7 phrases you can use to handle difficult people in a firm but tactful way

In an ideal world, we’d all have the communication skills and emotional maturity to get along.

Alas, we live on planet Earth populated by almost eight billion people, many of whom aren’t exactly easy to deal with. Unless you have excellent social skills, you might end up having arguments that rattle you to your core and sour your mood.

Not ideal, to say the least.

Fortunately, there are specific phrases you can use to handle difficult people in a way that is both firm and tactful.

Let’s go over all 7 of them!

1) “I see where you’re coming from but I disagree”

When you’re dealing with a difficult person, you have essentially three options:

  • Accept the situation
  • Leave the situation
  • Stand your ground in a polite yet assertive way

This phrase is in the latter category. Let’s split it into two parts, each of which serves its own function:

  • “I see where you’re coming from”: offers a sense of understanding
  • “I disagree”: signals your decision to hold your ground

The thing is, difficult people love to kick up a fuss. Some are even looking to pick fights because they want to target their negative emotions at someone.

When you approach them with an understanding mindset, they find it much harder to argue with you because you’re doing the complete opposite of what they expect: you’re displaying empathy.

And while they might still get angry about the “I disagree” part, your lack of defensiveness and anger serves to dissipate tension and reduce the odds of a fight breaking out.

2) “Here is how we can solve this situation”

What I’ve learned from speaking to a friend who works in customer service is that you ought to always approach people with a problem-solving mindset.

If someone snaps at you, show your understanding (even if you secretly feel really annoyed) and then get down to work by offering practical solutions to handle the situation.

“I know how frustrating this is and here’s what we can do. We can either go for X or Y, what would you prefer?”

You may not give the person in question exactly what they want, but showing a cooperative attitude may decrease their desire to pick a fight.

3) “Can you help me understand your feelings a bit better?”

The truth is that many people who lash out or are difficult to deal with act from a wounded place.

It’s not an excuse, of course, but it’s an explanation that could help us handle them in a firm and tactful way.

When you recognize the person you’re talking to may simply feel misunderstood, it allows you to assume an open attitude that can lead to some sort of resolution.

“I’m a bit confused, can you please elaborate?”

“Can you help me understand how this makes you feel?”

“I want to understand and help you, I just need a bit more explanation.”

By showing a genuine desire to connect with the other person and gain a clearer sense of understanding, you’re essentially letting them know you’re not the enemy here.

4) “I need to take some space, but I’d like to pick up where we left off when I’m feeling a bit better”

Not always can you resolve a conflict straight away. And nor should you feel obligated to.

When dealing with difficult people, it is completely understandable that you might feel annoyed, frustrated, or angry.

And when you’re struggling to keep your cool, it’s normal to take some space to cool off. Really. You don’t owe the other person anything.

If you need space, you have every right to take it.

In fact, it’s often incredibly helpful for both parties to take a step back, process their feelings, and come back when they’re in a more rational and calmer state of mind.

The person you’re talking to may not be entirely happy when you express your desire to leave the conversation for the time being, but remember that you are not responsible for their feelings or reactions.

Taking space is a firm and tactful way to protect your own well-being.

5) “I can’t/have plans/am not interested, but thank you so much”

If there’s one thing that makes someone difficult, it’s their inability to respect other people’s decisions and move on.

They might invite you to an event, ask you to share some personal stuff about your life, or try to sell you something – whatever it is, they refuse to take “no” for an answer.

The best thing to do in that situation is to repeat your “no” until it sticks or leave the conversation.

You may feel like you need to explain your “no” – “ah, you know, I’m so busy, it really has nothing to do with you, I just need to do X and Y and Y…” – but the truth is, you really don’t.

Your life is your business. Your choice to share personal information about it is entirely up to you.

Thank the other person for offering, assertively state that you’re declining their invitation (oftentimes, “I have plans” is a good enough reason), and if they keep trying to convince you, keep saying “no” until they give up.

Or say you’ve got to go. That’s also an option.

6) “This situation makes me uncomfortable”

 Admitting you’re feeling uncomfortable sounds like it would make you look vulnerable, but it’s actually a huge power move.


Because it means you’re so self-assured that you don’t mind expressing exactly how you feel.

What’s more, telling someone they make you feel uncomfortable can completely catch them off guard.

No one wants to appear as if they are bothering someone on purpose, so it’s possible that the person in question will withdraw and leave you be.

7) “Okay”

Remember those three options you have when dealing with difficult people?

Well, one of them is to simply accept the situation. This is applicable especially in cases when you don’t actually care much about the outcome of what happens and are looking to quickly leave and move on.

A simple “Okay” is sometimes enough to do the trick.

This is because the person you’re talking to is looking to pick a fight, and by agreeing with them, you’re going directly against what they want, making them feel deflated and confused.

And before you go, keep in mind that the number one rule when handling someone difficult is to keep your cool. People like that tend to seek situations with a strong emotional charge.

When you remain detached and polite, firm and tactful, assertive and respectful… they lose their power.

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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