Monday, April 23, 2007

Getting an Upset Person to Listen to Reason

A person can’t actively listen and scream at the same time,
and when they don’t listen to you,
get them to listen to them.

- Mark Goulston

One of the key tipping points in calming an upset person down who you're having a conversation with is to repeat what they are saying to you in a calm and measured voice. This takes discipline and focus, because your tendency is to react to people who are venting, blaming, etc. and either become defensive, competitive or hostile back at them.

So if someone is saying to you: "I hate this job, it's a bunch of bullsh-t, and nobody gives a damn," wait until they completely finish and then say calmly: "It's very important (just using the word "important" in connection with a person who is feeling unimportant is calming in itself) that I heard you correctly (pause) so what you're saying is that you hate this job, you think it's a bunch of bullsh-t, and you believe nobody gives a damn, is that correct?"

When you do this, it forces the upset person to go from venting to listening. They will begin to listen at the speed you are talking and will be drawn to listening, because you're saying what they told you.

If they resist and say, “You’re just trying to make fun of me” or “I’m not going to listen to anything you say,” repeat back to them in a calm voice, “This really is TOO important for me to have not correctly heard what you said, because if I did, it will be more difficult to figure out what to do to make things better.” Persist with this approach until they begin to listen.

It's important not to have a "passive aggressive" baiting, or ridiculing tone in your voice, but to assume a true inquiring attitude to sincerely check if you have heard them correctly.

If they tell you that you didn't hear them correctly, ask them to correct what you said and then repeat the corrected phrase back to them.

After you have repeated it correctly and they have agreed with what you say, you have not only caused them to listen, but you have caused them to say, "yes" to you in their mind which begins to ease them away from the hostile and agitated "no" in their head.

From here there are a variety of places you can take them. Such as asking them: "Do you really believe what you are saying and if so why?" or "It's also very important for me to know what has caused you to feel and think that way so I can see what might be done to make things better, so tell me, you hate your job and you think it's a bunch of bullsh-t and that nobody gives a damn because ---------"

By the way asking someone to fill in the blank as in the last phrase, " tell me, you hate your job and you think it's a bunch of bullsh-t and that nobody gives a damn because ---------" validates there thoughts and feeling and is more inviting and less confrontational than asking a question such as: "why do you hate your job and why do you think it's a bunch of bullsh-t."

By using this conversation you have led the person away from their animal reflex attack mode into listening and then into thinking what they’re saying and when they do that, they will begin to calm down and if you're patient, they will begin to listen to reason.

(c) 2007 Mark Goulston

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Mark Goulston is a partner at Los Angeles-based Ferrazzi Greenlight and the author of Get Out of Your Own Way at Work...and Help Others Do the Same the upcoming book, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for Dummies (due November, 2007). Visit Mark at:

1 comment:

Susi said...

Very nice. This is pretty much what I try to do...hard not to give advice sometimes (psych RN in emergency hospital)...never heard a psychiatrist talk like this...psychologists, sometimes...