Working life can present us with many challenges, not least when we are faced with a difficult situation. Keeping cool when we feel under fire is a useful skill to develop and can foster more constructive relationships and a pleasant working environment.
Unfortunately, when faced with a difficult situation our bodies still react physically as they would have in more perilous times. And whilst running (flight) or fighting (fight) might be appropriate in a zombie apocalypse (for all you Walking Dead fans out there…) it is not a constructive response to a challenge from a colleague or your boss. When we feel threatened our body prepares us to react and that means releasing adrenaline to enable us to react fast and diverting blood to major muscles so we are prepared for action. This naturally draws supplies from our thinking, reasoning brain and we can lash out with disastrous consequences – whether that is saying something we later regret (fight) or walking away in a huff and leaving a bad impression (flight).
Here are some simple tips that can help avoid making a difficult situation worse when practiced (and unfortunately it does take practice because these skills do not necessarily come naturally):
Take a deep breath before you respond – this gives your brain a few precious seconds to respond calmly
Think before you speak – what is the person really trying to communicate? Sometimes when people have a difficult request to make they can come across as pushy or rude simply because they are feeling uncomfortable at having to ask, so thinking past the way something is asked to what is being asked can help you to respond in a way that is constructive rather than a way that exacerbates the situation
Consider that the person you are speaking to might have had a terrible day / week / month and it is coming out at you. This helps to depersonalise what might feel like a very personal attack and enables you to respond with consideration rather than annoyance or frustration
Acknowledge the anger / frustration of the person speaking to you before you respond – often people get angry or frustrated because they feel as though they are not being heard and don’t know how else to get the attention they need to communicate their message. A simple “I can hear that you are upset about this” can indicate that you are hearing them and put them in a better space to have a constructive conversation about how you can work together to resolve the issue
If you have tried all of the above and the person is still really going at you – you have a right to walk away. It is not OK for anyone to speak to you in a rude or aggressive manner, so if you feel able to, calmly let the person know that you are not comfortable with the way they are speaking to you and that you are going to remove yourself from the situation. It is then down to you to find a way to open the conversation in a more constructive way at a later date – whether that is with a mediator present, or through escalating the issue to a manager.
At the end of the day, we are all human and we all have off days, so firstly give the benefit of the doubt (especially if the person is acting out of character). Creating a space where everyone can communicate honestly and respectfully is vital in fostering good business relationships and getting the most out of your work, and putting in the time to developing your skills in keeping cool will pay dividends in the long run.