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Whether it’s someone at work, a member of your family, or a person you encounter while running errands, when someone turns what should be a quick and painless conversation or task into a time-consuming and mentally taxing ordeal, it can throw off your entire day. But people often don’t realize that they’re causing a problem, and losing your patience with them probably won’t solve anything.

Use these customer service phrases to respond to difficult people

Let’s learn from the professionals, shall we? Not only are customer service reps trained to handle complaints and disgruntled people, but they’re often given scripts written using insights into what’s been most effective in the past. Not everything in these scripts will be applicable to your situation, but you may want to try using one of these phrases the next time you have to respond to someone difficult:

1. “From what I understand, the issue you’re having is [paraphrase the issue].”

According to Joel Wolfe, the founder and CEO of HiredSupport, an outsourcing customer service agency, phrases like this one can help de-escalate tough interactions. “You’d say this to show the other person that you’ve been listening, and that you understand their problem,” he says. “Once you’ve confirmed the key facts, you can move on to the next step of suggesting a solution.”

2. “Let’s work together to find the best solution for you.”

Data from, a company providing real-time call support for customer service, sales, and customer success teams, indicate that changing how customers see the customer service agent—from someone they’re up against, to a teammate—is a quick and effective way to defuse tension, says Omar Kouhlani, the company’s CEO. But don’t wait too long: He encourages taking a more collaborative approach early in a conversation.

3. “Are there any other details you’d like to share? I want to make sure I understand the situation to help you.”

Much of the time, people simply want to be heard. “We’ve seen a positive boost when customers are given ample space to openly share their thoughts during calls,” says Kouhlani. To try apply this strategy in your own life, he recommends incorporating empathetic phrases, paired with probing questions that demonstrate active listening.

“There is a belief in the industry that limiting a customer’s expression saves time and money, but we’ve seen the opposite,” Kouhlani explains. “Providing customers with initial space may seem time-consuming for agents, but it’s a strategic time-saver for the company, minimizing follow-up calls.”

4. “I am so sorry about this; I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

According to Melissa Copeland, a customer service expert and principal of Blue Orbit Consulting, if someone is being difficult in response to something that’s your fault, the best thing you can do is offer them a sincere apology. “Acknowledging that someone is in or has a bad situation is key to people feeling heard,” she says. “Validating what someone feels is a valuable skill in building or rebuilding trust.”

5. “This sounds difficult. Here is what I am going to do: First, [let the person know what you need from them]. Once I have that information, I can explain what we do next.”

Situations involving health, family, and other complicated issues tend to make people feel out of control. So, if someone comes to you for help, but is being unrealistic, demanding, or having trouble articulating what they need, Copeland recommends being clear about what you can do for them, and explaining the process you’re going to follow. This can be helpful “in terms of setting expectations and being there for someone,” she says.

6. “While I don’t think I can do that, here’s what I can do instead…”

You can’t always give the other person exactly what they want, but you can give them options. “Instead of saying an outright ‘no,’ which will only aggravate them and prolong the argument, suggest an alternative that’s within your power to do and addresses the key points that they’re most upset about,” says Wolfe.

Feel free to put your own spin on these phrases—especially if the situation calls for a more casual response. People are difficult for a variety of reasons, but making them feel heard and approaching them with empathy can go a long way.

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