I have often had to de-escalate situations at work because there was no other choice.
Unfortunately, people lose control of their emotions and I have been on the front lines when this happens. Here are some strategies I have used to help when others’ emotions are out of control.
- Ask to resume work later after the person has had a chance to cool down. One time I was working with someone at their home on a business issue and they came into the room and were angry with me. I hadn’t done anything wrong but recognized that nothing I could say logically would help since they were emotional. I empathized with them and recognized that this isn’t how they usually acted and said something like “I can tell you must have gotten upset about something. Would you like me to come back tomorrow so we can continue this and you can work on whatever is bothering you?” They reacted positively to that and thanked me for understanding that this behavior isn’t normal for them and agreed that tomorrow would be better.
Confirm their feelings and express gratitude. Another time I was in a meeting and a coworker was upset because he didn’t feel appreciated and started to rant and not listen to others who asked him to control himself. Since the managers in the meeting didn’t effectively handle the situation I stepped in and calmed him down by confirming his feelings and expressing gratitude for what he did. When he understood that he was listened to he calmed down and I brought the meeting to a close. Everyone was too shell-shocked to do work on the issue.
- Talk to them privately when possible. Another time a coworker was unhappy with something I did. I talked to her privately and asked her to directly come to me if there was an issue and I would be happy to resolve it. Many people can’t handle a direct conversation so sometimes you have to be the one to start it. I took responsibility for the situation. I said, “When you do x then y happens and I want to understand how to be as efficient as possible.”
People are stressed at work and life is stressful for most people. Being able to calm others down and yourself, when you are emotional, is a key ingredient to emotional intelligence and living a life of peace and happiness.