Defusing Hostile People – Part 1/2

January 24th, 2014

Principles of Defusing Hostility

Follow these principles when dealing with an angry person to succeed! (see BOTH parts)

Deal With Person’s Feelings First

An angry person needs to have the issue AND their feelings addressed in order to start interacting constructively. The angrier the person, the more important it is to acknowledge their anger through the use of empathy statements and listening responses FIRST, before moving on to the issue. Problem solving with angry people often results in wasted time unless they are ready to participate calmly.

Begin To Defuse Early

Angry and frustrated people usually indicate their mood prior to opening their mouths and beginning a hostile attack. One way to address or pre-empt the attack is to begin the defusing process before the other person gets on an abusive rant. For example, in the dialogue with Mary and Peter, Mary might have noticed Peter standing in her doorway looking rather irate and angry, and spoken first using an empathy type response like: “Hi, Peter, you look like you are really upset with something. What’s up?” Something as simple as that might have made a huge difference in setting a more respectful tone for the interaction.

Be Assertive, Not Manipulative, Passive or Aggressive

You have a right to take action, or impose consequences in situations where someone has stepped over the line in their comments or behaviours. In fact, if you don’t speak up for yourself in these situations bully-type people will perceive you as an acceptable victim for their poor behaviour. When using assertive type statements or setting up consequences, do not dwell on the way the person is communicating any more than necessary. Make your statement, then refocus the conversation back to the issue. With respect to Mary and Peter this is one way Mary might have responded.

Peter, I will help you sort this out so you have what you need. In order to help you I need you to slow down, and answer a few questions so we can get this done.

Notice that the above is firm, clear and assertive. If Peter persists in being nasty or personal Mary is within her rights to say:

Peter, if you can answer my questions so we can get you those letters, I can help you. If you continue to raise your voice I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Which would you prefer?

The Critical Message: “It Isn’t Going To Work With Me

Aggressive, abusive and manipulative people look for victims they can control, using a variety of confrontation-provoking behaviour. When dealing with such people the important message to send is “What you are doing isn’t going to work with me..I will not be bullied, suckered into stupid arguments, insulted or give you the satisfaction of reacting to the abuse”. In short, it isn’t going to work with me. Once aggressive people realize that they aren’t going to be able to control you (make you angry or upset), they are more likely to aim their nasty behaviour at someone who is a better victim.

Many conflicts occur because one or both parties uses certain words or phrases that are “hot”. Usually conflict that happens this way is destructive to relationships. It’s easy to learn the kinds of words that start fights, and replace them with better phrasing. Here’s a summary of these “fightin words” you can avoid.

Robert Bacal is a noted author, keynote speaker, and management consultant.┬áHis most recent books include If It Wasn’t For The Customers I’d Really Like This Job: Stop Angry, Hostile Customers COLD While Remaining Professional, Stress Free, Efficient and Cool As A Cucumber, and Building Bridges Between Home And School: The Educator’s/Teacher’s Guide To Dealing With Emotional And Upset Parents

The Work911 Supersite contains many more free articles and tips on a number of workplace topics. Access it at . Robert can be contacted via e-mail at

This excerpt is from Defusing Hostile Customers Workbook For The Public Sector.


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