Is someone calling you names? Perhaps being aggressive, loud or even intimidating? Or just pissed off and angry at you? 

In one word… listen. 

If you work in any client/customer facing role, being subject to angry and aggressive people is a hazard of the job. That’s not to say it’s right, but unfortunately it is a reality. COVID-19 taught all of us that people become very frustrated – we all did – and some people can’t control those emotions effectively. There’s an argument that society is becoming more intolerant generally and people are angrier.  

People get angry. You get angry, right? The fact is, everyone has a right to be angry. It doesn’t necessarily mean that what they’re angry about is right, or necessarily justified. Anger is a normal human emotion. 

To be able to manage someone who is angry, frustrated or aggressive is an important skill. Not only to remain professional and address problems, but also to look after your own mental health. 

Managing angry or aggressive people is not about sucking up to them, pandering or being a “punching bag” for someone else’s (bad) behaviour. It’s about being a professional communicator and showing them and everyone else just how professional you are. Knowing the communication skills to employ and deal with clients and customers who display anger is important to (not only) deal with the situation, but serve the other party’s needs as well as look after your own. 

There’s lots of things to say, and not to say, to a person who is angry in the workplace. But there’s no magic bullets; no specific phrases, words or action that resolve each and every situation. The strategies on how to “de-escalate” someone and “calm them down” (ps. never tell someone to calm down) can be learnt but also need to be practiced. They don’t work all the time, every time and very much depend on other things like tone, body language and attitude. 

But they do work. 

The concepts of professional empathy, effective questioning, minimal encouragement, non-verbal language, tone and manner, authority, validation, options and choices all play a part in effective de-escalation. But none of this is effective unless you listen. 

And that means actively listen. 

Listen to understand, not to respond. Sounds easy, but most of us don’t do it, especially in conflict situations. If you can at least do this successfully, you’re halfway there. 

But remember, nothing may change; you can’t de-escalate everyone. There’s a whole host of variables at play. 

And being a professional communicator means that you should set boundaries on behaviour. Also, there’s a line in the sand when angry or aggressive clients and customers reach where you terminate, exit or protect yourself. Nothing in the learnt de-escalation skills means that you deserve to be abused or threatened.  

At the Professional Investigators College of Australasia (PICA), we specialise in teaching staff how to communicate effectively and de-escalate people. In fact, our one-day workshop on Managing Aggressive & Difficult Subjects (MADS) is one of our most popular courses. Be taught by expert trainers who have walked-the-walk

Get in touch with us today on how we can help your staff deal with angry and aggressive clients and customers.