Dealing with Angry People

We all know one of them-- a person who is always angry or upset.   So how can you deal with them? Al Bernstein, Ph.D., joined us to talk about a few ways to handle angry people:

  • Ask for time    Instincts are quick and dirty. All you may have to do to disrupt them is slow down. If someone is attacking you, say: Please give me a minute to think about this.  The angry person will not get angrier at you for seeming to take what he says seriously. Delay may also subtly encourage him to do a little thinking of his own, which clearly couldn’t hurt.  
  • Know your goal   The most important thing to think about in the few seconds you’ve bought for yourself is what you want to happen.  Remember, you can achieve only one goal.  It is impossible to simultaneously calm someone down, get him back, and convince him that the whole thing is not really your fault.  If you send mixed messages, only the most aggressive will register, so choose carefully.   In most cases, the goal you want to achieve is calming the other person down enough to have a rational discussion.  Which leads to . . .
  • Never try to reason with a person who is yelling   Yelling and thinking cannot occur at the same time.  If an angry person is yelling, you need to get him or her to stop before you can go any further.  Getting people to stop yelling is actually easier than you might think.  Simply waiting, or keeping your own voice soft may do the trick.
  • Never, ever explain ! !   Explanations are usually a disguised form of fighting back or running away.  The typical explanation boils down to either a play for dominance: If you know all the facts, you will see that I am right and you are wrong or a blatant attempt to run away: It wasn’t my fault, you should be mad at somebody else.  This may not be what you mean, but it doesn’t matter.  Whether you recognize the provocative aspect of your explanations or not, an angry person certainly will.
  • Ask, “What would you like me to do?”   This simple, unexpected question is the most useful tool you will ever find for dealing with anger.  There are three distinct reasons why this is so.
  1. First, To answer this question, the angry person will have to stop and think, which is precisely what you want him to do.  When he does, he may realize that all he really wants is an argument that he can win with bluff and bluster.  If you shift the focus of the discussion to what needs to be done to solve the problem rather than whose fault it was in the first place, there is much less to argue about.
  2. The second reason is more subtle.  In any argument, the person who asks questions has the upper hand.  If you ask and the angry person answers, you have control of the conversation.
  3. The third reason is even more subtle and devious.  It is the way to win. Your instincts tell you that the way to beat an angry person is to knock him down and kick him.  This does not play well in a business setting.   At work, the person who stays coolest is usually perceived as the winner of an argument.   If you keep your head while the angry person is acting upset, he will kick himself, so you won’t have to.

For more information, visit Al'swebsite.

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