Dealing With Difficult People part 4 Be Assertive

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Our last four blog posts have addressed the topic of “Dealing with Difficult People.” Everyone I know has an opinion on this topic, but there are a few ideas that have serve me and leaders that I personally know very well.  I have condensed these nuggets of wisdom and experience in to 4 basic guiding principles for dealing with difficult people and used each of the past 3 blogs to expound upon one principle at a time.

These are the principles (click on the link for further reading):

Be Kind
Be Humble
Be an Active Listener


The final principle we are going to look at is Be Assertive. You may wonder why assertiveness would be helpful in dealing with difficult people. The primary reason is it is simply an integral part of good communication. Not only do you communicate very clearly the message you are sending, being assertive engenders mutual respect.

Why? Because assertiveness causes the sender of the message in communication to express precisely what is needed/expected from the receiver of the message. That kind of clarity only comes from a person who is respecting themselves and the person with whom they are communicating.


Now assertiveness isn’t really all that difficult to comprehend, but apparently is difficult to practice and live out for certain parts of the population…Minnesotans. Wey are just so nice dontcha know?!  Many Minnesota natives have Scandinavian heritages, cultures that value, civility and harmony, not getting to over the top in anything that you do. Now when you deal with a person from the East coast, you tend to have people not from Scandinavian cultures. They tend to have cultural heritages that embrace conflict, open, and demonstrative communication. In other words they tend to have much more assertive communication styles and have a fondness for that type of interplay.

A simple definition for Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings and ask for what you want. I say it this way “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.”  Assertive communication is being clear, honest, respectful, and straightforward. It is NOT being pushy, shouting, one upping, or “winning’ an argument.

When you want to be assertive follow these simple steps;

  1. Use “I” statements. Own your own stuff and don’t blame someone for what you need to ask for or talk about.
  2. Avoid using the words “Always” & “Never.”
  3. Do your best to address behavior, whether it is desired behavior or that which need changing.
  4. Remember to respect the person (s)
  5. Use a respectful tone of voice and non-adversarial body language

See…not rocket science. Yet so many people avoid being assertive in their work and familial relationships. Doing so does not decrease your frequency of dealing with difficult people, nor will it increase your efficiency in dealing with these folks.

If you can be assertive, be an active listener, be humble, and kind to people who are normally difficult for you to deal with you will begin to notice changes. Much of the change will occur with you. You may find that people start to really look to you to help them with their challenges. You may also find that they become less difficult to deal with as they find you to be a person they can trust to treat them with respect and dignity. You will be the person they brag about to their friends, co workers and your supervisors. Happy customers, happy boss…that a win, win in my book.