6 Tips to Improve Communication With Difficult People

Dialog between man and woman

Image source: (Fotolia)

Some people are just downright difficult. No matter what you say or do, it feels like there is no way out. Emotions overrun rational thoughts. Conversations turn into heated arguments, and nothing solves. It’s times like these that old patterns of communication need a make-over.

We learn our communication style by our environment and upbringing. If we come from households where our thoughts were not valued, listened, or supported; we learned not to talk. If we were dismissed, ignored, or criticized by cultural gender norms, we learned to remain silent. We adapted to suppress our thoughts and feelings to survive. As adults, we are now confronted with shame, anger, and denial of our thoughts and feelings.

When we retreat from communicating directly due to cultural norms, gender norms, or social norms we deny ourselves. We disallow access to our authentic self and to deeply connected relationships. Our fear of not being liked, avoidance of conflict or perfectionism keeps us isolated. We don’t give our relationships a chance. We hide from who we are, what we think, and what we feel. In turn, we treat ourselves with the same criticism and suppression as our childhood environment.
There is another way. We don’t have to run and hide. We can speak openly, honestly, and directly. It is not difficult. With practice communicating our needs and wants becomes second nature.

Learning skills to be assertive opens up courageous possibilities to be vulnerable. Exposing our real selves involves taking risks. The benefits outweigh discomforts. A richness of meaningful experiences of love, a sense of belonging, trust, joy, and creativity evolve naturally.

With assertiveness, we learn to stand-up for ourselves and not violate the rights of another person. It is a direct and honest expression of our feelings and opinions. We act, think and feel supporting our rights and the rights of others as equally valued, expressed, and respected.

Test Your Assertiveness

1. Do you find yourself saying “yes” to requests when you really want to say “no?”
Yes      No
2. Is it hard for you to make a decision?
Yes      No
3. Are you unable to express your discontent with a friend or partner, even if you think it is justified?
Yes      No
4. Is it difficult for you to ask for help or assistance?
Yes      No
5. Is it hard for you to express an opinion that is different from other people’s opinions?
Yes      No
6. Is it hard for you to share something positive about yourself?
Yes      No
7. Do you not speak up at work, a class, or meeting, even when you know the answer to a question or have a solution?
Yes      No
8. Do you find it difficult to accept a compliment?
Yes      No

If you answered “Yes” to one or more of the questions, you might have difficulty using assertive communication.

6 Tips to Communicate Assertively Using the Acronym, P A S A R R

1. Pause.

Quiet the mind for a moment to check in and listen internally. Noticing our thoughts gives us the opportunity to assess what we desire. Paying attention to our first intentions positions us to listen to our intuitive voice and bash any defeating self-talk. Being aware of how we feel and what we want to say enables us to stay true to ourselves. With consistent practice, reflection and self-validation the process will take less time.

2. Acknowledge the Truth.

Mirroring body language and giving credit where deserved credit helps deflate a heated moment. Agreeing with a kernel of truth in the complaint also provides time for internal reflection. For example, your boss says, “Your work is always screwed-up.” Ask, “In what way did I screw up?” If she says, “You just are a screw-up,” agree with one discreet example (if it is accurate), but correct her overgeneralization.

3. Stay True to Self.

Using clear and definite “I statements” validating our thoughts and feelings keep the conversation focused on the behavior not the person. While beginning a sentence with “I think” or “I feel” then go on to briefly describe the other person’s behavior.

4. Ask for a Request. Following what we noticed in the other’s person behavior with how their actions affected us kept the focus on cause and effect of behavior, not the person. Then make a request. For example, “When you are late and do not call, I feel afraid that something happened to you. I feel angry that I am waiting. I feel irritated that you don’t value my time. I would prefer it if you call to let me know if you are going to be more than 10 minutes late. Can you do that for me?”

5. Repeat.

Encouraging others reflection ensures mutual understanding. We are practicing self-validation and asking for what we want.

6. Repair.

If the steps above have not helped, continue to ask questions. Inquiring about others thoughts and feelings shows curiosity and their thoughts and feelings matter equally to yours, and a mutual solution is desired. During this phase paying attention to our non-verbal cues such as tone and volume of voice, eye-contact, and body position enables us to be in control of our self. It is also important to ensure we stay true to ourselves, saying “No” when needed to provide healthy boundaries, and validating our thoughts and feelings.

Using assertive techniques is a skill. It improves with practice. With time communicating our desires becomes easy. Following these steps as a guideline to stop before a heated argument, reflecting and staying honest to ourselves and others, and maintaining healthy boundaries allocates opportunity for a joint resolution, self-value, and increased confidence. Knowing that we took a risk to stand-up for ourselves demonstrates that we matter, that our thoughts and feelings are valuable, and we are worth defending.

