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November 03, 2011  |   Comments (5)   |   Post a comment

4 tips for defusing difficult people

Pupil transportation leaders often have to meet with angry people. Staying calm, being respectful, and listening carefully and actively can go a long way toward resolving conflicts.

by Dan Lumley

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Author Dan Lumley says that listening intently is the key to dealing with any upset person.
<p>Author Dan Lumley says that listening intently is the key to dealing with any upset person.</p>

● Summarize the facts. Summarizing the facts that have been discussed in the meeting suggests to the other person that you really do understand his concerns and that you have really thought about what he has said.

● Ask what the person would like. Toward the end of the meeting, it is important to ask the upset person, "What do you think we should do to solve this problem?" This question sends a strong message that you are interested in a workable solution to the issue in question. Often, the question does result in the difficult person proposing a workable solution. It is important, however, to avoid making promises unless you can keep them.

● Say you will call or e-mail. If you need time to address any concerns, it is appropriate to defer action to another time by saying things like, "I don't have an answer for you right now, but if you give me your phone number or e-mail address, I promise I will get back to you by next Friday." Finally, express thanks to the person for sharing his concerns with you.

Poor responses to upset patrons can, and often do, inflame transportation cultures and burn communication bridges that pupil transportation leaders constantly strive to build.

Use of the tips, traps and to-dos outlined above can go a long way in cooling down heated passions.

Finally, some have suggested that the above strategies are also effective when dealing with angry and upset spouses! 

Dr. Dan Lumley is a former school administrator in Kansas and Missouri who consults with school districts across the U.S. and internationally on a variety of motivational topics. He holds a doctorate degree in educational leadership from Kansas State University. His “Preventing Misbehavior on the School Bus” is a popular in-service presentation at conferences and workshops. He can be reached at

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Why is it called school bus fleet?!?!?! I dont get it.

John Hathaway    |    Mar 01, 2013 06:35 PM

Great article! When I find a good article, I always print it out, and have my office staff read it, initial it, then pass it to the next staff member. Great work, keep it up!

Anthony Mendoza    |    Jan 18, 2012 06:46 AM

Great article on diffusing angry 'customers' and very helpful. The key in these situations is to stay calm and rational, and not give the other person something to react to. When I have dealt with angry 'customers', one technique I used with them was to let them talk for awhile and unload. When their commnents started escalating, I would interrupt politely and say, 'remember I'm on your side. I want this resolved as well.' It reinforced to them that I heard them and we were able to move on to a productive solution.

Karen M Zoller    |    Nov 07, 2011 07:43 AM

The article’s opening example not the best. Most stores just accept returns, customer right or wrong, and add it to the cost of doing business. In the case of the school bus that cost could be an injury or life. The rest of the article is good for most situations, but decisions must not harm the school bus environment.

jkraemer    |    Nov 06, 2011 08:39 AM

Excellent material. I can relate to using very similar tactics to defuse very angry parents and resolve the issue that brought them to me. I will take the advice of a 3 x 5 card to remind me and keep on track using this procedure step by step. Thank you SBF and Dr. Lumley

Matt Kutcher    |    Nov 04, 2011 07:43 AM

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