Managing Difficult People Effectively

Article by:
Shamit Khemka, EO New Delhi
Shamit Khemka
EO New Delhi

Shamit is the CEO of Synapse Communications Pvt. Ltd, a CMMI-3 organization that provides custom Web and software development to global, small- and medium-sized enterprises. Shamit can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected].

Difficult people on the job, whether they’re employees or customers, can do more than just raise your blood pressure. Managed the wrong way, they can seriously jeopardize your business. My company provides clients with affordable solutions for improved business performance, so effective management is a vital part of our success. Here are some dos and don’ts I follow when it comes to managing my employees and customers:

Do Listen When Someone Gripes
I learned long ago that ignoring a complaint or turning a deaf ear to business problems can be costly. One long-time Web application customer of ours hinted repeatedly that she would like a more secure and advanced ordering system on her Web site. Rather than take the time to talk with her and find the right solution, I let her hints go in one ear and out the other. Sure enough, a few months later she e-mailed me to say that she had found a new outsourcing developer. I lost an important client because I failed to pay attention to my client’s needs.

Do Stay Calm and Professional
A peer of mine recounts how a call-center employee patiently let him vent his anger about a shipment problem before moving on to resolve the issue. My friend was in a fury when he first called, yelling loudly into the phone. But the service representative defused his anger by calmly and professionally responding, "OK," until he quieted down. Sometimes, all an angry person needs is the opportunity to "blow off steam." I’ve discovered that responding in an irate tone only makes situations worse.

Don’t Blame or Be Afraid to Say You’re Sorry
I learned another valuable lesson from a peer. Alan Sharland, a U.K.-based mediator, resolved a conflict between a dentist and a patient by getting the two to talk together in a blame-free fashion. The patient complained that the dentist had done more work than she felt was needed, and she was even more offended that the dentist noted her "poor oral hygiene." With Sharland’s help, though, the woman learned the dentist was simply using standard "dentist-speak" in assessing her condition (to protect himself legally). Once the patient understood she had not been personally insulted, the dentist felt comfortable saying he was sorry she hadn’t been happy with his work.

Don’t Ignore What Works for Others
I usually try to stick to my instincts when it comes to managing difficult staff members or clients. While I might like to manage customer or employee problems in one way—in person or over the phone, for example—my customers and employees might prefer different methods. I find it’s important to consider their approaches before deciding which to undertake.

For example, by having a system to monitor blogs and social networking sites, an executive at Comcast Corporation was able to learn about a widespread cable outage and get it fixed. Comcast launched its "Web 2.0" customer-care system after several widely publicized incidents with disgruntled customers. Cases like this illustrate why it can be valuable to take a different route instead of the traditional approach to problem-solving. By teaming up with an information technology specialist, Comcast was able to improve communication with their staff and clients and help prevent problems before they start.

All in all, there’s no secret guidebook to help entrepreneurs become more effective team leaders, especially when they’re faced with difficult people. In my experience, I’ve found that it comes down to being aware of your staff and clients, and working toward a resolution with everyone’s best interests in mind.

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