Difficult situations? Try these DOs & DON’Ts

‘How to handle difficult situations’ is one of the most popular topics on Zoomly’s menu of workshops. Based on the insights gained on both developing / delivering it and the contributions of hundreds of participants, here are some DOs and DON’Ts to help you when a situation gets difficult.


  • Go for a ‘win’ at all costs, regardless of what would be a ‘win’ for the other party.
  • Diminish what the other person says, for example with “yeah but…” or “But I…” To the other person you will seem to be uninterested in what’s important to them.
  • Use absolute terms, e.g. “you always… / I never…” Even if it does seem that way to you, absolutes can be received as accusations, escalating a difficult situation.
  • Dismiss another person’s deal-breaker as a trifle.
  • Make statements – they dampen dialogue and may entrench your position, restricting options and possibilities.
  • Get ‘emotionally hijacked’ by the situation, losing perspective – and your temper.
  • Go for a quick fix – that you may regret later.
  • Sulk and vow to get revenge if you don’t get your way.


  • Seek to find out what matters to the other person – what’s at stake?
  • Ask open questions (that begin with How, Where, What, Who, When) to identify concerns.
  • Listen attentively to what the other person has to say; check back with them to make sure you understand.
  • Share what’s important for you in the situation, what you’d like to happen.
  • Give your reasons, e.g. “…because the quality really matters to me.” “…because I’ve put a lot of time and effort into this.”
  • Take responsibility for your emotions, e.g. “I get annoyed when…” “I feel upset when…” (notice how different that sounds compared to “You make me annoyed/angry”)
  • Offer suggestions, e.g. “How about…?” “What if we…?”
  • Stay present in the moment – aware of your own thoughts and feelings and closely observing the other person’s behaviour. Staying present helps prevent old hurts and past disputes leaking into the current situation.



Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’

Copyright Zoomly



Image credits: MicrobaGrandioz-Depositphotos / Samuraitop-Depositphotos

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