You would have read many articles on ways to communicate effectively in challenging situations. Some work, some don't. A lot depends upon the other person, what their emotional state is at the time of the communication.
I have had organisations come to me promoting ways to understand a person's behaviour so that you can engage with them more effectively. I don't doubt that learning about a person's behaviour will help you communicate with them better but what about those situations when you haven't got time to go through a list of their behaviours?
In challenging communications, most of the conversations are centred on emotions, how the person is 'feeling' when they are talking. They are not just talking, they are also telling you how they feeling. I have seen a person talk about the same topic one way when they were calm and a completely different way when they were angry. We behave differently when we are emotional and this way is often unpredictable.
In my business, I coach on dealing with the unknown, the unpredictable emotional behaviours when people become angry. No amount of behavioural analysis will ever successfully predict how a person will react in an emotional situation.
To cover these circumstances there are three basic principles to use when you are communicating with someone who is in an emotional state;
- Listen - Never say the first word, take a long slow deep quiet breath, don't say the first thing that comes into your head (it's always wrong) and wait for the other person to stop before you say anything. Let them talk, by doing so they are expressing how they feel and are venting their frustrations. In crisis negotiation we have a mantra, (we have quite a few actually), you were given two ears and one mouth for a reason - twice as much listening as talking.
- Be empathetic - See things from their perspective, how would you feel in their situation. Empathy is an understanding, not sympathy. Say things such as "I can see how that would make you angry", or "I would probably feel the same way in your situation", or "It sounds like you have had a tough time".
- Be honest - Honesty is just not telling the truth, although that is very important. Honesty is also about telling the other person how you feel. While you should always try and make it about the emotional person to make them feel important, it is also about providing an honest perspective on the situation by stating your views. Just do so in a non-confrontational way.
By remembering these three simple rules you will find that you can control emotional people. Given we are all very different, know that these rules won't work for everyone.