In love and dignity, speak the truth – as we think, feel, and know it – and it shall set us free.
~ Melody Beattie


10 Ways to Get Things Done

“An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

“If you think you can, you can.  If you think you think you can’t, you’re right.”  – George Bernard Shaw

“The future belongs to the common man with uncommon determination.” – Baba Amte

“Practice is the best of all instructions.”  – Publilius Syrus

achievementIt’s another year gone by.  Bloggers, editors, and writers are scripting about resolutions, goals, and fresh starts.  Each New Year seems to bring a surge of renewed energy to make this year the best year yet.  Yet come February/ March that enthusiasm fades.  Why?  What is it about the New Year that brings a desire for change but then it quickly dwindles?

Change is hard.  Breaking old habits takes a consistent effort.  Casting your magic wand doesn’t just make it so.  It takes action, accountability, dedication, repeat and do it again.  Research supports it takes at least 21 days, some say 8 weeks to replace a bad habit.  It really depends.  It depends on the new habit, how long you have been doing it, the benefits of continuing, the immediacy of the payoff, and how often and automatically you perform the behavior.

To break the cycle, it is imperative to be conscientious of your thoughts and behaviors around the routine you desire to alter.   It takes consistent modifications every minute, hour and day.  For how long, well depends. Just repeat the desired change.

Wow! That seems overwhelming, huh.  It doesn’t have to be. Write.  Put your desired behavior modification on paper.  Post your desires on a visible spot that you see daily like your refrigerator, bathroom mirror, or front door.

Take some time (as much as you need) and reflect on the past year.  Look at what you achieved, what you learned, gained, and liked.  Review what you didn’t accomplish.  What were the blocks that prevented you from achieving those marks?  What do you need to make them happen in 2014?   Now write this down and keep it in a safe place to review often.

The answers to the questions above help you analyze past behavior, learn from successes and failures, and make fresh intentions.  The best way to accomplish this thorough investigation of your life is to break it down into professional, relational, body, and spiritual goals.  Again, write your thoughts down!

Next set small goals with specific due dates.  Break down those big ideas, dreams, and aspirations into tiny, manageable, and achievable goals.  Ensure they are realistic.  You don’t want to set yourself up for failure before you even start.

Find support.  Join a team or involve friends and family.  Tell them your aspirations, the due date, and ask them to follow-up and inquire upon your progress.  Involving others ensures accountability, support, and friendly reminders.

Here is a list of 10 Ways to Make Ideas Happen:

1. Remove the words “I can’t” from your vocabulary.

2. Focus on the possibilities instead of the limitations.

3. Remember that there is a solution for every problem (some are just harder to find than others).

4. Write it down and set a deadline.

5. Allow yourself to receive help (there is no reward for doing it all yourself).

6. Be open to feedback and suggestions.

7. Learn how to enjoy the process (it may take you a while to get there, so you might as well enjoy it)!

8. Reward yourself often.  Be proud of even the tiniest steps of progress.

9. Hang around with people who make their ideas happens.

10. Start even if you don’t know how you are going to finish.



what-is-meditationMeditation is concentration of the mind on one or more things, in order to aid mental or spiritual development, contemplation, or relaxation (Encarta Dictionary: English (North America, 2012).

The benefit of meditation is profound. Meditation can significantly decrease blood pressure and muscle tension (Amen, D. 1998). It can increase flexibility, creativity, focus, and attention span (Colzato, L. S., Ozturk, A. & Hommel, B., 2012).

There are several types of meditation with each providing different benefits. The first is Focused Attention (FA) meditation. It is thought regulation, monitoring, and focus of attention on a chosen object. An example of FA mediation is the sensation of one’s own breathing, at the expense of all other internal and external sensations. This type of mediation helps improve the ability to focus and retain concentration.

The steps to FA are focus, breathe, relax, and count.

1. Focus on one spot, object, or sensation.
2. Breathe slowly and deeply.
3. Relax and progressively release muscle tension.
4. Count from 1 to 10 and then 10 to 1 as you continue your attention on your breathe, good thoughts coming in, bad thoughts exiting out, and relaxing your muscles.

For a detailed example of FA mediation exercise read, “Self-Soothing, A Technique for Coping During Times of Stress and Anxiety.” It takes less than ten minutes to complete.

Open Monitoring (OM) meditation is mind-wandering. It is opening your mind to all emerging thoughts, feelings, and sensations. This type of meditation allows for all internal and external sensations to be experienced with the same openness, without focusing on specific objects or sensations. After practicing OM mediation the mind is more free and flexible to access new ideas. Recent studies show that it can actually benefit your thinking and creativity. You can make better plans for yourself and solve problems with increased diversity and creativity. So letting your mind drift far and wide isn’t bad for our daily performance, in fact it can actually enhance our lives (Mooneyham, B. W., & Schooler, J. W., 2013).

Visual Imagery is creating a relaxing experience during a stressful event or visualizing details of successfully maneuvering through a race or athletic event, or imagining presenting confidently in front of a large audience. For example, if you have a fear of riding in an elevator. You can free yourself of the anxiety by exposing yourself slowly and using your imagination to experience a calming and relaxing place. It can be the beach, the mountains, or any haven that brings you a sense of serenity. When creating your safe haven, imagine it with all your senses. For instance, create an imagery and sensation of the sand between your bare toes, the smell of the salty, warm air, taste the salt on your tongue, hear the children play, watch the waves crash along the shore, and sand castles playfully being built.

