will get the rest of the report ready by tomorrow afternoon.”


1. Do it as soon as possible.

2. Do it privately.

3. Ask permission to interrupt.

4. Announce your intentions. Let the person know on a scale of one to ten how seriously you view the subject.

5. Tell the person how you feel using “I” messages.

  • Focus on only one or two things.
  • Be specific about the job-related behavior.

6. When focusing on improving performance, get the person’s input and agreement on what to do differently in the future,

7. Allow time for the message to be absorbed and for the person to respond.

8. Thank the person and let the person know that you value him or her.

© Barbara Glanz Communications. All Rights Reserved.

Barbara Glanz Biography

A member of the prestigious Speaker Hall of Fame and one of fewer than 700 Certified Speaking Professionals worldwide, Barbara Glanz, CSP, CPAE, works with organizations to improve morale, retention and service and with people who want to rediscover the joy in their work and in their lives. She is the first speaker on record to have spoken on all 7 continents and in all 50 states. Known as "the business speaker who speaks to your heart as well as to your head," Barbara is the author of twelve books including The Simple Truths of Service Inspired by Johnny the Bagger®, CARE Packages for the Workplace, and 180 Ways to Spread Contagious Enthusiasm™. Voted "best keynote presenter you have heard or used" by Meetings & Conventions Magazine, Barbara uses her Master’s degree in Adult Learning to design programs that cause behavior change. She lives and breathes her personal motto: “Spreading Contagious Enthusiasm™” and can be reached at and

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