Customer Service Focus
DEALING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE
Understanding “where they come from” personality-wise
You may have heard the expression “It takes all kinds to make the world go around.” But at this point in your life, you may be wondering if quite so many kinds are really necessary. You’ve probably found that you like some people better than others. Ever wonder why that is? Sometimes it may be the result of a one-time, off-putting interaction, but the fact is that some people just rub you the wrong way, and you may find it difficult to deal with them in an ongoing relationship. Why? Perhaps it’s because they have a personality type that isn’t compatible with your own.
Each of us has a little of each personality type in different degrees, so it’s not surprising that you find it easier to deal with certain personalities than with others. Most of us like to do business with people who are like us. That’s not always possible, so we need to adapt our styles to be more like the people with whom we work or do business.
Understanding personality styles and the huge effect they have on people is a valuable skill. It affects communication, relationships, and decision making.
The first step is to identify your particular personality style. Some people have dominant personalities and identify strongly with the attributes of that style; other people see themselves reflected in a combination of styles. Some people have learned to modify their personality style so that they are one style at home and a different style in the workplace.
See if you can identify your style from the following descriptors:
- Pragmatic—Dominant, assertive, fast talker, impatient, independent, decisive, efficient
- Thinker—Quiet, perfectionist, detail oriented, industrious, orderly, tenacious, accurate, critical
- Facilitator—Friendly, supportive, loyal, possessive, dependable, personable, emotional
- Persuader—Enthusiastic, optimistic, stimulating, manipulative, spontaneous, playful
Did any of these descriptions resonate strongly with you? If so, you’re probably dominant in that style. If not, you’re likely a combination of styles. Once you have identified your personality style or styles, you’ll want to identify the style of the person with whom you are dealing.
Now comes the fun part. Once you’ve identified personality styles, you can begin to modify your own to be more like your “difficult person’s” style. Remember, people like to do business with people who are like themselves. You’ll be amazed at how people’s attitudes change once you change yours.
Some time ago I was dealing with a difficult client who was very unhappy and expected unrealistic solutions to his problems. He was acting in a Pragmatic style under stress, and I was acting in a Facilitator style. We were getting nowhere fast. I suggested he speak to the manager, and he agreed. I just happened to be the manager. After a brief period on hold, I came back on the line as the manager, speaking in a decisive tone and in a Pragmatic style. I was amazed at how understanding my difficult client became and how quickly we reached a satisfactory solution.
Another example was shared by a friend of mine. She told me that she had been having difficulty getting along with her supervisor for over a year. The story was always the same: the supervisor just didn’t like her and treated her poorly, often even ignoring her. I suggested that she and the supervisor might have conflicting personality styles and that perhaps she should try communicating more in the supervisor’s style.
I talked to my friend a couple of months later and asked about the situation. I was amazed to learn that she was getting along just fine with the supervisor and that they were even sharing lunch breaks. When I asked what had caused her supervisor to change her attitude, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that my friend had simply changed her way of dealing with the supervisor, which in turn caused the supervisor to deal differently with her.
My friend is using this same technique to communicate effectively with her employer, who is going through a personally stressful time—which means he is acting more in his dominant style with accentuated good and bad tendencies.
It’s important to understand that when people are under stress, they tend to be more entrenched in their dominant personality style, and not all those tendencies are positive. If you’re feeling stressed, pay attention to how you’re dealing with others because it may not be in the way you intend.
It’s also a good idea to put yourself in the customer’s shoes to try to understand where he or she is coming from and how information may affect attitude and behavior.
I have a Pragmatic customer. Without my knowledge, a CSR sent the client a 12-page renewal application, requesting answers to extremely detailed insurance-specific questions, half of which I’m sure he didn’t even understand. This form is usually completed by an insurance professional, not the insured, and the CSR sent it to my client in error.
You can imagine this Pragmatic client’s frustration when he called to complain. I eliminated his distress by explaining that I would complete the form for him, telling him he shouldn’t have received it in the first place. My client was grateful that someone understood his impatience and could solve his problem quickly.
Unfortunately, the CSR who sent the renewal application couldn’t understand my approach. A few months later she decided that insurance and working with people were not her cup of tea. She moved on to an entirely different career. What personality style do you think the CSR might be? If you guessed “Thinker,” you’re correct!
Understanding how to use personality information can be a positive and powerful tool in your arsenal of communication skills. A lack of understanding can destroy communications and even relationships. One of my students shared a compelling story about the power of effective communication. Using the personality information she learned in training, she modified her style when dealing with customers who had personality styles different from her own. She remembered that people like to do business with people who are like themselves. She noticed a positive change in her customer relationships.
This student also was experiencing some difficulties at home with her husband and two sons, who had markedly different personality styles from her own. Communication among them had been reduced to daily arguments. The situation had become so unbearable that she contacted a lawyer to discuss divorce options. In a last-ditch effort to salvage her family life, she decided to implement a personality modification. She started to respond to her family using their personality tendencies rather than her own. Soon she noticed that they were arguing less frequently. After a few weeks she noticed that they were communicating in a comfortable and enjoyable manner. About six weeks later she observed that her family was treating her well and communicating with her, using her own personality style as well as theirs. She was ecstatic to report that her family was now happy and intact.
Understanding personality styles and the huge effect they have on people is a valuable skill. It affects communication, relationships, and decision making. Using this powerful tool can bring about improvement in all areas of your life.
Keep the list of personality types and their attributes at hand until you learn to identify each one. Give it a try! You’ll find it worth the effort!
Lynn DellaCroce, CIC, CISR, CPIW, has worked in the independent agency system for over 40 years as a CSR and an agent. She is currently a producer at HUB International in Santa Maria, California. She also teaches CISR and Dynamics of Service classes through The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research.