5 Phrases You Never Say to an Angry Person at Work

Conflict at work has always been a problem, but with the recently added stresses of the national recession and the mortgage crises the problem is sky-rocketing. In fact, the Center for Disease Control has classified workplace violence as a national epidemic.
Whether you are concerned about violence in the workplace, want to help reduce tension and improve morale at work or just don’t want to be part of the problem, learning to avoid these 5 phrases when people are angry can help resolve problems before they escalate.

Phrase 1 “Calm Down”

We’ve all said it, someone is angry, or upset, they’re in a heightened emotional state and before we can even think about, the words just naturally slide out: “Calm Down!” As natural as this phrase may seem when dealing with an employee (or anyone) who is upset and emotional, it is not, I repeat, is not an appropriate phrase for helping the individual to calm down. Why? Has it ever worked? Of course not, in fact it seems to have the opposite effect, instead of calming down they often become more upset. This happens because the phrase calm down, insinuates that the person has no real legitimate reason to be upset or emotional. Now they spend more time defending their reason for being upset in the first place which just amplifies their frustration or anger. Instead try phrases like “I see you’re upset, is there anything I can do to help”. Remember, conflicts are never resolved when the person is still upset.

Phrase 2 “What Do You Want Me To Do About It?”

First, this is one of the biggest cop outs there is. It immediately says, “I’m not going to help you” and “it’s not my problem.” But there is another part to this; it communicates “I don’t care” or even worse, you’re being unreasonable in expecting me to help you. That’s a huge problem, especially if it is something that was your responsibility. It immediately discredits you both as a responsible person and as an ally. Instead, try phrases like “How can I help?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?” Help them solve the problem and if you are in any way to blame for what happened, apologize. Just don’t sound like a telephone customer service rep “I’m sorry for any inconvenience that this may have caused you….”

Phrase 3 “Grow Up!” or “Be Rational”

“Grow up” and “Be rational” have the same effect as saying “Stop acting so childish” and “You’re an idiot” (regardless of whether you think its true or not, it will do nothing to help resolve the matter at hand). This is like an invitation for more conflict. You must remember that at that moment, the person feels justified in his or her response and calling them childish will just inflame the situation even more. Plus, what’s the chance of this person responding by saying, “I know, I’m acting like a complete moron but I was wronged!” Instead, try saying (in a concerned voice) “Are you OK, is there anything I can do to help?” or “What’s wrong”. These phrases will help pacify the person’s emotions allowing them to settle down.

Phrase 4 “What’s Your Problem?”

This phrase, usually accompanied with an offensive tone, a facial expression that screams “disdain” towards the other person, and an emphasis on the word your, immediately sets up a “me vs. you” dynamic instead of the mutual concern/”we’re in this together” feel needed to calm the individual. The other problem is that this phrase points to the person as the source of what ever is wrong which almost always leads to that person feeling the need to defend his or her self. Instead try using “What’s wrong” or “What’s the matter?” These phrases communicate empathy and concern and will help the person begin to deal with the problem without provoking them. Just be careful not to get pulled into their frustration with them.

Phrase 5 “But”

For the love of all that is good, don’t follow any of the above mentioned phrases with “but”. “But negates the previous statement, causing people to both disregard the previous statement and to interpret whatever is coming next as negative. Substituting “and” for “but” will make you much more effective.

If you can learn to use these phrases while looking people in the eyes with a calm expression and a disarming tone AND you can keep your “but” out of harms way, you can effectively cool people down when things get hot.

Summary:

Conflict at work has always been a problem, but with the recently added stresses of the national recession and the mortgage crises the problem is sky-rocketing. In fact, the Center for Disease Control has classified workplace violence as a national epidemic. Whether you are concerned about violence in the workplace, want to help reduce tension and improve morale at work or just don’t want to be part of the problem, learning to avoid these 5 phrases when people are angry can help resolve problems before they escalate.