Temper Anger and Hostility with Critical Conversation Skills

In meetings with an angry hostile people, it's difficult to get anything done. Angry people stall progress, but by applying critical conversation skills, you can change the course of the critical conversation and achieve a good result.

Some angry hostile types start off as people with bad attitudes — they complain about everything, blame others, and never take responsibility for anything, ever. If you’re in a meeting with an angry hostile type who has her arms crossed, taps her foot, and shoots down any possible positive comment before you can say "annoying," try one of these approaches:

Critical conversation skill: Examine what’s happening

Say, “I’m really confused by your behavior, John. I thought we agreed to talk about the possible solutions, not all the reasons the solutions won’t work. Does the group want to talk about problems or solutions?”

In this example, the team member examines what’s happening, states how she feels about the problem, and then proposes a way to go forward. The beauty of this approach in a meeting is that the group can help solve the problem — it’s not up to just one person.

Critical conversation skill: State the behavior

Another tried-and-true tactic for working with an angry hostile type is to state the behavior you see, validate it, and then either defer the problem to another meeting (perhaps a one-on-one critical conversation) or deal with it.

  • Start by stating what you see: Continue examining what is happening by saying what the person is doing as neutrally as possible. If John is shooting down every idea in the book, you may say, “You don’t think this solution will ever work, right?”

  • Validate the comment: After you state the problem, validate that whatever John is saying may be true. You may simply say, “You may be right. We’re facing a really challenging issue.”

  • Decide what to do next by dealing with or deferring the comment: Talk about the issue now or work it out later. If you chose to defer dealing with the behavior until later, you may say, “Would anybody disagree with brainstorming the possibilities that might work first? Then we can look at the risks and challenges.” Use the group to help with this discussion.

    The other option is to deal with the problem right then and there. Remember to stay genuine. You want to solve the problem instead of telling John that he’s just the most negative person in the world and you wish he wasn’t there.

    Say, “Thanks, John, for your comments. Does anyone else want to talk about the solutions?” If that doesn’t work, you may want to take a break and confront the person with, “John, I feel that you’re interrupting the discussion quite frequently. What would you like to achieve with this behavior?”

One of the big challenges when working with the angry hostile type is that often a number of other difficult behaviors are under that mean shell. These individuals may polarize teams or just argue with any new ideas for the fun of it.

They may also be angry or moody by habit, even if they have nothing to argue about. They may also be critics, where nothing other than their own ideas is adequate.

Although all these difficult behaviors may have an impact on performance, try not to overcommunicate during any conversation. Doing so can muddy the waters, detracting from the real behavior that needs to change.

When preparing to have a critical conversation with the angry hostile type, or if you find yourself needing to deal with them at a moment’s notice, remember to have a core message. The core message addresses the single most important behavioral change you need this individual to address.

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