Several years ago, a client asked me to put together a plan to get the team trained and up to speed on a new way of working.
While presenting the plan to the management team, one of the VPs became angry as he felt I was trying to upsell him.
I was taken aback and could feel my anxiety building as he ranted on. That voice in my head was screaming to fight back, find a fix to his upset, or just leave.
I didn’t do any of those things, though.
Instead, I gave him the space to work through his upset.
What’s going on when someone is upset
Think of a time when you were with someone who was upset. Perhaps they were angry or emotional about something going on around them.
What did being with them feel like?
You likely felt uncomfortable and wondered how you could fix their problem.
You’re wired to react to other people’s upset. It might be a fight or flight response, but your feelings are natural and perfectly normal.
The problem starts when you try to fix their upset by giving them advice. That advice might be just to ignore the problem or get over it.
Unfortunately, this won’t fix anything.
And, in fact, by giving them advice, you’re taking responsibility for whatever is upsetting them.
Who do you think they’re going to blame when your advice doesn’t fix their problem.
Rather than telling them to suck it up, cope with a problem, or any other advice, I’d suggest you try something different:
- Acknowledge how you’re feeling – it does start with you. You’re far more likely to do the right thing when you can acknowledge what you’re feeling
- Acknowledge their upset by saying something like, “I can see this is bothering you.” Honouring what they’re feeling will their clarity about what’s going on.
- Ask permission before continuing, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” And, if they say “no,” don’t ask it.
- Only if they give permission, ask a powerful question like, “What about this problem has caused you to become upset?”
Coping with or solving a problem.
What you say will make a huge difference in what happens next.
As for the upset VP, by giving him the space to work through his upset, we were able to uncover a misalignment in our work.
You’ve got this.