Career Advice English for professional use

Handling difficult colleagues and customers - Part 2

In Part 1 last week, we looked at useful strategies to help you when dealing with difficult people at work. Here are more tips to better prepare yourself for the next conflict you face at work.


Use polite phrases to disagree

It’s unlikely you’ll agree with everything your difficult colleague or customer says and you may find yourself wanting to disagree in a way that will not make the situation worse. These following phrases can help to diffuse a disagreement, while asserting your own opinion.

  • I understand where you’re coming from but …
  • I see what you’re saying but I think ...
  • I’m sorry but I have to disagree with you on …

After politely disagreeing, you can use one of these expressions to suggest a solution.

  • Instead, I think we should …
  • How about we …
  • What do you think about xxx instead?


Lower your voice

If the other person starts to raise their voice or shout, you should speak more slowly and in a lower tone. This will not only help you to remain calm, but your composure should help to pacify the other person. If you respond to shouting with more shouting the situation is sure to escalate.

Avoid saying ‘Calm down’ as this can often infuriate people further. Continue to listen to their problem and maintain control of your own emotions.


Use ‘I’ statements

‘I’ statements are a great way to express your feelings when handling any type of disagreement without attacking the other person. They are an easy way to avoid assigning blame as they focus on the problem rather than the person.

‘I’ statements focus on your own experience of the situation, whereas ‘you’ statements imply the person listening is responsible for something. Take a look at the following examples and note the difference.

  • You are really annoying me because you won’t stop talking.

    I find it difficult to work in a noisy environment.


  • Why haven’t you finished the report? You’re holding up the whole project.

    I’m feeling a little stressed because I don’t have that report yet.


  • Can you stop rushing me?

    I appreciate your patience.


Working with difficult colleagues or customers is never easy. However, by being mindful of your language and behaviour, you can better manage difficult or stressful situations at work. Remember these tips to communicate effectively and adopt a calm demeanour to remain professional in any situation.