Learn to handle hard to please people
In my last column I presented several scenarios in which unhappy, often angry, upset and difficult to please people presented themselves to clerks, teachers, receptionists, and other "front-line" individuals in the work place. The often unreasonable demands of these difficult people can produce a great deal of stress and eventually potentially lead to burnout in those receiving the venomous demands.
In this column I would like to discuss various psychological approaches to dealing with these individuals.
• Avoid falling into the trap of dueling with a difficult person for control and power. This approach is often a no-win situation. The struggle escalates between you and the difficult person until you are playing on their battlefield. They may finally make you angry and upset enough to say things that you don't mean, which when reported to your boss, produces difficulties for you and your job. In most busy work environments, battling it out with each new challenger is like going into a battle zone by yourself to fight the whole army. You will eventually be worn down and will lose.
• Empathic responses to the venomous sender can often produce a calming effect on them. "I am sorry that you are unhappy with this situation, let's see what I can do to help," or "What you are telling me makes me think you are pretty upset. Let's see what I can do to help." Empathetic responses send messages that you hear the sender and care about their concerns. This is often a giant step toward a win-win resolution.
• If you work in an organization that permits rotating "front-line" personnel, consider a time limited tour of duty for those coming into contact with the difficult person. Being able to take a break from these difficult people and do something else, perhaps less stressful, within the organization for a while often recharges batteries and permits recovery from the stress of these difficult situations.
• Reframe the situation so that you view the difficult person as an individual with impaired, handicapped communication skills. The angry, belligerent, abusive sender is often suffering from some type of psychological difficulty and you, the unfortunate receiver, are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Handled in an effective manner, the sender's venom can be neutralized and you can move on to other healthier interactions. In short, depersonalize the situation.
• Provide group support to help "debrief" front-line people. Sharing thoughts and feelings with others who are "under assault" can reduce the stress. Group debriefings can often help bring a sense of humor to many of these difficult situations, thereby lessening some of the negative effect.
• Be careful about falling into the trap of feeling that all problems can be resolved, everybody can be made happy, and you, the receiver, are a failure if this doesn't happen. Because of the complexity of the situation, some people simply can't be pleased and you have to move on to other opportunities.
Copyright c 1998 Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D.