The frustrated salesperson was patiently controlling her growing frustration. She answered the client’s remarks and questions calmly and accurately. Finally, in exasperation, she said quietly, “Madam, I’ve tried to answer your every question, but apparently we can’t serve you. I’m sorry. Thank you.”
As she turned away, I heard her say under her breath, “Go to Wal-Mart, you old biddy. We helped you know what you need to buy. Thanks for nothing.” Madam turned and stormed out of the store.
Too bad. The client may indeed be queen or king. Nevertheless, some arrogant and abusive customers can cause you to lose your cool. Also, maybe a needed sale and a long-range customer.
Unfortunately, not all of your clients in your store, home or studio have pleasant personalities. Not all have read and heeded Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People. What’s more, they’ll tell you, “I not only haven’t—I don’t intend—to change. I am what I am. So there!”
Carnegie’s book doesn’t discuss at length the problems of dealing with people’s adverse personalities. But, Bramsom’s book does. For years, he and his staff have studied and recorded the behaviors of abrasive personalities in various sales and work situations. They also studied the reactions of those individuals who had to deal with such persons—the hostile customers, the indecisive prospects, the know-it-all fellow workers.
PATTERNS OF DIFFICULT BEHAVIOR
We all have our special names for such people, the “crabs” who argue about details, want extra service, fret about price.
Bramsom classified the most frustrating types as:
1a. Hostile Aggressives. He also calls them: tanks, snipers and exploders. Abrasive and intimidating loudmouths treat you and your staff as inferiors and know-nothings with ideas that won’t work. Can be frightening at times. Might explode into tantrums over “dumb” suggestions from you. Snipes and grumbles at your remarks and suggestions.
2a. The Complete Complainer. Negative in attitude, gloomy and ill-humored. Complains about products, designs and prices. Almost impossible to please. Like the old biddy, you hate to wait on or hear her on the phone. Makes you want to say, “Stop your whining.” That would not help any.
3a. The Silent Unresponsives. The quiet clams who seldom show any interest or responsiveness. Answer with “yes” or “no,” often just a grunt. Never know what they are thinking. Nerve wracking to wait them out. Can drive you up a wall. Come in many degrees of behavior, as do all types.
4a. The Super Agreeables. So very sweet and “terribly nice.” Like social climbers wanting to be accepted. Funny at times. Agree with your sales pitch, but seldom commit or follow through with a purchase. Indecisive, can’t stop being nice, afraid to lose you as a friend.
5a. The Wet Blankets. Negatives, shoot down your ideas and proposals one-by-one. Like the Complainers, deep in an atmosphere of gloom. Believe that you don’t really care about their needs, that life is cruel. Normal responses to suggestion: “I don’t know.” “That wouldn’t be right in our house.” “I can’t afford it.” “No way, impossible.”
6a. The Know-It-Alls. Bulldozers and experts. Much like Hostile Aggressives. Offensive in more ways than one. Want to control the transaction. “It’s my way or the highway.” “Don’t upset me with facts.” Always blame you if results aren’t as expected; can’t believe they approved the purchase and installation.
7a. Stallers. Indecisive. Can’t make up their minds. Tendency to stall until the problem to decide goes away. It usually does because you finally give up the task of selling them and go to take care of other business. Similar to Super-Agreeables.
LABELING CAN HELP
Human beings are immensely complex and adaptable. No one can be reduced to one category. All of us have some habits that occasionally irritate and upset those around. But a difficult person’s troublesome behavior is habitual and affects most of the people he may contact.
Eccentric behavior stands out and demands notice whether we use our more common terms or those of a specialist like Bramsom. One reason to label people is that it may help you feel distanced from them. You need to realize that the Aggressor or Complainer and other types aren’t being difficult with just you, but that he or she acts like this with everyone in similar situations.
Coping with various types means “contending on equal terms.” Labeling can help you to cope—to see others as they are, to gain a greater insight into their behavior.
CAN FUNCTION BETTER
Bramson explains, “Some people believe in an aggressive or unusual manner because they think it keeps others off balance, incapable of effective action.”
By browbeating, stalling, silence, sweetness or complaining, they manage to gain control over others. Effective coping is the sum of actions you can take to minimize the impact of others’ difficult behavior. You don’t just cope, you come out ahead.
You learn how to get on with the business at hand. You assist a mutual understanding in which you both can function as productively as possible.
SOME WAYs TO COPE
Here’s a brief summary of some ways to cope with basic types. First, regardless of type, start with good sales techniques—friendliness, enthusiasm, smiles, etc. Be tactful and understanding. On occasion, these standard techniques may backfire. Some people resent good salesmanship. For some reason, “nice” and “pleasant” can seem to add to their problems.
Here are some specifics for each type that might work better:
1b. The Hostile Aggressives (Similar to No. 6b below). Give them time to run down, to be rational. Show you take their demands seriously. Get the facts. Try to understand their reasoning. Recognize that hostiles feel thwarted and threatened and probably need therapy. If they lose control, get help.
2b. The Complainers. Listen attentively, hear them out, acknowledge their problems. They may need sympathy for their feelings of being slighted. Offer to help. Don’t expect to resolve their problems until things are fully discussed. Find out how they want the sales occasion to end. Ask questions.
3b. The Silent Unresponsives. Come in different behaviors. Their silence can be a form of calculated aggression. Ask open-ended questions. Try to get them to talk. Maybe they really like your ideas and are just slow thinkers. Smile quietly, clam up yourself. Don’t wait indefinitely if you have other tasks or customers waiting. Excuse yourself. Maybe the clam will open up and talk when you come back.
4b. The Super Agreeables. Need reassurance that they can disagree and still keep your favor and goodwill. Be honest and straightforward. Ask them to be candid. Be prepared to compromise.
5b. The Wet Blankets. Be optimistic. Don’t necessarily agree with their negative outlook
and innate focus. Listen. Offer solutions only after their problems are fully discussed. Don’t expect decisions until they feel confident and are ready.
6b. The Know-It-All (Bulldozers). Much like the Hostile Aggressors. Listen and “accept” their expertise. Let them appreciate their wisdom and importance. Ask questions, but don’t confront. To avoid loss of sale, choose to subordinate. Try to build a more pleasant relationship.
7b. Stallers. Find out, if possible, the reason for their stalling. Don’t be overly enthusiastic; it makes them fearful. Let them know their decision won’t be up to you. Go over the facts with them. Give follow-up support after a decision is made.
John L. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for Draperies & Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience in the planning and administration of various consumer, trade and retail advertising programs.