Tools for calming others

Sep 12 • Ilona Nurmela • Comments: 1
Everyone gets upset. Ok, now that we’ve covered how to get yourself energised (16.8.14) and how to calm yourself down before and during negotiations (28.8.14), it’s time to talk about how to calm other people down. First, it helps for others to be calm when YOU stay calm.  See post from 28.8.2014.
Secondly, the DON'Ts:
Don’t tell someone to calm down. That might annoy or anger an agitated person even more.

Don’t shame them. Saying something like “Well, that’s really mature/professional/nice!” is not going to help. Shaming makes you the parent and them by association the child, it indicates you are judging their behaviour inappropriate and would know what the “right” behaviour should have been. Which is disrespectful in adult conversations. Which is a red flag to high powered people in particular. You might feel superior for a second, but imagine if that was done to you, how well would you like it? Exactly.

Don’t laugh at them - see above about shaming. I know that for some, it’s a stress response that you cannot help, so if you do laugh, apologise and tell them it’s your stress response in surprising situations and that you didn’t foresee that your previous statement would elicit such a response. Reaffirm that you respect their views/efforts/skills/commitment to solve the problem.

Don’t take it personally. The way someone reacts has less to do with you than you think. It has all to do about the other person. And you cannot control how the other person reacts. You can just diffuse or anticipate it - if you put yourself in their shoes. If it is something that you said that made them go off, apologise and say what you really meant to say instead.

Don’t lie. Trust is important, especially when emotions are running high and so are the chances for misunderstandings.

Don’t listen forever, if the other person is just trying to yell louder than everyone and monopolise the meeting. It’s ok to interrupt, especially if it is to clarify something the other person has said.

Thirdly, the DO’s:

Empathise. A simple acknowledgement, “I can see/hear how upset you are / how important this is to you / that this is frustrating,” can go a long way, especially if you finish with “let’s see if we can solve this together.”

Attention. If someone is upset when talking to you, focus your attention on them. Find out why they are upset. Ask. “I can see that this is an important issue for you, can you tell me a little bit more what your major concerns are and why so that I would understand it better?” “Tell me more,” signals that you are listening and receptive. And with this additional information you can perhaps glean a way into an even better future joint solution.

Mismatch. We naturally tend to mirror the behaviour of people around us. Mirroring the gestures and facial expressions of people we like is easy. Unfortunately, it’s as easy to react to angry expressions and posturing. So you consciously need to mismatch. Stay calm when someone is angry or confused or sad. Calm and respectful. So that they could mirror you and calm down in the process.

Be patient. If you have time to let someone blow off steam, do that. Then, take a 5 min break because no matter how good your nerves, you will need to compose yourself plus others in the room will, as well. When you’re back, you can continue like nothing happened or summarise the important points made - your choice. Focus on issues, not actions.

Make them comfortable. If there are any external factors that might be contributing to unease or frustration - like too hot/cold room, no beverages, sun in the eyes, hunger, time constraints - undo them. Adjust the temperature, offer water/tea/coffee/a bathroom/cigarette break, food etc. If time is an issue, you can always agree to meet at another time to continue and agree who does what in the meantime so as not to lose momentum.

What if someone is going off in a long angry tirade and you cannot even find a place to jump in to try any of the above? Call their name over and over again to get their attention. Then empathise, then repeat what they said to indicate you heard them, then rephrase or re-frame to focus the discussion back to the important.

There’s also a very useful book with more specific tips to deal with very difficult characters - useful when you are good at profiling people, i.e. you recognise from the signs who you are dealing with and can find the best way to approach them. The book is “Dealing With People You Can’t Stand” by Brinkman & Kirschner.

There are also certain NLP techniques, which remind me of Harry Potter’s patronus charm and vampire Bella’s power, but perhaps more about those a bit later.

Comments: 1

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