The easiest way to diffuse an angry person is by showing them that we care about them as a person and their concerns equally. We do this by respectfully listening and asking questions to ensure that we fully understand what’s going on for them. When people feel heard…when people feel validated…when people feel cared for…their anger dissipates and their defenses soften. More importantly, they begin to feel connected to us and want to reciprocate by understanding our perspective.
It’s that simple and it’s that difficult.
I was speaking at a workshop when a woman in the audience took offense to something I said. She angrily rose from her seat and began to verbally attack me. Shocked, I could tell immediately that this was more of a misunderstanding than anything else. However, instead of interrupting her, arguing with her, or telling her she misunderstood, I took the time to listen and paraphrase back to her what I heard her saying. She looked up at me, somewhat surprised, and said, “Yes, that’s it.” I then apologized for my delivery and explained what I had meant to say. She smiled and thanked me to clarifying.
Do you see it?
This was no different than Ron pushing me around the room. Instead of protecting myself through defending or resisting the attack (in this case a verbal assault), I focused out and listened to her words and calmly paraphrased them back to show understanding. I diffused the attack, just like I was able to do with Ron.
John Heider, author of The Tao of Leadership once told me to imagine seeing the words TEACH ME sitting above the head of every person that I have any conflict with in the future as a way of reminding me to focus out before focusing in.
• Teach me what’s upsetting you and why?
• Teach me how I may have contributed to the problem and what I can do to fix it.
• Teach me how to work with you so that we can collaborate better.
• Teach me…Teach me…Teach me…
And it worked!