How to Develop Your Greatest Business Asset as a College Student; Effectively Dealing with People 

“Be thankful for all the difficult people in your life and learn from them. They have shown you exactly who you do not want to be.” – Anonymous

The importance of people skills in today’s professional climate cannot be over emphasized. Without effective communication and the ability to address the concerns of others, you cannot conduct the business of fulfilling their needs.

In every real-world monetary transaction – the exchange of currency for goods and services – there are personalities on both sides of the equation. As a business professional, merchant, manager or entrepreneur, you must continuously deal with people of every disposition whenever you engage in commerce. Inevitably, you will cross paths with individuals who rub you the wrong way, are combative, are insulting or otherwise unpleasant to be around. This is an unalterable fact of life, and the sooner you get accustomed to it, the sooner you can begin learning the skills necessary to handle difficult customers, and for that matter, all types of people in general.

An internship with College Works Painting is an ideal way to gain invaluable experience dealing with people. As the manager of your own residential painting business, you will speak to, interact among and negotiate with people on a daily basis.

These “soft skills” of dealing with people in-depth are not part of most traditional college curriculums. Higher education covers the business world in theory only, leaving it up to you to seek out an experience that offers real world training in everyday business situations. For 30 years, College Works has been creating successful business leaders who are highly adept at dealing with people through their manager internship program.

The College Works Painting People Skills Training Model

Through an internship with CWP, you can expect to hone your ability to successfully interact with other people through frequent engagement in these capacities:


Contacting potential clients


Pitching projects to interested parties (selling)


Reviewing current projects with existing clients


Speaking with your team managers about your current workload


Presenting managers and other colleagues with questions and issues about current projects


Ordering materials such as paint, tarps, brushes, tape, ladders, etc. from suppliers


Hiring subcontractors to complete paint projects


Directing your subcontracted painting crews on the specifics of each individual job


Invoicing and collecting payment from satisfied clients


Team building retreat-type events with your CWP management colleagues


On any given day, you can expect to talk with potential clients, communicate with existing clients, manage job sites, hire subcontractors, direct workers on job guidelines, negotiate with suppliers, collect from customers and more. Amid these endeavors, the occasional combative person will emerge. That is when your “people skills” will need to kick into high gear so that you can overcome whatever objections they may have and get back to conducting business.

People 101: The Basics

There are a few fundamental, long-established guidelines for successfully dealing with people. All are based on the principles of effective communication:

Know Yourself

By understanding your personality type, you can better prepare for daily interactions with others. If you have a dominant alpha personality, knowing that you should not be too overbearing is key. If you are more of a passive, “like to be liked” person, it is important to be aware that others may attempt to overpower your will with their ideas. You can pinpoint your exact personality style by taking a DiSC Assessment, and familiarizing yourself with the different facets of all personality types. According to the DiSC model, the four personality types are dominant, influential, steady and conscientious. Every person is different, with one or two types representing the majority of their personae and the other types having a lesser presence in the overall makeup of their personality.

Know Who You Are Talking To

Whether you are speaking with clients, vendors, subcontractors (employees), other managers or company superiors – learning which type of personality you are dealing with is important to communicating effectively. Most problems in business and skilled labor contracting (house painting) arise from poor communication. If you are dealing with a highly detailed person, the more information you can give them the better. If you are dealing with a more conscientious person, the more reassurance you can give them that everything will go smoothly is highly important.

Understand by Listening

The most important part of a conversation is when you are not talking. Waiting for your turn to speak, however, is not the same as listening. When the other person talks, they are offering insight into their intentions that they may not actually say verbatim. The person speaking will offer context clues in the form of objections to your sales pitch or their general reaction to the idea of having their home painted, increasing its value and enhancing curb appeal. They might air out their general concerns about life or express their grievances about other seemingly unrelated subjects. By listening intently and responding with clarity and respect, you can earn their trust. This makes them far more inclined to hire you than they would be had you not taken the time to learn about their individual needs and concerns.

Speak Clearly

Simplification of your statements is another important facet of effective communication. You should find the most concise, easy-to-understand way of explaining things. This can apply to a sales pitch, a project description, specific painting techniques, etc. Avoid obscure technical, industry-specific terms as well. While jargon might make you seem well-informed, if the person you are talking to is not familiar with what you are talking about, they will begin to disconnect and you risk losing an account just because you were trying to sound sophisticated.

Time it Right

Addressing the needs of others and dealing with certain issues can be a time-sensitive pursuit. Choosing a Monday morning to ask a client to pay a past-due invoice is probably not the best strategy, while pitching a potential client to paint their home at the advent of spring is better timing than the middle of winter. Being on the lookout for windows of opportunity is a key strategy to effective timing. As a good listener, you can generate strategy based on listening to a client talk about themselves. You may gather intel about an upcoming family gathering or a plan to refinance and take advantage of low interest rates which could help you find the right time to pitch a painting project or an upgrade (upsell) from an existing work order. Also, after you deliver a world-class paint job is a well-timed way of asking for referrals and customer reviews.

Difficult People 101

Regardless of how well you listen, how clearly you explain things and how good your communication skills are as a whole, you will inevitably encounter people who are determined to be difficult to handle. While most folks are pleasant, more or less, the combative ones are out there (in far fewer numbers), and they can emerge at any time. Thankfully, through the people skills training built into your College Works internship, you can learn how to spot the culprits of conflict, diffuse their negativity and turn a potentially fruitless situation into a successful business transaction.

