It’s nice when you can plan for and schedule what will probably be an uncomfortable or difficult conversation. However, sometimes we get blindsided by someone who is angry, accusatory, or feeling victimized. The conversation can turn ugly quickly, and our tendency will be either to respond in kind or shut down and fume about it, leading perhaps to resentment and loss of trust.
When you find yourself in this heated, highly charged situation, you should keep the following tips in mind:
1. Don’t overreact to the attack. Try to stay calm and just listen until you figure out what’s going on. The more centered you are, the more quickly the situation may begin to de-escalate. Don’t be drawn into a battle you didn’t know had been scheduled.
2. When you speak, don’t be defensive and watch your body language. Once you determine the exact nature of the other person’s concern, then you can choose whether to defend your position or chalk up the behavior to a really bad day.
3. Ask questions to gain a deeper understanding of the other person’s point of view, and repeat what you’re hearing (whether or not you agree) to be sure you’ve got the right picture.
4. Once you’ve listened to the initial outburst and repeated the other person’s concerns to him or her, explain your intention for the rest of the conversation. Maybe it’s to schedule a meeting later when you have more time to focus, or maybe it’s to let the other person know you appreciate his or her feedback. Just state for the record what you plan to do as a result of this conversation.
5. If the conversation doesn’t cool off relatively quickly, acknowledge the strong emotions and suggest that both of you take a break, then agree on a time and place to meet again when heads are cooler.
6. Take the high road and thank the other person for his or her honesty and decision to come directly to you with the issue. This will keep the lines of communication open, which is the only way the issue can be resolved.