off the handle - how to calm someone down

Off the Handle – How to Calm Down an Angry Employee

Off the Handle

What do you do when an employee gets angry and flies off the handle?  Workplace anger can cause lots of problems, including violence, sagging morale, low productivity, and more. Do you ask the angry employ to get a grip on himself and calm down?  Give him a chance to vent his anger?  Offer to intervene to help with whatever has upset him?  We’ll explore 3 pathways and show you the best approach.  Then when you need to know how to calm someone down at work, you’ll be handle the situation impressively.

The Situation

You are head of product development for an aluminum products firm. Your team has been working on a new type of carport and patio cover. You assigned one of your direct reports, Michael, to gather data about past customers’ buying behavior for similar products.

Angry Coworker

When you ask if he has the stats, Michael shoots back “Not yet! I know we need this information on Wednesday, but Mindy from Marketing was supposed to get me the numbers. She keeps making excuses. She’s driving me crazy!”

You try to be reassuring, telling Michael you know he can do it, but he becomes more intense. “That’s easy for you to say! My hands are tied. I’m not Mindy’s boss, so what can I do!?”

Calming Someone Down

You’re puzzled. You thought you were showing confidence in Michael, but it seemed to make things worse. Still, you can’t let Michael off the hook for this information.

Which of the following would be the best approach to keep salvage this conversation and make it productive?

Your Choices:

Click the best answer below. Our answer will then highlight with an explanation below.
A. Ask Michael to get control of himself before going on. You don’t want him to say something inappropriate or out of line.

 No, please try again.

B. Tell Michael you understand how he feels, and let him continue sounding off about his frustration until he is in a calmer place.

How to Calm Someone Down

Dimensional Model of Behavior


Asking the Employee to Get Control of Himself

In a sense, you’ve already asked Michael to control himself, when you tried to put aside his concerns to express confidence in him. That’s a good impulse, but it’s too soon. Answer A is not the best approach how to calm someone down who has flown off the handle.

As we note in Q4 leadership training, receptivity is so important when working with people. Michael is too full of negative emotions to be receptive. At this point, he needs to vent. If people’s emotions are overwhelming them, their receptivity to discussion, solving a problem, etc., is very low. It’s wiser to deal with that emotion before taking any other steps. Don’t deny Michael his feelings — help dissipate them. See Answer B.

Be Empathetic. Let Him Vent His Anger.

It may seem counterintuitive to encourage Michael to continue airing his anger and frustrations. However, as we note in Q4 leadership training, monitoring and raising receptivity are vital before you can advance to a constructive discussion with an emotional direct report. Use a reflective statement. Say something empathetic that reflects Michael’s emotions, such as “This is really getting to you,” or “I can see you’re really upset.”

Choice B doesn’t mean you agree with his version of things, just that you understand how he feels. This should give him permission to let out those negative emotions. Once Michael vents and settles down, his receptivity should climb. He’ll realize that you are listening to him. Then, you can have a much more productive discussion about a strategy to get the information from Mindy. It’s often amazing how defusing strong emotions can clear the mind.

Offering to Intervene with His Coworker

You could intervene, and maybe it seems that Michael is hinting that’s what he wants.

However, as a leader, you are better off raising receptivity (Answer B) and helping Michael work out his own strategy and solution. This makes it a growth activity in Michael’s own leadership development and problem-solving ability.

Your intervention might be a last resort, but it’s not yet necessary. Choice C is not the best option for how to calm someone down.

C. Offer to speak to Mindy or her boss to make sure she understands that your team must have the information.

 No, please try again.

Calming YOU Down

Now that you are whipped into a frenzy with this knowledge of how to calm someone down who has flown off the handle, how do we handle your excitement?  With more leadership tips, of course!  Learn to handle a variety of challenging workplace situations.

Do you work with a difficult person?  Our behavioral questionnaire will excite you with actionable suggestions to effectively manage your circumstance.

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