Career Conversations: 7 Steps – Anger to Action

Situation: Your co-worker is in very upset after a heated conversation with his boss.  He is very angry and calling the boss all sorts of names and using words like, “crazy,” stupid,” idiotic.”  What do you do?

a. Roll your eyes, agree and add another ‘name’ to the list.

b. Walk away. You’ve heard this too many times already.

c. Gasp! Ask, “What did the boss do to you?”

d. Listen and wonder, “Why would an otherwise reasonable person behave that way?”

Too often we get hooked into another person’s emotion and it derails us from truly being helpful.  It’s easier to jump to judgement when we hear about an injustice and  ‘pile on’ with more indignation.

Many people aren’t looking for a fix to their problem, but want a sympathetic ear to let off steam. Others are looking to rally allies.

So what’s the best thing you can do? Here are 7 steps:

  1. Give them your undivided attention.  Listen.
  2. Acknowledge the intensity of their angst.  Everyone is entitled to their feelings, whether or not you agree with the source or not. Our feelings are unique. You don’t know how they feel, so don’t say that you do.
  3. Summarize the issue and person’s response to be sure you understand their perspective.
  4. Ask, “What do you want to do?” Often times they just want to vent, or find ways to cast blame on others. They aren’t ready to look at themselves.
  5. Other times, they really do want another perspective.  See if they are ready to hear it by asking, “Would you like another perspective?”
  6. Help them explore the situation by considering other factors. In the scenario above, ask about the boss, “Why would an otherwise reasonable person behave that way?”  You’re not trying to psychoanalyze, just consider what else could have created the situation that went so badly with your colleague.  What else could have been happening to influence or stress the boss.  This re-focuses your colleague to analytical, rather than angry thinking.
  7. Finally, again ask, “What do you want to do?”  to help him channel the emotional energy into constructive actions.

We all get upset at times and its good to have a safe place to vent.  These 7 steps offer a framework for the next time you want to help your colleague (uhm, yourself?) when tempers flare.

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