It’s very embarrassing to admit this, but I have been caught out being difficult and demanding.

This story reveals an uncomfortable time for me. It was a time that I didn’t always handle stress responsibly. However, sometimes small commonplace events can change your life in profound ways if you’re ready to learn.

When I’m very stressed I can be irritable, judgemental and even a little self-righteous. I can be absorbed in my own problems, elevating their importance above the needs of others. I work very hard to remind myself that the world does not revolve around my own personal needs.

I’d like to introduce you to one of the best teachers I’ve ever had in this business of “learning how to effectively deal with difficult and demanding people”. I don’t even know his name. I don’t know what he looks like. But he is my unsung hero in conflict skills training.

My backstory: Way back in the day (not quite last century), I was between engagements, as they say. I was not sure of my business direction. Cash was tight, so I was anxious about money. There were a few other personal challenges, so life’s scales felt tipped against me.

As I left work one day heading for an urgent meeting, I realised that I had forgotten my wallet with cards and cash. I only had my driver’s licence and a few coins on me. I had parked my car in my usual carpark and started to worry. I knew there were large fees for leaving your car overnight – yet another stress. This was an era when a variety of jobs, like carpark cashiers, were still commonplace. Mobile phones were used for serious business only.

I approached the cashier and explained: I parked here every day, but I didn’t have my wallet. I would leave my driver’s license as surety that I would pay tomorrow. He politely told me that their policy meant “he could not accept this offer”. A little frustrated, I said that my offer to leave my licence was very reasonable, I would definitely pay tomorrow. He apologised, but no, I needed to pay the fee. Now more agitated I forthrightly (I thought) said that “this was a ridiculous policy, my offer to leave the driver’s license was fair, I parked here every day, and that he should comply”. The cashier, who didn’t speak English well, was visibly uncomfortable. But I continued to demand the solution I wanted, and I insisted that I speak to his manager. I had crossed the line from assertive to difficult and demanding.

Picture this embarrassing image: I stood in a tiny booth talking on the wall phone, wedged behind the cashier as he tried to attend to a line of other customers, insisting to the manager that I was right!

However, I had the fortune to meet one of my best teachers. Sometimes the most impressive teachers are there right in front of us, there in our everyday challenges.

To my repetitive demands, he said calmly each time “I understand your concern madam. However, our policy has changed and we require full payment before we can release your car. We find most people solve this problem themselves.” I became more agitated, insistent and almost distressed. He continued to sound confident and calm. He concisely and clearly repeated these same three sentences. He provided information only. He focused on my responsibility to solve my problem, my future choice.

Perfect! This was a 6/6 score for handling a difficult person

I left the cashier’s booth with nothing more to say, feeling defeated: textbook catastrophising and irrational thinking! Eventually, I calmed down enough to remember I had a mobile phone. I rang two friends. One said “no problems. I’m home right now, I’ll cycle in and give you the money. See you in 15.” The other friend rang back later and said “I’ve had a really boring day today. Driving over to pick you up will make it interesting.”

The manager was right – I did solve this problem myself!

My distress had added no value whatsoever to any problem-solving. I had inconvenienced others. And I had learnt so much about the value of friends. That day I made a commitment to never let emotional thinking cloud my interactions with others and lead to disrespect. I also decided to never let the unnecessary drama of conflict get in the way of our human connections, which is one of our most fundamental human challenges.

I often dedicate my Dealing with Difficult and Demanding Customers presentations to the best teacher I’ve never met! He knew that confidence, calmness, concise and clear communication, and the focus on future choices were the key skills he needed. I hope he (and the cashier) had an opportunity to confide and debrief.

How to Deal with Difficult and Demanding Customers provides a practical and fresh approach providing frontline staff, sales professionals and managers with the skills necessary to effectively deal with a growing list of demanding customers they face.

If you are looking to give your leaders and their staff the critical skills to better manage the demands of the modern consumer, this three-hour interactive program offers you a proven system and practical strategies that can make an immediate difference in your workplace.

Call me on 0400 219 120 and let’s chat!