How do I approach someone who’s angry?

In David Lieberman’s bestselling book, Make Peace with Anyone, he explains that when someone responds negatively toward you, four possible motivations are at hand:

(1) He’s a jerk to everyone, (2) He is threatened by you, (3) He thinks you dislike him, or (4) You’ve given him a reason to dislike you.

This means the problem might not be 100% your fault.

So, consider these six practices for approaching angry people:

1. Start with yourself. No matter how hostile, rude or annoying some people are, you need to be strong enough to F-R-E-E-Z-E. Otherwise you enable their hostile behavior by virtue of responding to it. Fortunately, with a little self-exploration through healthy internal dialogue, you can dilute the toxicity of the effects of these people.

Ask yourself questions like…

“What value system is this person operating out of?”
“What is it – IN ME – that might be causing this reaction?”
“Could I possibly remind this individual of someone in their past who gave him a hard time?”
“How is it possible that this person could think or behave in this way, and under what circumstances would it make perfect sense to do so?”

2. Monopolize the listening. Keep quiet. Let him blow off some steam first. He has to run out of gas eventually. This will help him calm down without the need to condescendingly say, “Calm down.”

In fact, that’s the worst thing you could say. If you say “Calm down,” he’s either going to say: (1) I AM CALM!! Or, worse yet, (2) become more upset. No need to compound his frustration.

The secret is to allow your silence and stillness – almost like a body of water – to enable him to hear the sound of his own overreaction. Sometimes this subtle bell of awareness brings him back to center. If that doesn’t work, you can always try jamming a highlighter up his nose.

3. Use the word “Wow.” It’s neutral, versatile, empathetic, non-judgmental and emotionally unreactive. WOW avoids over actively listening to someone. WOW offers an immediate answer, thus laying a foundation of affirmation. WOW buys you some time, until you can define your official response.

WOW also helps you maintain composure when presented with unexpected, difficult or crucial information. WOW creates space in the conversation, which grants the speaker permission to continue. One word. One sentence. It works. Make it your default.

4. Deflect it. Don’t get sucked into the bait game. Don’t become defensive or upset. Instead, use neutral, you-oriented responses like, “You’re really upset about this,” or “You must be having a bad day.”

This type of language reverses the momentum of the conversation and demonstrates that you refuse to take ownership of somebody else’s problem. Either that, or his head will explode. Which wouldn’t actually be that bad anyway.

5. Avoid questions that begin with WHY. Here’s the problem: WHY can be seen as criticism. WHY can make people feel defensive. WHY can force someone to justify his actions. WHY can be internalized as a personal attack. WHY can be easily countered with because.

Instead, use question that begin with What, How, Who, When, or Where. They’re more objective and enable you to depersonalize the question. What’s more, those prefixes uncover information, specification and motivation; whereas WHY produces generalizations, rationalizations and justifications.

It takes some time to train yourself, but after about six months of why-mindfulness, you’ll rarely catch yourself saying it again. And although nobody will really notice the change, YOU will feel an immediate difference in the way you attend to others.

6. Offer specific behavioral feedback. Focus on the action, not the person. This assures the angry individual doesn’t take your comment as a personal attack.

Here’s a helpful formula: “John, when you react that way, other people – myself included – don’t want to be around or even approach you. We’re afraid that being honest might upset you again.” Try saying that, then wait.

What’s your secret for approaching your coworker or boss with a concern?

For the list called, “26 Rapid-Fire Strategies for becoming the Most Approachable Person in Your Organization,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur

If they can’t come UP to you; how will they ever get BEHIND you?

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