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Customer from Hell: The Contrarian


This is the customer who seems intent on challenging anything and everything you say. If you recommend “A”, he (she) will take “B.” When you outline the benefits, he counters with the flaws. When you try to clarify your understanding of his needs, he will correct you. This customer can be exhausting, to say the least – particularly if it’s someone you have to deal with frequently.

Sometimes this behavior is deliberate. The customer is using tactics to play with your confidence, and angling himself into a stronger negotiating position. With most of the contrarians we encounter, however, their actions are quite unintentional. Zigging, when everyone else is trying to zag is simply part of their personality, and they are often unaware that they are doing it. If it’s any consolation, they likely do this as instinctively in their personal lives as they do in business.

When you listen closely to a contrarian, you’ll find that he’s not necessarily disagreeing with you. He is simply pointing out a different perspective. The best way to deal with him, then, is to begin by acknowledging his comments. If you argue with him, though, or debate a point, you’ll force him to take ownership over the perspective – which will only make matters worse.

Once you’ve acknowledged his perspective, the next step is to try and move back to the point as quickly as you can. Questions are a great way of doing this. Here are a couple of examples:

Optometrist: It looks like you need glasses for distance
Contrarian: Wearing glasses just weakens your eyes, and then they become dependant
Optometrist: Perhaps, although I’ve not seen that happen. What would you like to do?

Mechanic: You’re due for an oil change
Contrarian: Ah, these new cars don’t need those frequent oil changes anymore
Mechanic: You may be right about that. Yours is pretty dirty though. What do you think?

Putting the decision back into the hands of the contrarian forces him to actually weigh the different perspectives, instead of just present them. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try.

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