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Learn & Practice

Workplace Wednesday: Dealing with Other People

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In this week’s Workplace Wednesday we explore how to build up your skills of compassion to prepare for interacting with others.

There’s a great line in the 1994 movie Clerks: This job would be great if it weren’t for the customers. (That’s a bit of a sanitized version.) If you’ve been working in any type of customer-facing environment these days – be it retail, customer service, or even client-facing – this quote may resonate with you. A recent Time article even spent several pages explaining “Why Everyone is So Rude Right Now.

This type of stress – constantly adjusting to the behavior of others while keeping yourself calm – can have a long-term strain on your well-being. A recent study found 87% of call center workers reported “high” or “very high” stress levels in their workplaces, and 77% reported “high” or “very high” personal stress levels. While we cannot control how others behave – we can give ourselves the gift of managing our own reactions. There will always be other people around – and not all of them will be 100% kind all the time. While the current increase in challenging behavior will hopefully lessen, the following tips can last a lifetime when dealing with customers.

After a tough day with tough customers, practice compassion. Finding compassion for a difficult person during the difficult interaction can be challenging, but you can build up your skills of compassion outside of these interactions. Working on the skill of compassion for difficult people can build up your resilience to these interactions, while not excusing poor behavior. Try this 10 minute meditation, or just use the following steps whenever!

  1. When you’re ready to practice, reflect on your own-self compassion, your own wish to be free from hardship.
  2. Now bring to mind a difficult customer – perhaps someone with whom you interacted earlier. 
  3. Once you’ve got someone in mind, reflect on their struggles, and how they might respond to the challenges they face.  Notice how – just like you – they want to be free of hardship and suffering.  
  4. You might have emotions stirred by doing this – just notice how this feels and then pull yourself back to the reflection. If you find yourself really getting worked up, take a break and focus on your breath for a moment before returning.
  5. Now we’ll take this a step further – we’re going to try softening the memory of some of these interactions with difficult customers. Picture a specific interaction. Remember it in detail. Picture the scene and recall what you heard and experienced. If any emotions or thoughts arise as a result, just be aware of them. 
  6. Reflect on the challenges of this interaction.
  7. Now, offer your past self (from earlier in the day) some kind phrases.  Repeat “may you be free of hardship,” silently to yourself. 
  8. Repeat this memory, but with the perspective of the other person. Try to see your own stories and emotions as just one interpretation, and imagine how the other person might have seen things differently.
  9. Now, offer them the kind phrase, “May you be free from suffering.”
  10. Repeat with more difficult customers.

During interactions, practice calming awareness techniques. Tense interactions can cause stressful reactions in the mind and body. One way to keep your perspective is to practice awareness during these moments. It can be as simple as focusing on your feet on the ground, or noticing your breath. When someone’s behavior starts to escalate, observe how your body copes: do you notice tightness in your chest? Pain in your stomach? Moving from reaction to awareness allows you to view the situation from a calm, spacious standpoint.

Notice the Positive Interactions. Our brains are predisposed to notice the negative more than the positive. Despite the rude customers, there are most likely friendly and kind customers as well. When you have positive connections with customers, can you notice the thoughts, memories, and expectations that create those experiences? You might notice them as thoughts and stories in your mind, and you might also notice a felt sense in the body. When you have a positive interaction with a customer, take the time to be aware of what it feels like to see the positive in them.

Nothing excuses poor behavior but customer service jobs will bring you in contact with lots of different types of people. Hopefully, with the tips above, your well-being can be supported despite these circumstances.


Learn more about how the Healthy Minds Framework can support your workplace well-being with our Healthy Minds @Work program.


HM@Work Mental Health Workplace Wednesdays