When an angry employee or customer bursts into your office, rarely do you have time to prepare yourself. Often, you are not the target of that anger; but you must be able to bear the brunt of the emotional onslaught. How do you normally respond? Do you become confused? Defensive? Disoriented? Are you always tempted to return anger with more anger? What is needed is self-control, calmness, a touch of assertiveness, and (most importantly) a sincere desire to solve whatever problem has caused the outburst...
1. Acknowledge the person's anger up front.
Nothing adds more fuel to the fire of anger than to have it brushed aside, ignored, or challenged. Anger is a
symptom of a greater problem so make it clear immediately that you realize the person is upset: 'I can see that this is important to you-so it's important to me too. Let's go and have a talk about it.' The message you thus send is twofold: first, it says that you're interested in helping with the problem; and, second, it makes clear that you're not going to combat rage with rage. Your supportive comments don't condone anger, but drive home the need to redirect these emotions constructively.
2. Be calm and confident.
It is essential when confronted by an angry person to remain calm, dignified, express confidence in your face and body language, and speak in a steady voice that says you are concerned but not intimidated. It's vital not to respond aggressively to another's anger. If faced with shouting and profanity, draw a line: 'I have no intention of raising my voice during our discussion, and I ask that you extend the same courtesy to me'. Noâ'one can win with an angry exchange of words.
3. Provide a 'non threatening' environment.
Your aim is not to shut them up or to shout louder than them, but to devise a solution for their problem. The
search for a solution can only begin in a non threatening environment, so move any confrontation to a private setting such as your office. Get the person seated (it's harder to continue an outburst from a sitting position) and at ease. Come out from behind the barrier created by your desk. Try a less formal setting such as adjacent, on one side of a table.
4. Listen to what the person has to say.
If the other party is still fuming, let them get it all out before you start responding. If you maintain eye contact and listen actively without saying anything, the angry person will run out of steam much sooner-it's not easy to keep yelling at someone who doesn't respond. By letting the person get it off the chest, you are going a long way towards defusing a volatile situation.
5. Ask questions.
As anger subsides, to get at the seat of the fire you'll need to smoke out the real problem, which the person may not readily be honest about. You may need to ask plenty of questions- you're now moving the discussion more clearly into the objective, rather than the subjective, phase. Focus on facts. People often get more and more angry because they're confused as well as disappointed. The more you and your angry client or staff member focus on cold, hard facts, the less you'll get caught up in red-hot emotions. You'll get less stressed and you'll have a happier client sooner.
6. Summarize the situation as you see it.
Without being aggressive or defensive, work through the facts as you now understand them, being as objective as possible. The other party can confirm, correct or add to your understanding of the issue.
7. Work towards a solution.
By now you will know whether you are dealing with a reasonable person. If you've listened calmly, asked questions in a courteous and concerned manner, and are now about to explore solutions, then the other person's anger should have cooled so that you can talk rationally about the problem. However, if the person is still too angry to consider solutions, it may be best to postpone the discussion, allowing time to reflect and regain composure. But if discussion is now possible, explore with the other party the various options for a fair and equitable solution. Finally, agree on the solution that meets your mutual needs as fully as possible within the bounds of any existing constraints.
8. Act on the solution.
If the organization or you are to blame, admit it. Apologize and assure the person that it will not happen again. If the other party is in the wrong, be firm in stating this without overreacting. If another person is involved, state your intention to gather further information before deciding on any action. Indicate that you will advise later of your decision. Above all, demonstrate fairness and an interest in the person and the problem.
9. Express appreciation.
Thank the other party for sharing the problem with you and guarantee your continuing interest, concern, and intention to use the opinions of customers and staff in serving their best interests as well as the interests of the organization.