We’ve all been there—trying valiantly to reason with an incredibly difficult person. The situation proves frustrating, maddening, and sometimes even frightening. The truth is, you can’t reason with an unreasonable person. However, there are proven techniques to better manage such dicey situations.
I learned the ropes of what’s technically called “verbal de-escalation” from many years working in hospitals. Every year, we’d go through training on how to defuse difficult situations in which a patient, family member, or even another employee was extremely angry and seemingly out of control.
What follows are the tactics that professional crisis intervention teams use, and you can learn them, too. You can use these techniques with your boss, a customer, a family member, even a stranger. Keep in mind: The closer your relationship the person, the more knowledge you’ll have of what will best work to calm things down.
These tips may feel unnatural at first. When you're dealing with a person behaving unreasonably, the fear response center in your brain (the fight-flight-freeze part) is going to be activated. This part of the brain can't distinguish between a customer that's yelling at you or a vicious dog about to attack you. It's up to you to engage your conscious mind in order to defuse the situation. Some of these tips are general, suggesting a mindset to cultivate. Others are more specific in advising you what to do in the moment.
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