How to deal with angry colleagues
You know the situation. You say something perfectly innocent to an individual and they just blow! In fact they do more than blow, they lose it completely and start to attack everything you say in an attempt to calm them down. You get angry. They get even more angry. And the whole thing is a disaster.
So what do you do when someone loses it? This video and the text below gives you the steps to take.
The first thing is quite hard – in fact very hard to do. Don’t take it personally. People explode for all kinds of reasons. Usually because they don’t feel listened to or respected. Or perhaps it is because they are frustrated, exasperated or feel very strongly on a subject.
When people overreact to a small situation it is because things have been allowed to build up over time. It is so important that feelings of anger are be allowed to be communicated in our workplaces (always respectfully of course!). Because unexpressed anger does not go away. It festers for years and explains how one additional small thing can cause an explosion. Sometimes people are responding to events today that started years back.
Whatever the reason one thing is very clear something of great importance to them needs to be communicated. And if you remember this it allows you to be able to step back and not take it personally.
So what things you can do in place of just being on the receiving end of an explosion?
1. Allow them to rant on
If you do not argue back and allow them to let it all out they will eventually run out of fuel! Being angry is exhausting so at some point they have to let it go and you will know when that is as they will collapse and become softer in their body language and tone of voice.
2. Listen with total curiosity
Seek to truly understand what is going on that made them so angry! Sometimes people get garbled and trip over words when they are angry so you will need to really tune in to hear what they are saying behind the words. Calm curiosity is very powerful here.
3. Show them that you have got the message that something of great importance for them is happening here
Whilst they are angry and ranting use phrases like:
‘I can see you feel strongly about this’; ‘You are clearly feeling angry’; ‘This is something of great importance to you’
To each of these phrases they are likely to go ‘Yes!’ to which can you can respond with ‘Got it’.
Notice you are not saying they are right, nor are you agreeing with them or apologising. You are just demonstrating that you have received the message that they are angry which means they no longer have to be or act angry to get the point across.
4. Summarise what you have heard
Once they have collapsed out of anger and are calm you can then summarise what you have heard.
‘So you are feeling ….. And from your perspective/understanding what has happened is ……’
Notice the language – ‘from your perspective or understanding’. Again you are not saying they are right but you are acknowledging their current truth.
You are working towards them responding ‘Yes’. If they do not ask questions so you truly get it ‘So, can I get this clear. Did this happen or that?’
5. Then you can present your own perspective
Once you have demonstrated that you fully understand where they are coming from then you have permission to respond:
‘My understanding of the situation is …..’; ‘From my perspective …..’; ‘Sorry, a mistake was clearly made. What I propose to do to fix it is …..’
Anger can appear very frightening but actually there is nothing to be frighten off as long as you understand its purpose in ensuring that something important is heard.
Take the time to respect it, honour it, hear it and then respond with your viewpoint.