Vipin, who was generally an easy-going and friendly person, was confronted by a colleague who seemed highly upset about a deadline not being met. The colleague unfairly blamed Vipin for the delay and used a harsh tone with a loud voice. Vipin was caught off guard and responded by shouting back and reacting with anger himself. This led to a loud and heated argument between the two, which resulted in the both of them having to report to the manager to discuss their inappropriate behavior.
Many of us might have come across similar situations where we may have been faced with an angry co-worker who seems to be accusatory and harsh during their interaction with us. Or we may be witness to a conflict between two other employees, where an intervention seems necessary. No matter the situation it is important that we be aware of our own reactions and how we are responding at that moment, to avoid further escalation of the issue which can adversely impact many people, including us.
Anger is considered a secondary emotion, which usually masks an underlying feeling of frustration or fear. But when directed towards us, it can cause us to feel threatened and get defensive. We may tend to respond by returning the favor and getting aggressive, or we remain passive and silent, and continue to feel "victimized" and hold a grudge which can lead to strained relationships and an uncomfortable work environment.
Here are some useful tips to keep in mind in order to handle such situations appropriately:
Understand your own anger:
By introspecting and gaining awareness of how and when you yourself experience anger along with how it impacts you, you would be better prepared to take a step back and analyze your colleague's behavior. Rather than make self-defeating assumptions, you would be better able to look at the situation from alternate perspectives. The person may be feeling hurt, envious, pressurized, suspicious, or may be going through a tough personal situation. Understanding this could help you avoid feeling resentful or victimized.
Stepping in to the other person's shoes and expressing your understanding what he/she is going through could help reduce the intensity of the anger/outburst. You could use statements like "I understand that you may be feeling upset because of the impact this error can have on you" or "I would like to help you, so it would help if you could remain calm and share with me the specific cause of your distress", etc.
Maintain physical distance:
Going too close and encroaching upon his/her personal boundaries can make the other person feel threatened, and add to their aggressive response which could even turn violent. Ensure that an appropriate distance is maintained.
Responding with aggression yourself could lead to a pointless argument which may land up affecting the both of you negatively. Even if the other person seems to be accusing you unfairly, try and stay calm as much as possible.
It is very easy to miss out on what the other person is actually saying due to the distracting way in which the message is expressed, along with your own emotions which could pose as a barrier to receiving the information. Listening to the content of the message and expressing your own understanding of it can help diffuse the tension. Also, people sometimes just need someone to listen before they themselves can calm down.
Focus on a solution:
After a patient listening of what the other person has to say, try and focus on a way in which the problem can be fixed or avoided in the future. Remember, you don't have to give in to unreasonable demands but try and work out a compromise where both your needs are being met.
Acknowledge your own contribution to the problem:
In case you think you are in part responsible for the situation going awry, it would help if you are able to acknowledge and talk about your own contribution to the problem, and also apologize if necessary and appropriate. This could help prevent the situation from worsening.
Walk away if necessary:
If you feel that you are about to react in an unhealthy manner and don't seem to have a hold on your own emotions, don't shy away from walking out of the conversation. It may help the both of you calm down and gather your thoughts for a more fruitful discussion later on.