“Not my problem” escalates anger. Do this instead.

De-escalate angerAs we patiently wait for the admin assistant to call our number at the clinic, a man at the desk is asking her what’s taking so long for the doctor to see him and that he has to get back to the office. He wants to know how much longer. She abruptly says they don’t give times. He asks how many people are ahead of him. Instead of answering, the girl dismissively points to the sign next to her desk and goes in the back where the files are. The sign reads “Aggressive behaviours will not be tolerated”.

Clearly, she over-reacted to his questions. Her dinosaur brain came on and she went into Fight/Flight instead of using her thinking brain. Frustrated, the man sits back down swearing under his breath.

Understandably, he seems angrier than when he approached the desk. In fact, the mood of the whole waiting room is not pleasant. Honestly, I suspect that anyone who witnessed this will approach the desk prepared to be even more assertive. Situations are exacerbated when we don’t try to de-escalate someone’s anger.

I was interviewed by Jean Eaton of Information Managers Thursday, July 21st. Check out the webinar replay below.

(Here’s the replay)

Here’s a sample of what the girl could have done instead.

  • She could have responded with regret and politely given the information that she had no control over the wait.
  • She could have admitted that she would feel frustrated in his shoes.
  • She could ask him if he needs to reschedule or will he be able to wait until they catch up to him in the queue.

These may not solve his problem. In fact, depending on his personality or circumstances, he could be just as frustrated. This way, she gives him the opportunity to feel respected and heard. As it stood, the tension of the waiting room had increased.

As stressful as an angry client might feel, we must not take their frustration personally. In fact, dealing with angry clients happens in every industry and at every level of the organization. Whether we are the receptionist at the front or the CEO, it is always part of our job to keep our cool and turn on our problem solving skills.

The first rule is that we must do our best to approach them with curiosity. You are now the diagnostician. Let them know you want to help if you can. Becoming defensive or dismissive will only serve to pour gas on the fire so look for solutions and check your ego at that door.

It’s only logical. Have you ever seen a two year old in the middle of a tantrum? The good parent is curious, patient and does not get angry back. After all, they are more mature than a two year old. Effective parents are trying to understand and guide the child’s behaviors to more acceptable ones.

The less effective parent will yell back or they will ignore and not redirect the behavior. Good communicators make the effort.

How to learn more:

Applying effective communications strategies may be easier than you think. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective.

Do you wonder how to start a conversation with a difficult person in your life? Maybe it’s time for a conversation.


Monique’s strategies to empower others to stand up and take control of their personal and professional lives are appreciated by all who meet her. Monique combines her 30 years of crisis intervention work with her certifications as a Human Behavior Consultant for DISC Personality Types, A Certified NLP Professional Coach and a Family Life Educator. She loves helping people!

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