When you or your employees are a target of anger and/or outrage, it’s frustrating and uncomfortable. But you may be more in control than you think.
The challenges of dealing with angry people – at work and in life – have come center stage recently, due to people posting videos and stories of “Karens” and “Kevins,” slang for people complaining and causing trouble for others in their communities. These are individuals who exhibit outraged, angry, entitled, paranoid, and/or abusive behavior toward others, most often with little or no provocation. We have all encountered these men and women is one form or another. The question is how to deal with them in a professional, respectful, and calm way, particularly when just walking away isn’t an option.
Experts offer a few tips:
- Patience is a valuable tool. Be very calm and speak in an even voice. Don’t match the person’s anger or outrage; take the high ground and stay there. Sometimes people will calm down after they have an opportunity to vent.
- Understand what may be behind the person’s behavior. Try to identify the person’s trigger, that is, why he/she is acting this way and how you may be able to meet the person’s needs and resolve the situation. For instance, during this pandemic, fear is a common emotion; and this can lead to anger and explosive outbursts.
- Focus on the positive. Rather than dwelling on what you can’t change (at least for the moment), focus on actionable steps you have taken or can take to resolve the situation.
- Avoid excuses. There may be some very valid reasons why someone didn’t get something he/she wanted. However, when someone is upset, he/she wants answers, not excuses. For instance, you can say, “I can certainly understand that this situation is upsetting, and I am sorry for that. Let’s talk about how we can work together on a satisfactory solution.”
- Don’t take it personally. You are rarely the cause of a customer’s, acquaintance’s, or stranger’s demeanor. Often, someone is struggling with something that has nothing to do with you.
- Involve a manager or higher authority. Sometimes, a situation is beyond your ability to control, through no fault of your own. If none of your efforts to de-escalate the situation is effective or if the person continues to yell or be verbally abusive, it is appropriate to involve someone who may be able to bring something new to the table when you’ve exhausted your means. However, make sure the authority has a complete, honest picture of the situation before you involve him/her. Make sure no one feels blindsided or put on the spot.
Dealing with difficult people in isolated or limited situations is challenging. However, this challenge takes on a new urgency when the person is a coworker or boss who you see every day. Among the strategies for dealing with these individuals:
- Set limits. Don’t waste your time with an argument or conversation that is going nowhere. If you can’t get the person to focus on solutions, it’s okay (even healthy) to end the conversation politely and distance yourself as possible from the person.
- Rise above. Don’t get caught up in the person’s anger, and don’t match the individual emotionally. Stay calm and rational.
- Check yourself. This can be difficult and even uncomfortable, but it’s important to conduct an honest self-assessment to determine if you are doing anything to contribute to the situation.
- Learn and practice empathy. Remember that however unpleasant or difficult a person may be, that individual has feelings, fears, and needs. Try to find something in the person to feel empathy and connect with.
- Seek training. If you are uncomfortable dealing with difficult, angry people, there’s no shame in seeking additional training. There are many online (and free) programs to help sharpen your negotiation, communication, and conflict resolution skills. Professional organizations are a great starting point to find ones that meet your needs.
- Be proactive. Focus on what you want and need out of negative interactions with a difficult coworker or boss. Also consider what is in the best interest of the organization. This can help you identify more targeted and effective solutions.
The world is in the midst of chaos and change, and these challenges can cause tempers to flare and anger to erupt. Try to be a voice of reason and a source of calm. This may not help resolve every negative encounter, but it will contribute to your own wellbeing and peace of mind.