Facing someone who is angry at you – outright yelling-and-screaming angry – is a scenario that comes up when people are trading work horror stories.
I haven’t found a lot out there about how to deal with it well – just lots of “can you believe s/he did that?”
I remember the first time I listened to my boss yell at someone for a solid ten minutes behind closed doors (his and mine!) before he fired her. My stomach churned like I was twelve years old and about to be grounded. Not exactly how we want to feel at work.
We spend our entire lives developing our personal reaction to anger and those life-long habits are strong ones. They’re our go-to survival techniques. We may avoid situations that may result in anger. We may try to get in with the first punch. Dealing with anger can take a lot of practice if someone yelling at you isn’t in your comfort zone.
If you’re conflict-adverse, it’s helpful to remember that anger isn’t all bad. When it provides the fuel to make a change, it can really help you. We all hear stories about the “I’m not going to take it any more” moment when people stand up for themselves and they get the respect, attention, or result they’re seeking.
That’s not the kind of anger I’m thinking about here. I’m thinking about the situation when anger is a weapon to tear people down, intimidate, and cause fear, it’s destructive. It’s bullying. It’s the feeling in the pit of your stomach that something suddenly went wrong and you’re being attacked.
And it usually makes you….angry.
It’s not feeling angry that’s a problem. It’s the doing. What are they – or you – doing with that anger?
I certainly don’t have all the answers to this one, but I suspect there are a lot of answer out there from your experiences.
I’m happy to share a few ways I’ve been able to deal with these situations better in recent years than I did in the past. I’m really hoping you’ll share some of your experiences too.
What has been working better for me?
1. Ask: Are they really yelling?
If you’re sensitive to criticsm, hard on yourself, or not a fan of anger, it’s easy to misconstrue someone else as “yelling” when they’re frustrated, anxious, or upset.
If you feel like people are yelling at you all the time, you might want to figure out if they really are, or if your perception is playing into the situation. Maybe you need to hear what they’re saying instead of focusing on how they’re delivering the message.
But, sometimes, they really are yelling…..what then?
2. Walk away
There is great power in the polite exit. “I can see you’re upset. I’m going to take five minutes to gather my thoughts.”
It’s okay to leave. Especially if you can feel your emotions rising to meet theirs. The only thing worse than one really angry person is two.
Take a break. Find a way to get your thoughts out. For me, writing them down helps a lot. For others, it may be physical activity, talking to someone about the situation, but whatever it is, if it helps you group your thoughts or prepare mentally to deal with the situation, do it.
4. Deal with it
This is the kicker, right? Sometimes, we want to just lash out and then not deal with it. Or we want to just pretend “it” didn’t happen. Not dealing with the situation or the person is not good. It’s like the time you got a terrible report card and hid it from your parents. But you knew it was there. Lurking. And when you least expected it, the reality of having to deal with it would come popping up, spreading that dread all over your bright world of denial.
You’ve got to deal with it, or you’ll be sabotaging your way forward.
Dealing with it can take lots of forms. Maybe you can use some of the ideas in this post, or maybe you have other ways of having difficult conversations. That’s another topic.
But what’s the goal of this topic? Dealing with the initial outburst. Whatever your technique, I wonder if our ultimate goals is to not let their anger trigger the same emotion in you.
Can you do it?