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Yelling in the workplace: Water is very effective against fire

Ted Blackwater |
We have all been in a situation when somebody is yelling in the office and we must find a way to calm the situation down. Going against the instistintcs is a good, although it requires some practice.

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When a colleague or the boss is yelling, face red, heard across the whole Silicon Valley, what to do? First, you should realize that there are two groups or people regarding their reaction, and second, they both should do react the same way eventually.

If somebody says "It's your fault!" people will either say a) "I'm sorry" of b) "It's not!"

I, personally, would not like to have "I'm sorry" people in my company. They are either too scare to react, too destroyed to fight back, too scared for their workplace, too weak to even ask the question, or they are simply the followers.

In all those cases you have a problem. You don't want scared people in your company and you don't want followers without their own opinion. That's not the subject of this text.

We would like to deal with "It's not!" employees.

Our instict tells us to fight back when attacked. When somebody yells "It's your fault!" your brain will tell your mouth to yell back "It's not!" before you even realize that there's, maybe, a better approach.

And that approach requires a bit of training, deep breathing and a lot of discipline. But it works well for all involved sides. Here are some recipes.

If both sides are yelling, that means that nobody's listening. Don't think that louder yelling will bring better listening or better argument, it will only mean a louder noise. Nothing else.

So, you have to calm down the situation and the first step on that way is to do nothing. You should wait until the yelling from the other side stops.

Don't try to contradict, don't pull out your argument, don't use romantic movies strategy "I understand how you fell. Let's talk about it."

First, you don't understand how the other side feels. Second, you are already talking through yelling. If you disagree during the yelling, you will escalate the situation just like that. You shouldn't add fire on fire, you should add water.

So, you should wait until the yelling stops. Then, you should not jump straights to your argument but you should show that you are listening.

A bad approach would be "OK, but I did blahblahblah." A good approach would be "I see. You think this is wrong. Let's see what's wrong." When you approach the other side with a clear sign that you heard what they said, the level of their anger goes down by default.

How do you know it's working? If you see a yelling person taking a deep breath and their shoulders drop, you did a right thing. They are ready to talk without yelling.

And you should think about your posture too. You should stand or sit straight, not lean forward like you are ready for a battle or back like a coward, your arms should be down.

Your tone should not be higher than usual, but not lower than usual either, it should be normal. A higher pitch means "I will yell now" and lower "I am scared, you may continue with yelling."

Now, when we are civilized more or less, what to say next? Again, you should put the other side first and you second. An example: "OK, you said it's a disaster. What do you propose, what should I do? What should we do?"

Explanation: "OK, you said it's a disaster", you are listening.

"What do you propose", you showing that you put other side first.

"What should I do?", again you put the other side first and instruct their brain to think about real job, not yelling.

"What should we do?", you remember other side that you are not alone in the team and that there may be other reasons, subjective or objective, things went wrong.

When the other side answer, it's then and only then, not earlier!, time for you to start with real questions, real proposition and constructive dialog because now you are engaged in a normal conversation about a problem.

When you continue the conversation after a fire in the office, mix the real question with supportive ones. You should, for example, say "OK, you say we should do things that way? What do you think I did wrong?"

That way you mix a concrete question with yourself, you are asking other side to talk about a concrete solution and still have you in mind because you are an active subject of the conversation and the job. The goal is to find a solution without you being the defeated side that will be left with only "Yes, boss."

Because when you do that once, you will do that always. Or you'll be fired. So, you should bring a concrete problem, the other side, and you into the mix. That way you will solve the situation, you will be OK in the long run, and you will make your position firm.

It's like when you have a fire. First you put some water on it. When it stops you ask yourself why it happened. Then you search for a solution to not see it again. Easy, isn't it?

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