Conflict Resolution Scenarios

The Problem: Unmet Expectations

An upset customer feels that they didn’t receive what was promised – either because of poor communication, unrealistic assumptions or error on the part of the painting crew. A great strategy for mitigating this is to never make promises you can’t keep and to always over-deliver. Right now, however, there’s a person whose main focus is to complain loudly and at length – and most likely at high volume.

The Solution: Deflect, Don’t Reflect

Taking an upset customer’s assault personally can cause a situation to quickly escalate rather than dissipate. It is important that you step aside from your attachment to your business and see things from their viewpoint. If an apology is truly in order, be sincere yet firm. What you don’t want to do is become emotionally unbalanced, like the customer, so that at least one person (you) is thinking rationally. A fair remedy to the situation may be nothing more than the customer needing a chance to express their disdain to someone who is there to listen and be genuinely engaged. As a College Works intern, this situation presents an opportunity to learn from someone who has already been through it. You will reach out to your district or regional manager, explain the situation, and devise a solution which is fair for everyone.

The Problem: Someone Who “Knows It All”

Even if they have never picked up a paintbrush, this person is convinced they are the leading authority on all facets of professional house painting. They will talk over you while you attempt to explain things and even go as far as to offer advice on how to execute a project in the most efficient, proficient and cost-effective way. These folks are terrible listeners, yet they seek an audience, so you need patience and focus in order to deal with them successfully.

The Solution: Listen, Listen, Listen

Although they may be full of hot air, they have made it clear that they want to expel that steam in your presence. Once again, you must remove your personal attachment to the situation and consider it an instance to learn more about your client’s concerns and more importantly – their needs. Commend them on having “done their homework” while maintaining the mindset that you know what you are doing, and you are prepared for the job at hand. Oftentimes, a know-it-all customer may talk themselves into an upgrade of services – since they insist they are an expert on the subject at hand. Either way, you should focus on staying as calm as possible, not allowing yourself to get upset while listening intently until they run out of steam.

The Problem: Cautious and Meticulous

This person is difficult because they can’t make up their mind, yet they have an arsenal of technical questions that never seems to run out. While they may seem interested in becoming a customer, they seem far more interested in not deciding while simultaneously taking up as much of your time as possible. Their overly-cautious demeanor might even make you wonder how they ever make it out of the house to go anywhere at all.

The Solution: Remain Engaged

The overly-cautious would-be customer needs an exorbitant amount of reassurance. In the DiSC personality assessment world, this person is known as a “High C” – conscientious, cautious and skeptical. The best strategy here is to offer short, concise, straightforward answers to their questions and to avoid over-explaining anything. Highly-detailed answers will only add to their trepidation and give them more things to worry about. Once again, listening intently and answering with sincerity can help you to understand your client while (eventually) revealing their underlying concerns and other needs they may have which your business can fulfill.

The Problem: Aggressive and Mean

This person is always in a combative mood, projecting discord from other facets of their life onto you and your business. They are short-tempered and self-centered – usually wielding a heap of unreasonable demands. Whether they are having a difficult day, a bad year or a bad life is anyone’s guess, but right now they are taking it out on you.

The Solution: Invert Their Approach

Combative people love to argue, so the first step in disarming this person is to not take the bait and to adopt a passive demeanor instead. Once the problem is identified, do your best to see it from their viewpoint and then apologize with sincerity. Next, you can lay out a plan to fix whatever they are complaining about – as long as it is within the scope of the painting project. Your intent should be to use all of your faculties such as tone of voice, body language, facial expression, etc. to de-escalate and diffuse the situation. There is a limit, of course, to how much abuse is tolerable. If they simply will not calm down, you owe it to yourself and your crew to vacate the premises. This is another instance where intercommunication with your College Works managers is key. Once you clearly and concisely explain the situation, they will guide you on the best way to proceed.

The Problem: Let’s Make a Deal

While bargain hunters mean well in terms of their own personal interests, their pursuit of amazing deals can reach ridiculous proportions. This is the sort of person who seems to always be in an irrational, ongoing pursuit of cheap goods and services. It would seem that they are in a fierce competition – trying “one up” their buddies by attaining bragging rights about how they “beat the system.” The bargain hunter can easily shift into the know it all, so the sooner you spot them and apply the correct strategy the better.

The Solution: Stand Your Ground

When dealing with a frugal customer, expect them to compare your prices to those of any competitors in the area. Know that, by doing this, they are trying to get you to drop your prices and thus, devalue your service. Use the aforementioned strategy of listening to them explain their concerns so that you can get an idea about what it is they really want and need. It is important that you kindly set boundaries by establishing your pricing structure and explain to them that it is a firm immovable part of your business model. Since they like to talk about prices, however, you can take advantage of that area of interest by asking their price range and explaining to them which of your services they can afford. Once they agree, you can talk them through the sale and even upsell services based on intel you gathered earlier when you were listening to them talk.

Transferable Skills

As a College Works intern with your own residential painting business, you will have a unique ability to learn – firsthand – how interpersonal dynamics work in the business world. You will encounter personalities of every type and learn how to deal with people when they are at their best and worst. By learning the various blends of personality types and working styles, you can learn to treat everyone you encounter as the unique individual they are. This is an invaluable skill that has earned many high-level professionals a favorable place among their colleagues, clients and competitors.

By honing your abilities to communicate effectively, to listen intently and manage the occasional difficult person, you will enter the professional world as a highly-marketable asset to any employer.

Plus, should you choose to pursue the entrepreneurial path, your experience with College Works Painting will prepare you to handle any people-oriented situation the high-octane world of business might throw at you. Contact us to learn more about a business management internship that will teach you the secrets of handling people that you can’t learn in a classroom.