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How to Handle Difficult People With Soft Skills

look at the commonalities amongst the people, not the differences to resolve conflicts



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Handling difficult people is a challenging task in the workplace. It is easier said than done indeed! However, it is possible to handle them when you understand basic human psychology and endeavor to improve their behavior through soft skills. 

In this regard, we will discuss assertiveness, handling difficult people, and exploring tools to handle them with the help of soft skills. 

Assertiveness is a widely discussed topic in the workplace. People often confuse aggressiveness with assertiveness. Assertiveness is the art of saying ‘No’ without compromising one’s rights and without hurting others. 

It is the art of saying ‘No’ politely but firmly. Assertiveness indicates ‘I am ok and you are ok’. In contrast, aggressiveness represents ‘I am ok but you are not ok’ and submissiveness describes ‘I am not ok but you are ok’. 

Of all three situations, assertiveness helps, in the long run, to enable people to lead conflict-free and stress-free life. In a nutshell, assertiveness is a win-win situation where all stakeholders are in a comfortable position to accomplish goals and objectives.  

Research shows that 80 percent of workplace challenges arise due to improper communication. Assertiveness is an integral part of effective communication. When people communicate assertively the message can be carried forward properly, positively, and peacefully. 

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice, and motivated by pride and vanity.” – Dale Carnegie

For these reasons, companies conduct training sessions on assertiveness to enable employees to work peacefully and productively. 

Leaders including Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, and Winston Churchill led assertively. They succeeded as leaders because they did not compromise their principles. 

Martin Luther King Jr fought for the rights of Blacks in America, Mahatma Gandhi fought for India’s freedom through non-violence and Winston Churchill was instrumental in winning the Second World War through assertive communication. Therefore, assertiveness is one of the pillars of effective leadership.

Assertiveness for resolving conflicts 

People adopt different means to resolve conflicts. Some people avoid or withdraw from conflict due to a lack of confidence. Some people do not want to hurt others by striking people resulting in suffering silently. 

Some people believe in striking back with aggression. It is a tit-for-tat scenario. And some people think coolly, and logically, and persuade others to understand the situation from multiple perspectives. They are assertive people. 

As people are different in nature, their approaches toward conflict are also different. In a nutshell, in a submissive style, people avoid conflicts and suffer silently. In an aggressive style, people inflict pain on others by being indifferent to others. 

In an assertive style, people empathize with others and strike a balance by respecting others as well as by protecting themselves. 

When people are suppressed for a long time, they explode like a volcano after some time. It is basically because they failed to assert their ideas, views, and rights for a long time. Such behavior adversely affects health and leads to depression. 

On the contrary, when people constantly dominate and dictate to others unmindful of others’ sentiments, views, and ideas, they will be disliked by others. Such aggressive people resort to conflicts everywhere. 

They are a threat to corporate peace and harmony. These people demonstrate negative body language. Here are some tools and techniques to be assertive.  

  • State your feelings properly, positively, and firmly without hurting others.
  • Empathize with others by becoming a good listener. Attentive listening helps ensure a better understanding of others’ viewpoints leading to assertive communication. 
  • Be objective, specific, and clear in your approach.
  • Be cool and composed. Don’t lose your temper. Appreciate the fact that it takes years to build the relations but a few seconds to break them. 
  • Demonstrate positive body language to present your viewpoint. 
  • You can go for a sandwich conversation wherein you start positively initially then include your strong points to put across and finally end your conversation with positive points to enable the other person to receive the messages properly.
  • When you dislike the actions of other people, instead of saying ‘you did like that’ you may say, ‘I did not like that’. Although the message is the same expressing ‘I’ defuses the problem subtly. 
  • Explore the ways and means to assert yourself. 
  • Repeat your points firmly until the message goes strongly to the other person. 
  • Never say ‘Yes’ to unfair and unreasonable requests.
  • Practice assertion skills during your free time through your internal dialogue. 
  • Do meditation regularly as it helps keep your thoughts and emotions under control.  
  • Take feedback from your trusted friends about your behavior to bring out improvement.  
  • Don’t think of win-lose or lose-win but always think of a win-win situation.

It is not conflict but cooperation pays people finally. Assertiveness plays a crucial role in cooperation in the corporate world. It is time people realized the importance and significance of assertion skills. 

It is the foundation for building leadership qualities. History has proved time and again that it is not ‘might’ but ‘right’ that succeeded in the end. Assertiveness is the key to surviving and succeeding in the workplace because it minimizes conflicts and maximizes productivity. 

Tools to handle difficult people

To handle difficult people, you must understand your personality first. You must demonstrate positive body language and be assertive in your behavior.  Here are some tools to handle difficult people.  

  • Be cheerful to break the ice. 
  • Don’t lose your temper. Keep cool.
  • Listen attentively to avoid any confusion. 
  • Be assertive. Maintain positive body language. Be cheerful and stay positive. Address the behavior, not the individual.
  • Use humor to break the bottlenecks. 
  • Don’t get defensive when you are criticized. Be prepared to act rather than react. Be positive and constructive in your approach. 
  • Empathize with others. Look from others’ perspectives for a moment to address the conflicts. 
  • Emphasize the collective goals and objectives and inform them that they are paramount. 
  • Be flexible. There is no tailor-made solution to handle difficult people. Apply different strokes to break barriers and build bridges.
  • Don’t sweep the issues under the rug. Handle problematic people by addressing them with empathy and giving feedback. 
  • Be assertive. Remember neither aggressive nor submissive behavior helps in the workplace. Sharon Anthony Bower remarked, “The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behavior affect the rights and well-being of others.”

Despite your best efforts, if there is no positive outcome to handling difficult people through soft skills, you may have to use negative motivation to set them all right. 

Appreciate the fact that people are different with unique emotions, egos, and feelings. As long as people are there, conflicts are bound to erupt. There are always differences in opinions, views, perceptions, attitudes, aptitudes, and approaches in people. 

Hence, it is essential to prevent conflicts through effective and efficient communication. If the conflicts are not averted, they would result in a crisis. 

To conclude, look at the commonalities amongst the people, not the differences to resolve conflicts. The common thread running across the people will make human life peaceful, pleasant, and memorable.

Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D. is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with forty years of experience and the author of fifty books including the award-winning ‘See the Light in You’ URL: He is a C-Suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision given his multifaceted professional experience including military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications.

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Are you completely new to networking?

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