It's easy to lose one's cool at work these days, and it's no wonder. Budgets have been cut, people are being asked to do more with less, and many employees are worried about losing their jobs. So people are stressed in today’s workplace and can more easily unravel when difficulty arises.
But when flare-ups occur, one can help keep things from getting out of hand. “The important thing to remember when you are harassed or attacked by someone,” says Barbara Pachter, author of The Power of Positive Confrontation (Marlowe & Co.), “is not to react in a way you will regret later. Though it may feel good to say, ‘Well, what do you know, you idiot?’ it’s not going to build your credibility or accomplish anything.” People don’t want to be thinking, “I should have....”
It's important to know how to respond. It's easier to retain composure, respond calmly and avoid counterattacking when one is prepared.
Here are Pachter’s six guidelines for what to say or do when the going gets tough:
1. Let It Go. Understanding that people are under a lot of pressure can allow one person to cut another some slack. Sometimes it can be best to do or say nothing—just listen. Often the other person later will apologize for the outburst.
2. Agree With the Comment. A good defense is the best offense. People can agree with what someone says but add additional information that turns the comment around, such as, “You’re right. We did put a lot of people on this project because it’s important to get this information out to our customers at this time.”
3. Ask for Clarification. Ask questions or make comments to get more information: “Why are you saying that?” “Help me to understand what you mean by....” “Tell me more about your concern.” “Are you saying it was...?” Probing makes someone less likely to appear wounded by the attack, and it also buys the person time to calm down and collect his or her thoughts.
4. Acknowledge What Has Been Heard. First, acknowledge what was said: “I understand your frustration” or “I hear what you are saying.” Then use the word "and," not "but," to provide clarifying information, because using "but" negates what comes before it. A defusing statement such as “There may be some truth to that, and we are looking at the numbers” or “That’s interesting, and you may not realize that we’ve been looking at those numbers,” can also let the person know that he or she has been heard.
5. Respectfully Disagree. Be polite but firm. Someone can say, “I disagree, and here’s why...."
6. Postpone the Discussion. Sometimes it is best to talk to the person privately. Say something like, “You obviously have strong feelings. Let’s get together after the meeting so we can discuss this issue in more depth.”