When a colleague or customer gets so upset they stop making sense, you need to remember this: Too much adrenaline is muddling their thinking.
Here are the most common forms of ranting, along with what to say to get them back on track quickly:
• They bring in every problem they’ve had in the past decade. They can’t tell what’s on topic and what’s not. You need to walk them through it.
What to say: “What happened first? OK, then what happened next?” As they take it step by step, they’ll become coherent again.
• They don’t listen. When they’re on adrenaline-overload, people simply can’t take in new information.
What to say: What you say is less important than how you say it. Talk slowly and accompany your words with a simple diagram to support your words. Even if he can’t absorb your words, your colleague can take in the diagram.
• They can’t stop arguing, even when you agree with them. As in the case above, the person may not be able to hear what you’re saying. You could offer a customer the world and it wouldn’t make a difference.
What to say: Ask simple sequence questions, similar to those in the first bullet. For example, “When did you notice the problem? What did you do at that point?” After the customer has calmed down, state your proposal.
Note: Keep in mind that adrenaline flooding is contagious. That means you may find it increasingly hard to listen to someone’s rambling story. But stay calm. Keep your voice low and steady. Eventually, you’ll win out.
— Adapted from Conflict Unraveled: Fixing Problems at Work and in Families, Andrea Medea, www.pivotpointpress.com.