It happens every now and then. One of our customers gets really angry or a co-worker loses his or her temper. Our ability to successfully handle a really angry person is something that can make us into heroes in the workplace. It’s important to think long-term when dealing with anger. Think about how what you say and do may affect long-term relationships in the workplace. Here are seven tips for handling a really angry person.
Please note: If you feel that you’re in physical danger from the angry person, get to a safe place immediately.
Evaluate it Objectively.
Ask yourself if the anger is justified. Did you make a mistake? Did a system fail for which you (or your department) are responsible? Even if the anger is justified, some people choose to express the anger in unreasonable ways such as yelling or swearing. Regardless, if the anger is justified, a sincere apology is in order.
Let the angry person sound off. Venting is a way of safely releasing angry energy. Just remain silent until the other person calms down. As long as there is no concern for your safety, this technique allows the angry person to simply run out of things to say. If you don’t say anything, you don’t give them any fuel for their anger.
Agree (When Appropriate)
Look for points with which you can agree. It’s not necessary that you agree with everything the angry person is saying, but you can often find small points of agreement which can show validation. This is a form of empathy. You can even say things like, “I don’t blame you.” or “I’d feel the same way if that happened to me.” Honest agreement can help remove resistance and help de-escalate emotionally-charged situations.
Don’t Take it Personally
Most of the time, when someone is really angry, it’s due to a system or process failure. In fact, it may be the culmination of a series of unfortunate events. Then, something happens that involves you. You just happened to be the unfortunate person who answered the phone at that particular moment. It’s not personal. They’re angry about what happened.
Maintain Your Calm (At Least on the Outside)
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg told the story of how her mother taught her to always remain composed and not show her anger. It was okay to feel anger, just don’t show it. In the film RBG, she commented that displays of anger give power to the other person. In studies on emotional intelligence, it’s been shown that a calm person can positively influence someone who is agitated to return to a state of calm.
Focus on Issues, Not Character or Personality
Even if the other person engages in name-calling or value-judgments, don’t lower yourself to that level. When that happens, it’s much like arguing with strangers on the Internet. Nobody wins and nothing good comes out of it. “You’re a moron!” “No, you’re a moron!” How’s that ever going to end?
Take a Break
Sometimes, when someone is really agitated, it can be appropriate to take a break. You could say, “Our relationship is really important to me. Let’s take a break and revisit this later when we’re both calmer. I don’t want to say something in anger that I might regret later.”
I don’t know anyone who enjoys dealing with angry people. Sure, some people are less affected by it than others, but it’s just not something we look forward to doing. When you encounter someone who’s really angry, take a deep breath, maintain your calm. Apologize when appropriate, listen, agree when you can (even on small points), don’t take it personally, focus on the issues, and, if necessary, take a break. Think about the long-term impact of your actions in dealing with an angry person.
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