We all have to deal with our share of hotheads and crazies. What does research say works with them?
First off, you can’t get angry too. Because then there are two crazy people arguing. While very entertaining to onlookers, this doesn’t accomplish much.
Tell yourself they are having a bad day and that it’s not about you:
They’re being crazy. You’ll want to shut them up or talk over them. Don’t. It’s a natural reaction but it doesn’t work.
They don’t think they’re wrong. They’ll just interpret it as a status game where you’re trying to win. Stop being so sure you’re right and listen.
But here’s the important part: just shutting up is not enough.
Listening isn’t just listening. It’s letting the other person know you’re listening.
This is “active listening.”
Keep in mind that good listening is “non-evaluative.” Don’t judge or analyze what the person is saying at first. Just focus on trying to understand their perspective.
It has three components: paraphrasing, inquiry and acknowledgment:
• Paraphrase: “It sounds as if you’re satisfied with our component overall. But if I understand correctly, you need me to assure you that we can increase production if large orders come in. You’re also concerned about our proposed per-unit price and our willingness to work with you to create an acceptable arrangement. Have I captured your main points?”
• Inquire: “You mentioned that you found our proposed price to be unacceptable. Help me understand how you came to this conclusion. Let’s also talk about how we might set up a pricing structure that you find more reasonable.”
• Acknowledge: “It sounds as if you’re quite disappointed with various elements of our proposal, so much so that you have serious concerns about whether we’ll be able to work together over the long haul.”
Active listening is the first thing FBI hostage negotiators use to de-escalate incidents and save lives.
It’s not all in your words. Body language is vital.
Steven Johnson suggests that by stripping away the emotional information in faces and intonation, email and text messaging might be simulating autism.
If you can’t just listen and need to reply to a direct question, what should you say?
You have to make sure you get out of your head and see where they’re coming from if you don’t want them to just blow up again.
In Words That Work political expert Frank Luntz gives a pithy but powerful line:
You may have to deal with someone who does this on a regular basis. What’s important to remember is you need to ignore the anger and hysterics. Don’t reward them. Give positive reinforcement only when they calm down.
In Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training she explains the fundamentals of behavior change. And these methods are effective whether the subject is a dog, a dolphin or your neighbor, Larry.
A good strategy she uses is to positively reinforce anything and everything that is not the undesired behavior. In fact, she used this technique to get her mom to stop complaining:
(If it can stop a mom from complaining, it’s pretty powerful.)
This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.
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