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A few weeks ago I had a situation where an intense debate developed between myself and someone that I was working with on a project. Although I did my best to remain calm, the other person did the opposite, completely blowing up and saying some rather harsh things to me. I have worked on projects with this person for a few years, and so I know that they have an extremely short fuse and is known more for their temper than anything else. However it was the first time that I had their temper aimed my way. Needless to say, I was shocked and very hurt by the interaction—especially since it was over a matter that was so simple. As they walked away, I stood speechless, really not knowing what to say..
This is not the first time that I have dealt with this type of behavior from others. Because of my many life roles, I experience this quite often from all types of people. So over the course of time I have learned ways to effectively handle people who throw anger and harsh words my way. –That doesn’t mean that it does not sting when it happens though, and it does not mean that I never want to give them a taste of their own medicine. It just means that I have realized that at the end of the day, I have to look at the bigger picture and do what is best not only for the situation and the relationship (business or otherwise), but also for both parties involved.
Here are some processes that I use to handle hurt people who hurt people—you can try them too:
Pause, Breathe, and Stop
I know you are heated, but it is wise not to react or respond too quickly. The result may find you saying (or doing) some things that you will immensely regret later. As much as you want to ‘let them have it’, it’s best to just allow them to have their moment; then afterwards pause, do some deep breathing to calm yourself, and walk away. Take the time that you need–whether it be a few minutes, hours, or days–to calm down.
Let It Out….Later
Definitely take a moment to get your emotions out of your system—but do not do it while in their presence. You are just as angry as they are and you are hurt on top of that. Expressing those emotions in front of them will only lead to disastrous consequences. It’s certainly not healthy to hold them inside, so find a time and a space to release them in a safe way. Yell, scream, cry—do whatever you have to do to let it all out until you feel better—just not in front of them (and not to them, either!).
Think it through
After you have gotten everything out of your system, you can begin to think the situation through in a rational way. Ask yourself some tough (but real) questions:
- Was the anger towards you a result of you directly or due to someone or something else unrelated?
- .If the person lashes out like this on a regular basis (is known to hurt people) can you definitely continue to work/collaborate/be in a relationship with them?
- .Is there a pattern—are there any key words/phrases/actions that tend to set them off? If so, are they avoidable while communicating with them? Are there alternatives that can be used instead?
- .Is turning their behavior around something that you can help them with? Do you think that it is severe enough that they may need professional help (ex: anger management)? If so, do you feel comfortable telling/helping them?
Decide and Act
Finally, decide whether you feel that the subject/incident should be addressed, or would it be best if you let it go. If you decide to address it, take time to determine what would be an acceptable resolve for you (apology, further action, etc.) and what approach would be best to get your viewpoint across while acknowledging their feelings and minimizing further tension.
After taking some time to reflect on the situation, It occurred to me that the explosion of anger that happened was not because of me directly, but because of some other events that had happened during the same week in which they felt slighted. Because they could not release their anger in those moments, I was the ‘lucky recipient’. After following the steps above, I was able to straighten everything out with them. Everything is back on track now, and I am thankful for it. I am also breathing a sigh of relief that I did not respond during the height of the moment—we certainly would not have experienced the continued working relationship that we have now. 🙂