Keeping the peace at work Keeping the peace at work

Sahar Haffaar Moussly, Executive Director, Trans Gulf Management Consultancy, discusses clashing offices personalities, fine-tuning your communication skills and coping techniques for disruptive working environments.

When you are required to interact on a regular basis with fellow co-workers, the chances are that at some point you will cross paths with someone who, in your mind, is just plain and simply difficult. The best solution when faced with such behaviour from others is to learn to control our own mood, by not allowing others to fill us with negative feelings.

It would be great if we were all able to learn how to control our anger and stress levels by improving our people skills, thereby obtaining a psychological edge. In other words, maybe we should pay more attention to our communication skills with ourselves and with others, as the quality of our communication defines the quality of our life.

So let’s explore this further; how can we adjust our own behaviour to become resilient around difficult people. But before we go on, let us first define what we believe makes person difficult.They are people who:

–  Make us lose our cool

–  Force us to do things we don’t want to do

–  Prevent us from doing what we want or need to do

–  Often use coercion, manipulation or other underhanded methods to get their way

– Make us feel guilty if we don’t go along with their wishes

– Make us anxious, upset, frustrated, angry, depressed, jealous, inferior, defeated or any other negative feeling

– Make us do their share of the work

Often when we encounter a difficult person, many of us react in ways that make the problem worse, for example by making a sharp retort, by becoming defensive rather than attempting to deal with the real issue and by taking the person’s anger personally. These natural but counter productive responses reduce our chances of transforming a negative encounter into a constructive one.

Becoming aware of and familiarising ourselves with those techniques that help us deal with difficult people and situations can, on the flip side, boost our confidence, improve our competency at work, reduce stress and anxiety, and increase our enthusiasm for our job.

My life changed when I realised that I could choose how to react when confronted with difficult situations. I discovered that I could either endorse the negative feelings projected upon me, or choose not to. This simple but very effective technique has helped me to determine the mood of my day. We should never forget that life has infinite possibilities and we always have a choice and we should not give anyone the chance to push us into being defensive or negative.

In order to learn the techniques necessary to deal with such individuals, we first need to detach ourselves from the situation and understand why they behave the way they do, so we can  deal with them better. I tend to divide people into three categories in this context: aggressive, passive, or, assertive.

Sahar Haffaar Moussly

1) Aggressive

These people tend to feel the following:

  • Powerful (in the short run) – These individuals enjoy having people rush around to cater to their every whim.
  • Guilty (eventually) – They do feel remorse as a result of the knowledge that they are taking advantage of others.
  • Threatened – They constantly brag about their qualities from strength, intelligence and so on. They do this because others may learn they are not really as talented as they make out to be. They attempt to make themselves feel important by putting others down.
  • Right – They are convinced that their ideas are the only ideas worth listening to.
  • Critical – They blame others when things go wrong.
  • Lonely – Their aggression isolates them from everyone around them.
  • Excessively energetic – They expend energy in the wrong direction, doing destructive rather than constructive things.

2) Passive

Passive people generally feel the following:

  • Angry – They know others take advantage of them.
  • Frustrated – They seldom get their way.
  • Withdrawn – They believe nobody listens to them.
  • Insecure and inferior – They lack self-esteem and self confidence, are unaware of their abilities, and are reluctant to try new things for fear of failing.
  • Anxious – They feel they have little control over their lives.
  • Defeated – They believe there is no use in trying; they won’t get what they want anyway.
  • Unable to acknowledge feelings – They hide feelings of fear and inadequacy by pretending everything is all right.
  • Liable to put themselves down – they have difficulty accepting even the simplest compliment and tend to underestimate the value of what they do.
  • Lacking in energy – Their zest for living is missing. They are usually doing things that others want them to do, rather than what they themselves want.

3) Assertive

People who are assertive are likely to feel the following:

  • Positive – They approach every new task or idea with a positive rather than a negative attitude.
  • Calm – They are at peace with themselves and others.
  • Enthusiastic – They complete tasks with zest and feel that they will succeed at them.
  • Proud – They accomplish what they do without stealing ideas from others or climbing over others. They can take full credit for what they achieve.
  • Honest – When they give their word that they will do something they do it; so others believe in them.
  • Direct – They are upfront in situations, and usually succeed at what they attempt.
  • Confident – They take risks, but know their limitations. They know that it’s okay to be wrong sometimes and are ready to learn from their mistakes.
  • Satisfied – They know where they are going, and how they are going to get there, so they usually attain their goals.
  • In control – They seldom have mood swings that adversely affect their communication with, and behaviour towards, others.
  • Able to acknowledge feelings – They can explain to others how unpleasant behaviour affects them.
  • Respect for others – They recognise that others have needs and rights just as they do.
  • Energetic – Their energy is directed towards achieving their goals.In general, many conflicts and resentments arise because people feel either that they have to defend themselves against an aggressor, or that they have inadvertently taken advantage of an overtly passive person. The ability to behave assertively rather than aggressively or passively can significantly reduce the level of conflict and stress in your life.

However, conflicts cannot be avoided entirely. When they do arise, the principles of assertive behaviour, which are so effective for preventing conflicts, are also helpful for resolving them.

On a gender note I might indicate here that many women still follow the behaviour of their mothers and grandmothers. They believe that passive behaviour is appropriate for women and that women who compete or become powerful, are unfeminine. Successful women have had to discard this traditional behaviour and become more assertive. However, in some cases their attempts to change have gone to the other extreme and have become aggressive.

Men, on the other hand, have a tendency to retain the traditional belief that their role in life is to be strong, competitive and aggressive. To adapt to new thinking and circumstances in business, men have had to change. They’re acting less aggressively and are becoming more in tune with their feelings and the feelings of others.

One of the best investments you might possibly make in your future is to perfect the art of being assertive, build your confidence levels and master the communication skills necessary to improve your relationships with staff, superiors, co-workers and clients.

Your communication skills will help you to control your moods and stay level headed in tough situations. Instead of becoming defensive when dealing with irate, rude, impatient, emotional, upset, persistent and aggressive people, you will concentrate on solving the problem.

By developing this kind of self-control, your confidence will grow and you will become more enthusiastic. Learn to utilise these skills and no longer will you allow others to decide the kind of day you will have. Your days will instead be filled with success.


Sahar Haffar Moussly is a Dubai based, UK-certified Life Coach and NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) practitioner. Today she runs two businesses. Alongside her life coaching practice, Life in Harmony, Sahar is also Executive Director of Trans Gulf Management Consultancy (TGMC), a firm specialising in conference interpretation and translations service, which was established in 1997.

TGMC was listed as a finalist in the SME Advisor Stars of Business Awards, 2010, in the category of Professional Services.

With over 25 years experience in the corporate world, Sahar holds a BA in English Language and Translation gained from Damascus University, and an MA in International Diplomacy gained at the University of Washington. She went on to become a qualified interpreter and translator, gaining a diploma in simultaneous translation and interpretation from the UK and became a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.

In 2010 Sahar published a research and guidebook in Arabic entitled, Welcome to Tomorrow, which introduce the topic of life coaching and self development to Arab audiences. The book was launched in Damascus in January 2010.

For more information about Life in Harmony visit



Rushika Bhatia Editor

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.

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