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Marketplace insights

“Tis the season to be Jolly.” … Or not? This time of year can be very stressful for most people (end of the year deadlines, high demands on our time and energy, financial shortages?) The holiday season tends to be a time when we encounter more negative situations with people in our workplace than usual. Learning to deal appropriately with difficult people and difficult situations may be useful in limiting the impacts of stress, helping to maintain our professionalism and keeping our holidays enjoyable.

In general, as Native Americans, we are credited with having greater patience and respect when dealing with other people. It seems to come from our highly collective nature and the need we have to function effectively with one another. Like anything else however, there will be times when we waver from our norms, particularly in high stress environments. Our interaction with dissatisfied or irate customers and clients may be more considerable at this time of year. Our tolerance levels and our ability to work peacefully with one another may become challenged.

Some important tips for interacting with dissatisfied or upset customers might include:

Keep your cool: Remember to maintain a positive attitude with people. (This can help to change the course of a negative customer experience) Keeping your composure and remind yourself that YOU are the professional and you should present yourself in this manner at all times. In most cases you and your organization can not afford to lose customers or to face legal or formal consequences if a negative interaction with a customer or client gets out of hand. Formal customer complaints, client grievances and public criticism or your business or organization is not where you want the situation to end up.

Lock yourself into the helping mode: Explore ways that you can help your customer or client, even when it seems to be out or your hands, the last thing they want to hear is “NO” or “I don’t know what to do?” or “I CAN”T help you” better responses might be “let me see what I can do?” or “I am sorry but we can’t seem to address that at this time, can I help you with anything else?” Work with them to explore solutions (Always be sincere, they will sense if you are just going through the motions with them). Let them talk without interruption, sometimes just discussing the problem or issue is helpful to them.

Don’t take it personally: This is the mistake most people make, when they fail to separate their personal feelings and reactions from their role as professional service providers. There may be many things that have led the customer’s frustration or point of contention. Their attitude and behavior could just be the result of other poor customer service experiences, a reaction of events or unrelated circumstances, such as; bad personal situation, physical/health problems, or a stressful day altogether. Things that have nothing to do with you, but you may just be catching them at their breaking point.

Turning a customer or client’s complaint or problem into a more positive experience will not only help to support the success of your business or organization, but will also keep your work environment positive and inviting to others. It can help to improve the quality of your work life, reducing stress. Learning to effectively deal with problem customers and difficult people will lend to your professional development skills and success as well!

Lucinda Hughes-Juan has many years of teaching and training in the fields of business and management, with a focus on the cultural dynamics in Native businesses and organizations. She is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She holds an MBA in global management, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in business and organizational management. E-mail her at