Conflict at work has always been a problem, but with the recently added stresses of the
national recession and the mortgage crises the problem is sky-rocketing. In fact, the
Center for Disease Control has classified workplace violence as a national epidemic.
Whether you are concerned about violence in the workplace, want to help reduce tension
and improve morale at work or just don’t want to be part of the problem, learning to
avoid these 5 phrases when people are angry can help resolve problems before they
escalate.

Phrase 1 “Calm Down”

We’ve all said it, someone is angry, or upset, they’re in a heightened emotional state and
before we can even think about, the words just naturally slide out: “Calm Down!” As
natural as this phrase may seem when dealing with an employee (or anyone) who is upset
and emotional, it is not, I repeat, is not an appropriate phrase for helping the individual to
calm down. Why? Has it ever worked? Of course not, in fact it seems to have the
opposite effect, instead of calming down they often become more upset. This happens
because the phrase calm down, insinuates that the person has no real legitimate reason to
be upset or emotional. Now they spend more time defending their reason for being upset
in the first place which just amplifies their frustration or anger. Instead try phrases like “I
see you’re upset, is there anything I can do to help”. Remember, conflicts are never
resolved when the person is still upset.

Phrase 2 “What Do You Want Me To Do About It?”

First, this is one of the biggest cop outs there is. It immediately says, “I’m not going to
help you” and “it’s not my problem.” But there is another part to this; it communicates “I
don’t care” or even worse, you’re being unreasonable in expecting me to help you.
That’s a huge problem, especially if it is something that was your responsibility. It
immediately discredits you both as a responsible person and as an ally. Instead, try
phrases like “How can I help?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?” Help them solve
the problem and if you are in any way to blame for what happened, apologize. Just don’t
sound like a telephone customer service rep “I’m sorry for any inconvenience that this
may have caused you….”

Phrase 3 “Grow Up!” or “Be Rational”

“Grow up” and “Be rational” have the same effect as saying “Stop acting so childish” and
“You’re an idiot” (regardless of whether you think its true or not, it will do nothing to
help resolve the matter at hand). This is like an invitation for more conflict. You must
remember that at that moment, the person feels justified in his or her response and calling
them childish will just inflame the situation even more. Plus, what’s the chance of this
person responding by saying, “I know, I’m acting like a complete moron but I was
wronged!” Instead, try saying (in a concerned voice) “Are you OK, is there anything I

can do to help?” or “What’s wrong”. These phrases will help pacify the person’s
emotions allowing them to settle down.

Phrase 4 “What’s Your Problem?”

This phrase, usually accompanied with an offensive tone, a facial expression that screams
“disdain” towards the other person, and an emphasis on the word your, immediately sets
up a “me vs. you” dynamic instead of the mutual concern/”we’re in this together” feel
needed to calm the individual. The other problem is that this phrase points to the person
as the source of what ever is wrong which almost always leads to that person feeling the
need to defend his or her self. Instead try using “What’s wrong” or “What’s the matter?”
These phrases communicate empathy and concern and will help the person begin to deal
with the problem without provoking them. Just be careful not to get pulled into their
frustration with them.

Phrase 5 “But”

For the love of all that is good, don’t follow any of the above mentioned phrases with
“but”. “But negates the previous statement, causing people to both disregard the previous
statement and to interpret whatever is coming next as negative. Substituting “and” for
“but” will make you much more effective.
If you can learn to use these phrases while looking people in the eyes with a calm
expression and a disarming tone AND you can keep your “but” out of harms way, you
can effectively cool people down when things get hot.

Summary

Conflict at work has always been a problem, but with the recently added stresses of the
national recession and the mortgage crises the problem is sky-rocketing. In fact, the
Center for Disease Control has classified workplace violence as a national epidemic.
Whether you are concerned about violence in the workplace, want to help reduce tension
and improve morale at work or just don’t want to be part of the problem, learning to avoid
these 5 phrases when people are angry can help resolve problems before they escalate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *