In the Heat of the Moment

April 8, 2013
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

There have been a few times in my career when I wished I knew how to handle a conflict I had with a customer or coworker differently, or when I keyed in to warning signs that things were getting worse than I had interpreted.

How many of you have thought, “What could I have done differently?” Have you discussed a situation with someone who witnessed it, and gained insight on behavioral cues that you missed? I’m also curious if the opposite is true, if you’ve ever walked away thinking, “Wow, I handled that really well.”

I recently had a heated encounter where I put to use some skills from our training programs. The situation involved the mother of a young man who has been harassing my youngest child, who is physically disabled. Since the altercation that happened wasn’t the first one, I thought it was prudent that the adults step in. I was in for a surprise.

Upon introducing myself to the parent, I was verbally accosted, and in short order, she was yelling at my son. I removed my son from the situation and immediately started setting limits with the lady, who did not have rational control over her behavior.

My husband arrived about twenty minutes into the interaction, and in his view, the woman was still irrational. My view is a bit different, having experienced the verbal venting and yelling that occurred for the first fifteen to twenty minutes.

As my husband and I debriefed the situation, he mentioned that there were several instances where he was wondering why I didn’t put this other parent “in her place.” I told him that my response was to project respect to the woman, even though she was not being respectful of me or my child. In looking back, I can pick out a few things I think I did well:

  • I maintained a respectful and safe distance from her. This allowed me an escape should things have escalated further, and it conveyed my respect for her personal space.
  • I kept my hands visible and nonthreatening.
  • I set limits with her, giving her the choice of having a rational discussion or obtaining law support. Because she was not rational, I repeated the limits a couple times and allowed time for her to make a choice.
  • I also used a technique called Negative Assertion, which we use in our Setting Effective Limits Topic Module. I didn’t engage in a power struggle, and I found some point in her diatribe that I could acknowledge and say “You’re right” to.
  • I kept thinking to myself, “I can only control my behavior. My attitudes and behavior are going to affect hers, so let’s keep it positive.”

While this happened in a personal circumstance, our training techniques have a wide range of applicability both in and out of the workplace.

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