Handling Difficult Situations

Handling difficult situations are . . . well . . . hard. Suppose you’re the agent on an airline ticket counter. 

HINT: Being defensive just to win the argument is probably not the best response!

A flight is delayed. It’ll cause some passengers to miss connections. Get ready! You know you’ll soon be faced with at least a few irate passengers. How to handle them?

Read on for some better ideas, and examples of how to apply them.

a quote in handling difficult situations

How You React To Difficult Situations Is Important

Several years ago, I connected with Sam Horn on LinkedIn. Recently, I subscribed to her newsletter and received this tidbit. In it, I find great advice for how to get along in the world. Following it, you’ll find more joy in life. Your relationships will improve with those close to you and every casual encounter you have with a human. 

With a customer, your spouse, your child, or the waiter serving you in a restaurant, be conscious of how they feel. What do they want in their interaction with you? Honor those feelings and desires.

Sam’s advice is a wonderful application of Zig Ziglar’s principle in the pictured quote.

Remember this: Are you the direct or indirect cause of a difficult situation? It doesn't matter – your reaction to it is your responsibility. When someone is inconvenienced by an occurrence and is railing at you, listen! No doubt the substance of their complaint has some merit. All the innuendo they attach to it may not.

Sam's Advice When Faced With Difficult Situations

Regardless of all that, hear them out. When they’ve vented, take Sam Horn’s AAA train:

  • Agree. The other person’s complaint is probably legitimate. Even if it isn’t, they’re sure it is.
  • Apologize. It doesn’t matter whether you have any cause in what they’re complaining about. It’ll get you on their side.
  • Act. Do whatever is available to you to make things as near right for them as possible.

Here's a hallmark of the best public-facing companies (hotels, car rental agencies, airlines, etc.). The agents who work directly with customers have a carte blanche to do what's necessary in difficult situations. To take the action to right a wrong for a customer. This has way more impact than fixing it after their complaint goes to a higher level in the company.

A slip-up that fails a customer’s needs can be a positive in the company’s image – IF it’s handled quickly and effectively. Difficult situations like these, if left alone to fester, can affect the overall image of the company.

In this advice, there are some important DON’Ts, or NEVERs:  

  • NEVER raise your voice or show anger or annoyance. Stay calm!
  • NEVER defend your, or the company’s, role in the occurrence.
  • NEVER explain why it’s not your fault.


In every interaction, strive to find a way to defuse anger and help the other person get what they want. Print Zig Ziglar’s principle – “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.” – and post it in places where you’ll be reminded of it at critical times. As with any other habit, this may take a lot of effort at first. It can become second nature for you.

Note: Archived issues of The Unity Community are available here. Search that page for keywords representing your particular interest. Most articles offer suggestions for ways of improving business and personal relationships. Keep in mind that business is done by…people. Every business concern is essentially an inter-personal concern. 

A “Shot in the Arm” Every Day!

Eric Lofholm is my friend, mentor and sales coach. He hosts a 15-minute motivational call every business day and a few holidays.  The call is at 7:45 AM Pacific time. Register for it here. You'll find instructions on how to join the call on Facebook, Zoom, by phone, or later in a recording. 

Let's Talk!

How do you react in the face of someone’s complaint? Think Sam Horn’s suggestions might improve your life experience? Want to talk about it? Reply to this message or click here if you'd like to chat on the phone.

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