How to Deal with Ticked Off People


We’ve all been there – a client calls and they are really, really ticked; your boss calls you into his office and you can literally see the steam coming out of his ears; your partner is spitting nails… it doesn’t really matter if it is a spouse, business partner, friend, or a co-worker in a perpetually grumpy, negative mood. These folks and situations can easily ruin your day, spike your blood pressure, and even make your job (or home) a place you no longer want to be. Life gets a whole lot better when we learn to deal with them on our own terms.

Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you’re in control, they’re in control. – Tom Landry

So what do you do when you see Ms. Smith coming through the door, sparks in her eyes, ready to chew you out with her complaint of the week? We all have a “default” response to these type events and people and they usually fall into two categories.

What’s YOUR response?

1) Prepare for battle – get ready to return anger for anger.

2) Check out all the EXIT signs and prepare to run or sputter apologies.

3) None of the above.

The correct answer is #3. While it is easy to respond to anger with anger we all know that’s not the solution. Finding the best escape route or stammering out how sorry you are isn’t any better in the long run (although you may keep your job longer than those who chose option #1). You need to stay in control, respond calmly and with empathy. Just think of yourself as a CSI Negotiator talking someone off the ledge. Easy, right? Well, no, but if you handle it right, you can build a positive relationship and reduce everyone’s stress in the process. And yes, you can train yourself to respond this way.

Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one. – Hans Selye

How to handle those people?

  • Involve Others. Whenever possible, do not have a one-on-one conversation with someone who’s seriously angry. Bring people in on the conversations without being obvious. Invite someone over for their input, advice, or expertise. cc or bcc other people on emails.
  • Don’t Respond With Anger. We went into this in detail last week (you can read it here) but here are the basics:
    • Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements.
    • Keep words like “always,” “never” or “everyone” out of conversations.
    • Use a calm and authoritative voice.
    • Stand straight and look the other person in the eye.
    • Be aware of your facial expressions (this one is a real struggle for some folks!).
    • Avoid wringing your hands, making fists, crossing your arms or picking your nails (hitting people or furniture is also not)
  • Don’t Take it Personally. 9/10 times, it has nothing to do with you as a person.
  • Identify the Cause. When possible, just ask them to explain why they are angry. Don’t interrupt. Ask questions. Listen. Use a calm voice.
  • Distract Them. If possible and appropriate, give them a reason to laugh. Shared laughter does, in fact, make everything better.


  • Seek a Solution. Once you know why they are angry, avoid making excuses or defending your actions. Simply ask what you can do to resolve the situation and make it right. There are few words more powerful than “what would you like for me to do?”

Almost ALL of us have a need to explain our actions and have people see our side of things. THIS IS NOT THE TIME. Right now you need a resolution, not a discussion. Fight the urge. Simply ask – as calmly as possible – what they would like for you to do. This works across the board – from the living room to the conference room. Just try it.

Want to find out more? Check here.

Have a tip to add to this list? I’d love to see it in the comments!

As always, if we can help you communicate to your audience, online or in person, we’d love the opportunity to help you grow.

Marie Mallory, Communication and PR Specialist, Irons Media Group




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