Visualization is helpful for competitive athletes, creating, clear career goals, or resolving stressful situations. Set your goal, create a clear idea or image, focus on the event daily, and affirm it with positive thoughts.

Using all three types of meditation can be extremely useful in many aspects of your life. I would love to hear how you use mediation in your life.


Amen, Daniel, M.D. (1998). Change Your Brain Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness. Three Rivers Press. New York, New York.

Colzato, L. S., Ozturk, A. and Hommel, B. (2012). Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking. Frontiers in Psychology 3:116. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00116

Gawain, Shakti (2002). Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life. Nataraj Publishing. Novato, California.

Mooneyham, B. W., & Schooler, J. W. (2013). The costs and benefits of mind-wandering: A review. Canadian Journal Of Experimental Psychology/Revue Canadienne De Psychologie Expérimentale, 67(1), 11-18. doi:10.1037/a0031569

How to Turn Work into Joy

pathTOparadiseThis article written by Bruce Kasanoff of Now Possible, LLC. provides a good explanation how fear can prevent us from going after the life we seek.  He gives clear mental and physical steps to push fear aside and let that encouraging voice come through. First is to be aware of that inner critic and then provide positive reinforcement to encourage change and small actions toward your dreams.  I hope you find the article useful and informative to conquer your fears and start making those changes toward living the life you have always imagined.

We are standing on the edge of a mountain in Utah, and the slope below is frighteningly steep. Under normal conditions, it would too steep for my son and I to ski.

But the night before it snowed 22″, altering our relationship with the laws of physics. We know the powder will slow our speed, so we point straight down and push-off. It’s not scary, it’s magical… we are floating, seemingly flying down the mountain.

You can’t experience this sort of exhilaration at work, or can you?

The thing is, I still remember, long ago, when skiing scared me. I remember countless times when fear caused me to tighten up, to be over-cautious, or to hustle for the safety of the lodge. Skiing reminds me that the path to the high points in life often requires overcoming fear.

Much as I love public speaking, I still get nervous before a big speech. No, nervous isn’t the right word. Scared is. This fear is what motivates me to rewrite the speech five times, and to practice until it’s just right. And, yes, I get the same sense of exhilaration during a speech as when floating down a mountain.

The secret to finding this sort of joy is to create goals so bold they scare you. It’s to dream so big that at first you dare not share your dreams with others, for fear of embarrassing yourself. “You want to be the CEO?” your friend might question, “You’re only three weeks into being a product manager.”

But as you pursue your dreams, and face down your fears, something magical happens. Your dreams start to become realistic. You can say them out loud, and others don’t laugh.

As you develop the habit of dreaming big and chipping away at fear, you expand what’s possible in your life. You start to understand the difference between impossible and difficult.

When I stand on a mountain at 10,000 feet, my brain often sends me two messages. The first is: stop, it’s too steep! The second is: nonsense, you can ski this safely. The first message never completely goes away, I just move it to the back of my mind.

This is what we have to do to turn work into joy… at the right times, we have to stand on a mountain so high it scares us, and then we have to move fear out-of-the-way.

If you’re bored by work, or frustrated in your career, perhaps you need to take on a bigger mountain. Often times, boredom is your brain screaming an important message: you are capable of greater things, aim higher.


Bruce Kasanoff is the founder of the personal branding agency, Now Possible. He is the co-author of Smart Customers, Stupid Companies, with co-author Michael Hinshaw.

Now is the Time to Do

By Richard Branson
When posting recently about the importance of making lists and resolutions, there was an overwhelming response from people keen to reach their goals in 2013. It’s great to see such enthusiasm – and practical planning – for making positive changes from people all over the world.

Planning is extremely important, for any adventure in or out of business. But even more crucial is the will to simply get out there and do something new. A couple of thoughts have caught my attention this week about creating original ideas.

Dr Muhammad Yunus, founder of the wonderful Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, said: “All human beings are born as entrepreneurs. But unfortunately, many of us never had the opportunity to unwrap that part of our life, so it remains hidden.”

He touches upon the potential within us all to bring new ideas to life. For those of us fortunate enough to have the chance to see their dreams come to life, it is foolish to waste our opportunities.

Another perceptive point comes from Seth Godin. On his blog, he wrote about the challenges of initiating any project. “Not enough people believe they are capable of productive initiative.

“I don’t think the shortage of artists has much to do with the innate ability to create or initiate. I think it has to do with believing that it’s possible and acceptable for you to do it.”

As Mr Godin suggests, it is absolutely possible for you to create, to take chances, to allow your ideas to flourish if you have enough self-confidence. While he is referring to artists, the same applies for the art of business.

Now is the time to do doesn’t just apply to starting businesses. it applies to relationships, to fitness, to all aspects of your life.

Nobody else is going to start your business for you. 2013 is the time to put your ideas into action. Now is the time to do.