Imagine. The number one reason people
get fired in the U.S. is anger, and the number one problem people say
they have at work is they do not feel heard and respected.
How do we make people feel heard when they are difficult to be around
— and still stand up for ourselves? If the only tool you have is a
hammer, you treat everything like a nail.
Here are some more "tools" to add to your "toolbox" for the next time
someone is upset and taking it out on you. None will work all the time,
and some will work better for your personality style than others.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Lighten Up. When others begin to act "hot," we
instinctively tend to either 1. Escalate (become like them and get
loud, more hostile, or other mimicing reactions), or
2. Withdraw (poker face, quiet down). Either approach gets us
out of balance. Both are self-protective but self-sabotaging reactions.
They are akin to saying "I don't like your behavior — therefore I am
going to give you more power." Instead, slow everything down: your voice
level and rate and the amount and frequency ofyour body motions.
Be aware that you are feeling a hot reaction to the other person.
Instead of dwelling on your growing feelings, move to a de-escalating
action and leave room for everyone, especially the person in the wrong,
to save face and self-correct.
Take the "Three A's" Approach:
- Acknowledge that you heard the person, with a pause (buys
time for both to cool off), nod, or verbal acknowledgment that does not
immediately take sides ("I understand you have a concern" rather than
"You shouldn't have … ." ) or involve blaming or "bad labeling"
language ("Let's discuss what would work best for us both now" rather
than "That was a dumb . . .) that pours hot coals on the heat of
escalation and hardens the person into their position.
- Ask for more information so you both can cool off more and
you can find some common ground based on her or his underlying concerns
Try to "warm up" to the part of the person you can respect — focus on
it mentally and refer to it verbally: "You are so dedicated" or
"knowledgeable" or whatever their self-image is that leads them toward
rationalizing their behavior.
- Add your own. Say, perhaps, "May I tell you my perspective?" This sets them up to give you permission to state your view.
Presume Innocence Nobody wants to be told they are wrong. Whenever
you have reason to believe someone is lying or not making sense, you
will not build rapport by pointing it out to them. Allow them to save
face and keep asking questions until you lose imagination or control.
Say, for example, "How does that relate to the . . ." (then state the
apparently conflicting information). You might find you were wrong, and
thus you "save face." Or, by continued nonthreatening questions, you can
"softly corner" the other person into self-correcting, which protects
your future relationship.
Look to Their Positive Intent, Especially When They Appear to Have
None Our instincts are to look for the ways we are right and others are .
. . less right. In arguing, as the momentum builds, we mentally focus
on the smart, thoughtful, and "right" things we are doing, while
obsessing about the dumb, thoughtless, and otherwise wrong things the
other person is doing. This tendency leads us to take a superior or
righteous position, get more rigid, and listen less as the argument
Difficult as you might find it, try staying mindful of your worst
side and their best side as you find yourself falling into an escalating
argument. You will probably be more generous and patient with them, and
increase the chances that they will see areas where you might be right
Dump Their Stuff Back in Their Lap If someone is verbally dumping on
you, do not interrupt, counter, or counterattack in midstream, or you
will only prolong and intensify their comments. When they have finished,
ask "Is there anything else you want to add?" Then say, "What would
make this situation better?" or "How can we improve this situation in a
way you believe we can both accept?"
Ask them to propose a solution to the issue they have raised. If they
continue to complain or attack, acknowledge you heard them each time
and, like a broken record, repeat yourself in increasingly brief
language variations: "What will make it better?"
Do not attempt to solve problems others raise, even if they ask for
advice — they might make you wrong. People will spend more time proving
their way works best than using a method suggested by someone else,
even someone we love or like. It's only human.
5 Tips for Reaching Better Agreements More Easily in Everyday Life
1. If you embarrass someone while trying to reach an agreement, you might never have their full attention again.
2. Even and especially when you have the upper hand, do not make a victim of the underdog.
3. Offering something free and valued up-front, unasked, often
implants the desire to reciprocate, even beyond the value of the offer.
4. Problems seldom exist at the level at which they are discussed.
Until you get some notion of the underlying conflict, you will not be
able to find a solution.
5. If you want more from another person, wait to ask for it after
they have invested more time, energy, money, reputation, or other