Dealing With Difficult People

Dealing With Difficult People

Hey Dan! I've been repeatedly dealing with a difficult member of the public in my job as a security guard.

What are some tips to help deal with this person?

Every job has its difficulties. Teachers deal with students who don't want to learn. Doctors listen to patients complain about preventable illnesses. Construction workers face the elements and a nearly constant uncertainty about their next project. As a security guard the greatest drawback is almost always dealing with the public. You are the face of authority and a lightning rod for trouble. That nice lady who brings you a doughnut once a week...she may turn into a screaming ball of rage when you tell her she can't block the wheelchair accessible parking spaces. The young man in the suit...he might threaten you or your family when you refuse to let him enter the premises after hours without a key.

In my 20 years as a security guard I've dealt with more than my fair share of nut jobs and borderline psychopaths, many of whom were wearing suits that cost more than my car, and along the way I learned some techniques to deal with these difficult people.

Stay Calm

My first security job, right out of high school, was working the door at a local honkytonk. It was a happening place for all kinds of people, but after an incident inside the bar, where a drunken kid stabbed a girl, we were forced to search patrons before they could enter the establishment. It led to some tense moments when I had to run my hands over the body burly bikers on a Friday night, but most customers understood that we were doing the searches for their own safety.

Not long afterwards a kid, barely 21, showed up to the bar drunk. He was weaving in and out of the line and I could him over the band inside. He made his way to the front and I had to turn him away. Not only could I smell the booze on his breath, but his crazy eyes made me uneasy. The kid started to get belligerent. I stood my ground, calmly telling his friends to take him home. They finally realized their night out was over and corralled their buddy into their truck and drove away.

It's important to stay calm in situations like that, where emotions are running high and you don't know what the other person is going to do. If I'd screamed at him and gotten in his face the scene could've turned violent, getting someone hurt. Even worse, the kid could've pulled a weapon and made the situation deadly. A cool head allows you to make rational decisions and defuse dangerous situations.

Go Somewhere Private

A few years later I graduated from the bar security circuit and got a good job as the overnight security guard for a small office building. The employees were nice, and for the most part I didn't have any problems. I was certainly glad that I didn't go home smelling like stale cigarettes and vomit every morning.

One morning Michelle, a very pregnant woman, arrived at the office later than usual. She looked like she'd just gotten out of bed. Unfortunately, this particular morning she decided to park in the fire lane to unload props for an important presentation. City guidelines and security policy said this was a huge violation, and I and could lose my job if I let her park there. I walked up to Michelle and explained that she would have to move her car to the parking lot across the street immediately.

She whirled around on me, and I have never seen a person so full of rage. Her nostrils flared and she screamed incoherent things about me harassing her because she was a woman. People walking on the street and inside the building stopped to watch the scene unfold. Soon she was in absolute hysterics. I guided her into the security booth just inside the door of the building. She hit me, and I sported a black eye for the next few days.

Once we were someplace private the anger started to melt away. I told her I knew she was having a bad day, but my job was to protect the property and the people inside of it; I wasn't trying to single her out. The privacy let her vent her personal frustrations until she calmed down, and she eventually apologized. I offered to call her office to have someone come down to the lot and help her carry the props across the street.

Letting a people rant in public is the worst thing you can do. They feel embarrassed, and that only fuels their anger or frustration. Try to take them someplace private so you can calmly explain the situation and empathize with their troubles. When you do, the other party will usually shake off whatever triggered their breakdown, and think rationally.

Ask For Help

In my current job I monitor the front desk for a tech company. Security is as tight in their complex as you'd find on a military base. Employees have to scan badges to get through all of the interior doors, and visitors aren't allowed to come in without a pre-approved background check and pre-printed temporary badge.

Josh was a junior executive with the company. He always had a cocky smirk on his face and liked to talk down to everyone below him. I rarely had to interact with him, until the day he arrived without his security badge.

I knew there would be trouble when I saw him walking around the lobby aimlessly. It was clear he was trying to find someone who'd open a door to his part of the building, so he could slip in behind them. Company policy stated that if anyone noticed that kind of behavior they were to alert security so we could escort that person off the property. I'll admit that I had some glee in my heart when I tapped him on the shoulder and told him I'd have to escort him out.

I don't know if it's possible for someone's head to actually explode, but if they can, Josh was pretty close at that point. He kept screaming, "Don't you know who I am? I'll have your job for this!", over and over as loud as he could. I knew I had to hold my ground, but I was worried that he had enough clout to get me fired. With a family at home and a job that finally had great hours, benefits and pay, I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize my position. At that moment I radioed my supervisor with the emergency code.

You are not going to be able to deal with every problem on your own. Supervisors and senior guards are there for support and to make the decisions that are far above your pay grade. When you find yourself in a situation where you don't know how to deal with a particular person, don't hesitate to call someone in to help.

In general, dealing with members of the public comes down to three things: respect, thick skin and a willingness to stand your ground. With those core principles in mind you can handle anyone who might give you trouble on the job.

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