Dealing with irritating people (clients, too)

Home Column Dealing with irritating people (clients, too)

Having been a patient in two different hospitals over the past three months, I’ve met my share of irritating people. When I was in rehab for my new hip, there was this one particularly irritating nurse—not just for me but also my two roommates. At first, we laughed about her, but that didn’t help us deal with her. Her job was to make us feel comfortable. We were three people with new hips, and we couldn’t move very well without a lot of pain.

Have you ever had the experience where the minute you met a person you didn’t like them? There was just something about them that made the back of your neck bristle. In this instance, none of us were mobile and we couldn’t get away from her. So, we started thinking, what do we need to do to make her like us?

Which begs the question: Can you really like someone who you can’t stand? Moreover, do you need to connect with someone who really irritates you? When I discussed this issue with one of my flooring clients, he told me you just have to be honest.

Here are strategies store owners might use in the course of dealing with problematic people:

Find a common bond. One of my clients shared his experience: “Recently, my 10-year-old commercial customer asked me to drop my price on my labor. I had never been friendly with her, but I explained that she never had any trouble with my installers and they were always there when she needed us. She agreed but still wanted a cheaper price. I noticed that she had a new electric bike, and I told her I was thinking of buying one. This launched off into a 20-minute conversation and ended with her saying, ‘Please do the job!’ Even though I had been working for her for years, I guess I hadn’t done a decent job building rapport.”

Learn how to lead with empathy. I’m always in a hurry and I sometimes get annoyed with people who walk slowly and seem to be in my way. I always wondered, don’t they know they’re walking slowly and holding up the line? Ironically, when I had my hip surgery, I couldn’t walk very fast and needed a cane to lean on. The experience changed my attitude about being patient with others. Instead of strangers getting annoyed with me, I found that people went out of their way to help me. They opened doors, gave me a shopping cart to lean on and asked if they could help put my groceries in the car. Now I’m spending more time thinking how I might help someone else and being more compassionate. I’ve never needed help before except during my healing.

Look at people as humans. People have been particularly agitated and anxious these past two-plus years with all the fallout from the pandemic—uncertainty, higher prices for food, gas and other necessities, not to mention health scares and general paranoia. What we all need to remember in these trying times is to practice empathy. Every time you feel yourself getting irritated, slow down and think about the other person. Do they seem stressed or harried? What are they going through that could be causing them angst? When you start seeing people as human and having the same problems you might be dealing with, the situation looks different.

Bottom line: Try giving that irritating person (or client) a break. Even the most annoying people can have redeeming qualities. What we all need to remember in these trying times is to practice empathy.

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at

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Dec. 5/12, 2022

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