Oral Health Group

How To Communicate Positively, Effectively With Different And Difficult People

August 23, 2016
by Judy Kay Mausolf

Our success in life depends greatly on how well we communicate in our personal and professional lives. When we communicate positively and effectively we inspire connections and build happier, healthier and higher performing relationships. Our ceiling of success then becomes like the old expression, the sky’s the limit.

Unless you live in some remote jungle, or under a rock and only work with plants, you will probably interact with many people during your lifetime. The people I am talking about are not the strangers you make brief eye contact with for a second or pass in a hallway. I am referring to the people you consistently interact with on a daily basis. Some of them may be very different and even difficult to get along with. Yet your success depends greatly on developing these relationships! So how do we successfully work with different and even difficult people?


Our personal truths are the number one reason we label others as different or difficult people. When we interact with others we are always coming from a place filled with our own experiences. Our expectations differ because of our unique and individual beliefs, opinions, and assumptions based on our experiences. These expectations become our personal truths upon which we base judgments of right and wrong. To help you remember, they spell out the word B.O.A.T.; beliefs, opinions, assumptions, therefore, are truths based on our experiences.

The bottom line is that the other person is only different or difficult because their beliefs, opinions and expectations differ from ours. The minute someone disagrees with us, we see him or her as different, or difficult, and it becomes a conflict. Conflict is just a conversation where there is a difference of opinion or expectations.

Life would be much more enjoyable if conflict did not exist. But that isn’t real life! The problem is that many of us go through life trying to avoid conflict out of fear! We hope the conflict will just go away by itself. But the more we try to avoid it, the more it builds until eventually it escalates to a point where there is serious damage to the relationship.

Our fear of conflict is the problem, and it seems bigger the more we dwell on it. Here is the funny thing… fear is really only a negative prediction about the future and not reality. Whether or not we take action is governed by a simple ratio: our perception of danger versus our confidence in our ability to handle the conflict.

If we believe we can resolve the conflict in a non-confrontational positive manner, the amount of fear we feel is minimized and we will take action. This is why it is so important to learn the mindset and skill sets we need to give us the confidence to resolve conflict.

The first step is to shift our mindset about conflict. If we tear it apart; conflict is really just conversation where there is a disagreement because of a difference of opinion or expectation. So what is so scary about talking about a difference of opinion or expectation? We can eliminate the negative emotional energy from the conversation by coming from a place of care and concern instead of judgment and criticism.

The next step is the skill sets. The following five-step process will give you the skill sets you need to successfully resolve conflict with a positive conversation. It will change the focus of the conversation from finding blame (who did what wrong) to working together on what can be done differently in the future to succeed.

Here are five easy steps to help you have a more positive conversation:

1. Set up time to meet with the person with whom you have a concern or conflict (they may not have time right at the moment) and don’t tell anyone else.

2. Don’t personalize; instead of saying you did this, say “I am not sure what you meant by that…or can we talk about what happened today?” Talk about the situation and not the person.

3. Ask questions instead of making assumptions. Come from a place of care and concern instead of judgment and criticism. Be open and listen; don’t come to the table with the solution. You don’t know the why behind their reasons.

4. Focus on the solution, what can be done to prevent in the future versus who did what wrong. What do the parties involved need from each other to work together successfully? It will not be perfect for anyone but can be good for everyone.

5. If you can’t resolve the problem, don’t tattle on each other. Instead, all team members involved should meet together with whoever handles conflict resolution to work out a solution.

We are more likely to talk behind someone’s back and avoid going directly to the source when we haven’t learned how to have a positive conversation. It’s what I refer to as the “The Poison Triangle of Mistrust” and what many refer to as gossip. It is lethal to communication and destroys relationships. It is important to understand that if you are on the receiving end of gossip, you are just as responsible as if you are the initiator. You play a fifty-fifty role. If the gossiper has no one to tell, the gossip stops. Truthfully the receiver is even more responsible as they are often calmer with less emotional energy and can therefore think more clearly.

Stopping Gossip Action Plan

  • Avoid talking to a third person regarding the question, concern, or conflict.
  • Go directly to the person.
  • Stop gossip by asking the gossiper to go talk to the person it is about.
  • Have a word or a sign to stop gossip (peace sign).

The other dangerous outcome of avoiding addressing conflict is that we make assumptions. We make assumptions every minute of every day. Something happens and we instantly assign meaning to it. That is an assumption. Assumptions are almost always more negative than reality.

The assumptions may be correct or may be incorrect. We won’t know unless we take the next step. That step is asking. It sounds easy but it’s not. We often fear that if we ask, we may open ourselves up to an emotional reaction. I call that emotional reaction an eggshell. Eggshells spawn many of the assumptions in our lives and in our dental practices today. It’s the fear of these potential eggshells that stop us from asking and allow us to start assuming.

Some of the most predominant eggshells I am referring to are:

  • Anger
  • Judgment
  • Retaliation
  • Hurt feelings

We can’t let fear stop us from asking if we want to avoid assumptions. We don’t know what someone meant by their actions or words, or the way they said something. Sometimes even what they say or the words they use can mean something different than what we believe them to mean. Stop making assumptions and start asking questions regardless of fear of potential eggshells.

Action Plan to Avoid Assumptions:

  • When you get that feeling in your gut and think, “Hmmm – I wonder what they meant by that?” Or you find yourself saying, “I think they meant this” – you don’t know! Stop yourself immediately from wondering and speculating and ASK! You will be surprised how many of your initial assumptions are incorrect once you hear their intent.
  • Ask with care, concern and respect. A simple question to ask is “I am not quite sure what you meant. Please tell me more?” or “I am not quite sure what happened. Can we talk about it?”
  • Continue to respectfully ask questions until you understand the other person’s true intent. If you are still thinking “I think they meant…” you are assuming and it is important to ask more questions to achieve a deeper understanding.

Mastering these skill sets will empower us to resolve conflict with a positive and effective conversation. Now onto happier, healthier and higher performing relationships! Ta-dah!

About the Author

Judy Kay Mausolf is a dental practice management coach, speaker and author with expertise in helping others become happier and more successful! She is Past President of National Speakers Association (Minnesota Chapter), Director of Sponsoring Partners for the Speaking Consulting Network, and a member of the National Speakers Association and Academy of Dental Management

RELATED ARTICLE: Communication Is Key, If You Know How

Print this page


Have your say:

Your email address will not be published.