How changing your jacket can help you deal with difficult customers

Categories: Winnthinks

One of the subjects I am most often asked to train out is how to handle difficult people – particularly customers who are angry or upset. There are lots of ways our customers can make themselves a challenge, and sometimes they don’t even mean to do it – but it’s something we all come across from time to time. It’s a subject I really enjoy, and because I spent six years as a complaint handler it’s one I feel very at home with.

One of the hardest things about dealing with difficult people, particularly if you encounter a lot of them in your working day, is the battering your own sense of worth can take. You can also wind up taking your frustration home with you and letting off steam at your loved ones, which is never good.

So what I suggest is taking a leaf out of Billy Connolly’s book: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little!”

To explain… like everything else in life, dealing well with these tricky interactions starts with getting your head in the right place. One of the best techniques I know for achieving this is one I call ‘Professional You’… and it can help anyone with a challenging people-facing role. (You can also apply the approach to prickly colleagues, noisy toddlers and incomprehensible teenagers!).

Throughout your life you are lots of different versions of yourself. There’s a version that goes to a job interview, a version that slobs out in front of the TV on a Friday night, a version that plays on the carpet with the kids, that meets up with friends at a party, that goes on a first date, that makes that presentation to the Board. They are all you: they just emphasise different aspects of you.

Identify the best possible version of you that could speak with your customers. What is s/he like? What qualities does s/he have? Resilience, endless patience, genuine interest, knowledge, empathy… keep adding to your list. This is Professional You.

Now take those qualities and imagine weaving them into a jacket, or a hat, or even a bubble that you can climb into. Some people like to add a non-stick Teflon layer for good measure. Your Professional You gear is now ready.

So, every time your phone rings, or a customer steps up to the counter, or that individual sidles up to your desk, mentally slip into that jacket, put on that hat or climb into that bubble. Everything else that makes up the other versions of ‘you’ is left on the outside, untainted and unaffected by whatever you have to deal with. For the next few minutes, that interaction is the only thing that matters, and Professional You has precisely what it takes to deal with whatever that customer throws at you.

Once the customer has gone, you can climb out of the jacket, hat or bubble – and mentally throw it away. Doing that means you can leave all of that customer’s rudeness and anger and frustration behind too. You no longer have to carry it around all day or take it home with you. It has been disposed of, and a new jacket, hat or bubble is hanging up on the mental peg, ready to be put on at a moment’s notice.

You may think this sounds a bit too ‘out there’ for the logical, sensible person that you are… but if you are struggling to stay in love with your customers, because of the challenges they bring you, a radical change of visualisation could be just what you need.

Let me know how you get on.


  1. Brilliant as always Rebecca. I knew someone who used to visualise putting on a glove with his best attributes woven into it. He called it his Michael Jackson glove. He mentally put on that glove just before picking up the phone to start telemarketing or make a difficult phone conversation. This exercise really works!

  2. What a great example of the principle, Clive! Bling is definitely good and if you can bust a few moves whilst you’re at it then so much the better! One course participant who really liked this technique got back to me a month after the session and said she’d been using a ‘Professional You Headset’. It meant she had to raise it and put it down again in between calls which looked a bit odd – but it did wonders for her call focus. Aren’t our brains wonderful things…

  3. Brilliant Rebecca, I have to admit to having a S***shield that I put on when I know I am going into a difficult situation and that works well. A friend of mine has a teflon suit that zips up and completely encloses her and she finds that works really well.
    Thanks as always for your blogs 🙂

  4. Haha! I dread to think what yours looks like, Sarah! What a lovely bit of feedback – thank you!

  5. I love this! I have a ‘parental mode’, a ‘professional mode’ and some others, but have never thought of them as donning an item of clothing – this is a metaphor I’m going to practice with more, because it makes it easier to slip into (and out of) the me that is required in the situation. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is to create a ‘mode’ for dealing with people that belittle me – which involves not taking it personally, allowing for the fact that others see their world differently, and ultimately, choosing to recognise (but not value) their opinion. It’s liberating, but it’s taken me the best part of 40 years to get here 🙂

  6. Hi Sarah! Yes, I love this visualisation and other people do seem to as well. Thank you for the feedback – I love hearing that people have enjoyed what I’ve written and taken something away. You’ve made my day! 🙂 I reckon you should have a flipping great sparkly golden and diamond crown for your anti-belittling garb. Sock it to ’em!

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