This simple tool will help you immediately neutralize someone’s anger

I recently had a meeting with an employee that I was dreading. I’ll spare the details, but he was frustrated about his compensation and felt like he had been wronged. He had spoken about this with his manager and HR partner on multiple occasions. Still not satisfied, he reached out to me over Slack. I walked him through the situation, the various factors at play, why we made the decision we did, and that we wouldn’t be revisiting that decision. Undeterred, he asked if we could meet in person.

Given that I had little to lose in this meeting (he was likely going to be angry at me regardless of what I said), I tried a tactic I learned while reading Chris Voss’ book, Never Split the Difference. Voss taught that you can neutralize angry people by identifying the worst things the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can. These accusations often sound exaggerated when said aloud, so speaking them will encourage the other person to claim that quite the opposite is true.

The employee was already in the conference room when I arrived. Before he could say anything I blurted out, “Listen, I know you’re pissed off about the situation and must think I’m a total jerk.” The employee responded by saying he wasn’t really that mad, he just wanted to understand why I’d made the decision. His anger was diffused, and after I walked through the rationale for our decision, the conversation came to an amicable close.

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