How to calm an angry employee: tips from HR pros

A participant in our HR Specialist Forum posed this question: “When some employees come to the HR office, they carry on like they’re at home yelling at their children. What can we do to stop this?” Here’s how some HR professionals replied:

Mirror calmness

“First, remain calm. Don’t get hooked into the employee’s anger. Explain that you are willing to listen to his or her concerns, but the conversation needs to be more professional and rational. Usually the employee will calm down just knowing someone is willing to listen. If the energy level starts to go back up, remind the employee of his or her tone.

“Sometimes, it might be appropriate to suspend the employee for the remainder of the day. This should be used on a case-by-case basis. It allows time for everyone to cool down and think more clearly.” —C.R.

Use ‘customer service’ skills

“I’ve found that using basic customer service skills usually works. A good customer service rep will try to defuse anger by:

  1. "Expressing empathy with your problem. (‘I understand you are upset because …’)
  2. "Acknowledging the person’s anger. (‘I appreciate that this has made you upset.’)
  3. "Suggesting a solution or asking for a solution. (‘What can we do to resolve this situation?’)

“Of course, this is in the ideal world. It’s a lot harder when it’s face to face in the office. The bottom line is, first, get the person calmed down and then move on to solving the problem.” —Jerry, New Hampshire

Don’t take it personally

“The most important thing to remember is to stay calm and to remember that the anger is not personal. Usually, the employee is upset about a situation or a perceived wrong.

"If you remain calm, ask open-ended questions and show accurate empathy, employees will calm down and allow you to problem-solve with them.” —Peggy, Washington