Don’t take it personally. IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU! They are probably having a bad day (life).
Listen. Do NOT talk over them.
Paraphrase. “It sounds as if you’re ____. And if I understand correctly, you need me to _____. You’re also concerned with _____. Have I captured you’re main points?”
Inquire. “You mentioned that _____. Help me understand how you came to this conclusion. And let’s talk about how we can create a situation that you find more reasonable.”
Acknowledge. “It sounds as if you’re quite disappointed with __.” So much so that you have serious concerns about whether ____."
(Sometimes listening and then paraphrasing/inquiring/acknowledging is all you need to do to help calm an angry person. However, if they are still upset, it can help to move on to focusing on solutions: What can I do to help you with this situation (see “Art of Focusing on Solutions” below)? This can help refocus them from being problem-focused, to solution-focused. Or it can help them realize that all they really wanted to do was complain.)
Other good phrases to use with an angry person:
· I noticed that.... (objectively describe any abusive behavior.)
· I don’t feel comfortable with... (how loudly you are talking to me. The tone you are using. )
· Given the desired outcome, how would you handle the issue // Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind.
The Art of Focusing on Solutions
Problem-Focused Question. What is wrong? Why is this happening?
Solution-Focused Question. What do we want? How do we create it?
(Being solution-focused is generally more productive and less anxiety producing.)
Questions to Refocus a Power Struggle
· What is the outcome would you like to create or maintain?
· What will having that outcome do for you? (what are the benefits you’ll get?)
· How will you know you’ve achieved it? (what are the criteria?)
· What will you do with this?
· What is the value and the risks of this?
· What are the next steps?
Motivation. Start by asking yourself why you are having this conversation. Is it necessary? You can tell that it is necessary because it is eating away at you. And verbalizing your motivation will put you in a more logical place to have the conversation.
Common Ground. Start by looking for mutual interests and goals (and stop looking for every flaw in their logic and arguments). When you first start a conversation, you’ll want to begin by sharing these instances of overlap with the other person). There are also ways to remind the person of your common ground throughout the conversion, as they respond (even when you disagree).
Agree: let them know where you have points of agreement
Build: where you have information that has been left out, build on their story
Compare: “I think I see things differently here"
Permission. Before you share your story, ask permission to pursue the conversation. This starts the conversation at a respectful place (and the first few moments of a conversation are the most important, as they set the tone for the entire discussion).
Tell Your Story. What is the gap between what your expectations were, or what was appropriate, and what happened. This should be succinct, objective, fact-based, and respectful.
Be Curious. Be open to their influence. “do I have this right?” “Am I missing anything?"
Listen. Show that you are hearing them; be respectful.
Deny. What you anticipate they will think you are saying, or what they have stated their misunderstanding is. “It don’t think you ___”
Assure. The opposite. “In fact, I’m very satisfied with ____”
I don’t want you to think I’m unhappy with your management of this department. Overall I’m very satisfied. I just want to talk about how we handle X.
I’m not saying it was wrong for you to say X. It is important for me to get feedback from you. It is just that I heard your tone and words as demeaning.
I didn’t mean to imply that you were doing it on purpose. I believe you were unaware of the impact you were having. That’s why I wanted to bring it up in the first place.
I’m not saying you have to treat me in any special way. All I’m asking for is that you treat me in a way that communicates respect and doesn’t sound like you think I’m incompetent.
Asking difficult questions
“Did you…?” and “Have you…” or “Are you…” may be well intended. At the same time, they invite yes-no answers instead of more open sharing. By contrast, “How…?” and “What…?” questions invite more ample flow.
Sharing difficult feelings
1. “I feel (felt) _____ that (or when you) ____.” Fill in the first blank with a one word feeling; e.g., “sad.”
2. “My concern is___.”
3. “I would like to ____.” Note: Avoid “I would like you to____.” Which is telling someone what she should do. This sentence started is highly provocative and comes across as invasive and controlling.
Behavior. Describe the behavior (this should be fact-based, not vague, or subjective)
Impact. Describe the impact of the behavior. (why it was good or bad.)
Future. Describe the desired, future behavior.
Focuses on improvement/solutions
“Here is another way to do that”
Focuses on problems
“You did this wrong”
Is about behavior, not personality
“It sounds as if you are having trouble doing X, would you agree? Maybe together we could come up with a plan…”
Implies the worst about the other’s personality
“You are too [negative trait]”
“I know you have a lot on your plate, but I think you can do this.”
“You always/never seem to….”
Forgets blame, focuses on the future
“We can fix this if we….”
“This is your fault/Look what you did”
“What do you think is the best choice?”
Seeks to control and undermine
“We are doing this my way because I know what is best.”
“I think we can find a solution that is best for both of us”
“It is my decision”
Responding to Feedback
· I would like to improve my performance, but comments like that give me no direction.
· I would like to know specific ways that I can improve.
· Please let me know what results you expect and how I can recognize them once I have reached them.
· What would you like to see me start/stop/keep doing?
Responding to an Abusive Person
The less you can respond the better.
Try your hardest to never escalate or respond to their anger.
If you can, respond with detached indifference (remember! It is not about you!), like a reporter trying to understand a subject.
· What I just heard you say is X
· Is that right?
· Tell me a little more about X?
· What would X look like to you?
(There is nothing a bully hates more than feeling powerless to intimidate you or evoke a response)