By the time a problem hyper-charged with feeling reaches you, there is a danger of getting singed by the emotional fire. What follows are my rules of thumb to avoid falling into someone else’s emotional tempest:
1) Accept Their Feelings, Even If You Can’t Understand Them
For example, do not ever tell someone: You shouldn’t be angry, because . . . Better to acknowledge their anger: You sound angry. This rule of thumb is a tool to diffuse the emotion. Once someone gets to say they are angry and why they are angry, there is not much left to say. Unless they repeat it. What can you do if they repeat it? Listen. Just listen. Soon it will fade away.
2) Look At It Through Their Eyes
OK, so they got it wrong (according to you.) That’s a given. But, can you understand why they may still be emotional? They misunderstood and they are angry. And they may even be angry with themselves. By looking through their eyes you may better understand. And when you can understand, you build trust. And trust builds your relationship.
3) Look Through Their Eyes—Again
OK, so they understand. Yet, they are still emotional. Emotions need time to dissipate. Let them cool off. (Don’t tell them to cool off. Avoid saying anything even close to “You can stop being so angry now.”)
4) Ask the Right Questions
“How do you feel, what can we do next?”
5) Reflect, and Get Back on the Same Wavelength
Rephrase their answer so they have been heard from an emotional standpoint and that you have the same to-do lists. “Yeah, you’re frustrated that this took so long. I hear you. You sound frustrated, I understand. OK, so the next step is A. And then B. and then C. Right? Let’s check back again tomorrow.” Check, too, to see if there is anyone else that needs to be included.
Make personal contact, within a day or sooner, to assure that the above emotional-remedy is working.
7) Deal With Your Own Anger
OK, you are angry too. Get out of sight. Take a walk. Take a drive. Find another room. Find someone you trust, to whom you can just vent; another good listener like you. We’ve established that emotions can take time to dissipate—give yourself time.
There are always at least two—often more—parties involved when communications become emotional. Being a good listener, and learning to step around the tempest, will help you from burning bridges.