"Whew, I can't handle this person! Let's get Pat to deal with them..." I'm no miracle worker but I get this every so often and most of the time I'm fairly successful at diffusing disgruntled people. Here are some aikido principles for dealing with situations like this at work...
- Accept the attack without offering resistance - Ask, "What can I help you with," and then listen (really listen) without interrupting. When allowed to thrust at you without resistance, most folks will overextend their argument, expend their energy, and calm down a little.
- An attack is an opportunity - In a physical confrontation, every attack presents the opportunity for a specific set of techniques. It is not possible to grab someone who is calm and balanced and force them to take a fall, but if they will attack you, suddenly they give you a gift of possibility. In the business world you will find that sometimes your worst enemies can be made into your biggest fans - so an attack is really an opportunity to make a friend.
- Turn and look at things from their point of view - Place yourself in their shoes and say, "I understand." A lot of times they are mad about some secondary issue and are using that as an excuse to act out. You don't have to validate their crazy behavior but you can share their emotion and motivation. Often this will take the wind out of their sails.
- Take a chance to step away and re-center yourself - Just like in a physical confrontation, if you can't handle what's going on, you might push back outside of attack range and then re-engage. In a business context, say, "Hold on for a moment while I go check that out for you." Then leave the room, take a breath, re-center yourself, and re-engage in a more positive manner.
- Synchronize yourself with them - when you move with their ebb and flow, you reduce their ability to injure you and you let them expend their energy and calm down. In business dealings, try acting as an advocate for them or a go-between to buffer them from the system they are angry with.
- Don't add more energy to the conflict - if you don't want a response, don't offer a stimulus. If you want a fight to calm down you have to avoid counterattacking. Sure, occasionally you might have to engage and destroy the oponent in order to stop the behavior. This is called the "dramatic relief technique" in therapy, but this should only be used in the rarest of circumstances. For the most part, a conflict will tend to go to a lower energy level if you just refrain from adding your own energy.