Tongue Kwon Do: Bringing Out the Best in People at Their Worst

In helping organizations create corporate cultures of calm and harmony instead of worry and stress, I’ve discovered that one of the highest ranking causes of anxiety in the workplace is dealing with negative people. If negative people on your team are causing your stress levels to rise, what you need is a little self-defence. While you might not need to be skilled in tae kwon do; a little Tongue Kwon Do can go a long way.

Tongue Kwon Do (a phrase I coined in 2004) is the art of communication. It involves arming yourself with phrases that will help you bring out the best in people when they’re at their worst. You see, as much as you might like to, you can’t control another person’s behaviour. However, it is possible to influence a change in their behaviour by changing your own communication style. When faced with negative people, try some of these Tongue Kwon Do phrases:

Phrase #1: Do you want my help to solve a problem or do you want to vent?

This is a great question to ask when dealing with chronic complainers. If you have complainers on your team, you may have the urge to run as soon as they open their mouths. While that is one option, a much more effective tactic is to ask, “Do you want my help to solve a problem or do you want to vent?” Often complainers just want to vent. In that case say, “I’ve got four minutes. What’s on your mind?” At the end of the pre-determined time, wrap up with, “I hope that helped; I really do have to get back to work now.” Then get back to doing whatever it is you do.

Phrase #2: What is hurting you so much that you feel you have to hurt me to heal it?

This is a phrase my friend Shayne taught me and it’s particularly helpful when dealing with an angry person. When someone is angry and lashing out at you, as hard at it may be, don’t take it personally. It’s not about you; it’s about what is going on inside of them. When dealing with an angry person, realize that anger is the result of two emotions: fear and/or pain.


It’s very important to be mindful of your intention when asking this question. Make sure you’re asking from a place where you truly want to heal instead of hurt and bring light instead of more anger. If you’re feeling angry yourself in the encounter, it’s best to walk away until you’ve had a chance to regain your composure. In that case, it’s more helpful to ask yourself, “How am I hurting and/or what am I afraid of?” It’s a powerful question.

Phrase #3: You’re right.

Agreeing is one of the quickest ways to end hostility when dealing with a negative person who is belittling your feelings as a means to skirt an issue. Gossipers often use the tactic of belittling in order to deflect their guilt for their poor conduct. For example, suppose you told a colleague something in confidence and he blabbed it to some of your co-workers and it’s been bothering you. Rather than saying nothing and allowing it to eat away at you, you’ve decided to take action and confront your colleague about it. As you are telling him how you feel about his violation of confidence, he tries to belittle your feelings saying, “It was no big deal. Don’t be so emotional.”

With a little Tongue Kwon Do, you can maintain your position and your self-control. You can say, “You’re right. I am emotional. The emotions I’m feeling right now are hurt and upset.” You’re now back to the issue at hand and have skilfully avoided being sidetracked into a debate as to whether or not you’re being emotional. However, be careful that you only agree when it’s valid to do so. If, for instance, your co-worker responded by saying, “Don’t be such a baby,” you certainly don’t want to respond with, “You’re right; I am being a baby.” In this case, as in all cases where agreeing is not appropriate, move to Tongue Kwon Do Phrase #4.

Phrase #4: Maybe that’s the way you see it.

This is an extremely effective phrase to use when faced with an opinionated person who is not opening up to your point of view. Try saying: “Maybe that’s the way you see it, nevertheless this is the way I feel” or “Maybe that’s the way you see it, nevertheless, this is my point of view.” This allows you to present your side without backing down or becoming negatively opinionated yourself.

While these are just a sample of the phrases you can use when dealing with negative people, the main thing to realize is you don’t have to be a victim of their behaviour any longer. Whenever you’re dealing with someone who is complaining, angry, gossiping, opinionated, or exhibiting some other negative behaviour, you can use Tongue Kwon Do to protect yourself and to bring out his or her best. When you do, watch as your interactions become less negative and your work days flow more easily.

© Denise Marek