One of the most difficult personal situations to handle is when someone is shouting at you. They are being abusive and aggressive and you are feeling threatened. It is all too common in domestic or social situations but it happens in the workplace too. One of the more common reasons people contact Mental Toughness Partners is to develop their emotional management to become stronger in dealing with other peoples’ emotional outbursts at work. It can be a shattering experience that penetrates your sense of self worth and disorientates you as adrenalin floods your body and prepares you for an instant reaction of “fight or flight”.
So what’s the best way to handle a colleague or manager who loses it at work and is shouting at you?
Here are some strategies to help you:
1. RIGHT NOW IN PREPARATION FOR THE NEXT TIME
Realise that you have the control
The person shouting at you is most likely out of control because they are shouting at you, but you are in control and have control over the way you wish to respond to them.
Respond not react
When it happens next time, you want to avoid getting sucked into an emotional reaction by reacting to the situation. Instead, by staying in control you can respond in the way you want to and ideally it is by finding a “circuit breaker” that buys you time and stops or delays the adrenalin from taking over and engaging you in a screaming match or meltdown.
Unfortunately, finding a circuit breaker that works for you is easier said than done but here are a few listed below. Choosing one beforehand is also really helpful because it gives you added confidence that you have a strategy, a kind of mental shield against their shouting.
2. THE NEXT TIME IT HAPPENS
Try one of these ‘circuit breakers’:
Excuse yourself and walk away as calmly as you can
This is one of the most effective emotional management methods because it cools down the situation on both sides. It is unlikely that they will continue shouting if you aren’t there and the few minutes on your own (preferably) gives you a chance to compose yourself. While walking away may be considered unprofessional it’s a far better option than a screaming match or meltdown. When you are ready, ideally after some steady breathing to settle you, return to the situation and apologise for your departure. In most situations the other person will also be calmer.
This is hard to do but focus hard on looking them straight in the eyes, staying calm and saying nothing. The intense concentration and focus helps you remain detached and objective. Soon they will blow themselves out like a storm leaving you to respond the way you want.
Ask them to stop
In a calm and preferably soft voice, as they have to moderate their volume and tone to hear you, ask them to stop shouting as they are making you feel uncomfortable. In most cases they will realise that their outburst is inappropriate and alter their approach accordingly.
This often works because the shouting person is absolutely not expecting an apology. Let them know how sorry you are for making the mistake, or whatever the cause of their outburst, and let them know you will endeavour to avoid making it again.
Agree with them
This is another similar surprise tactic that is rarely expected and which usually takes the wind out of their sails because if you’re agreeing with them then there is no point in them shouting at you. You have to get the context right obviously and so its not relevant every time. As my circuit breaker I often use repeatedly the phrase “I understand what you are saying” which is empathising rather than agreeing and gives me time to compose myself to deal with the shouting person.
3. THE EFFECTIVE LONGER TERM STRATEGY
The above emotional management strategies are helpful but the most effective way of dealing with someone shouting at you is to be in total control of your emotional response. It takes time and practice to perfect this technique but once you have, your control allows you to remain emotionally detached and objective and therefore completely unmoved by any emotional response including shouting. It’s a powerful way to stay mentally tough because you then rarely become diverted or distracted by emotions or fears, unless you want to of course.