Communicating with Difficult People


  • To practice communicating with difficult people


  • Whiteboard/chalkboard
  • Dry erase markers/chalk
  • Paper
  • Pens or pencils
  • “Roleplay Situations” handout (1 copy)

Prepare Before

Cut up the roleplay situations.

Warm Up

Think about someone they know that always seems to say, “Yes, but….”  Do you know anyone in your life that tends to be a bit more of a pessimist rather than an optimist?  “Yes, But” people seem to agree with you, BUT they are really saying something negative. They might say, for example, “Yes, I like what you’re wearing, but I would get it in a different color.”



Break the group into ten teams (ideally with about four people on every team). Pass out one role play scenario to each team. Each team will be advocating for their idea through these scenarios. They should make a brief (1-2 minute) pitch for their idea, and then ask if anyone has questions. In each roleplay, designate an audience member to be the “Yes, But” person. You can give them a sample “Yes, But” statement or have them make their own.


After every team has gone, facilitate a discussion with the following reflection questions:

  • What is challenging about hearing the negative comments or questions?
  • What could you say to people if they have only negative or pessimistic ideas about your project?
  • What are effective ways to respond to “Yes, But” people?


There is generally at least one person in the room that will be the negative one. Sometimes they don’t realize they are being negative — they see it as being realistic or trying to help you. It is important that we know how to handle these people in front of a group.

People often reveal their true concern in their question — what are they really concerned about — safety? Following the law?  Keeping control?  Doing the right thing?  Knowing their motivation can help you figure out how to answer the question.

As a researcher, remember all comments are feedback, and we can use them to our advantage.


Participants should brainstorm what questions possible adversaries may have for them regarding their project.  Write them up on the board. As a group, brainstorm how we might answer these questions.

Have the participants practice their issue presentation with audience members raising their hands to ask sample adversarial questions.

What is one way to deal with the “Yes, But” person?