How to Neutralize Anger in Others (Episode 13)

Back in Episode 8, I shared a simple tool to control your own anger. But what do you do if others are mad at you? How can you neutralize that anger and get them to a more rational state of mind so that you can solve the problem?

In this episode, I share how you can do just that. 

A few years back I 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 business 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, and why we made the decision we did. And I told him that we would not be revisiting that decision. I thought that would be sufficient, but, 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 an approach 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 those things 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.

So, back to this employee meeting… I walk into the conference room and he’s already there, waiting for me. I can tell that he’s heated. Before he could say anything I blurted out, “Listen, I know you’re pissed off about this situation and how you’ve been treated. You must think I’m a total jerk.” His whole demeanor shifted. He responded by saying Oh no, I’m not mad, I just want to understand why you made the compensation decision. His anger was diffused and we were both now ready to discuss the problem. I walked through the rationale for the decision and after a few minutes the conversation came to an amicable close. 

I think one of the reasons this approach is effective is that it shows the other person that you know what they’re experiencing. Acknowledging how they may be feeling shows empathy. It makes them feel listened to. It makes them feel heard. 

But be careful. I’ve seen this approach used ineffectively. I’ve seen it blow up. It’s critical that you do this authentically and that you actually show empathy. If this approach is done flippantly or used excessively, it will lack authenticity and may make the other person even angrier.

Thank you so much for listening! If you like this episode, please subscribe to “The Not Your Parents’ Workplace Show” and rate and review wherever you get your podcasts.

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