Many years ago, as an inexperienced young woman working in corporate benefits, I did not have the skills to give a group of angry employees a presentation on a life insurance benefit that was changing. Since the plan changes had been many months in the making by a team I was leading, my knowledge of the plan was great, but my wisdom in dealing with other’s reactions was limited.
I stood in front of a large auditorium of employees whom I knew had been primed (incorrectly) through the informal grapevine to believe that a change in our life insurance plan meant a takeaway for them.
In reality, our team had worked several months to assure that there would be no takeaways in the plan. We were exchanging parts of the former plan for new, similar parts, at a lower overall employee cost.
There was animosity in the room, and although I stayed calm, my inappropriate fallback position was to become defensive. I’m sad to say that I was not able to pacify the crowd and they left angry.
It was not my finest moment.
I was embarrassed that I didn’t handle this better. However, I’ve had many chances to learn how to deal successfully with anger since then – whether it is in a large group, a smaller group or with a single person.
I may be able to help you to consider what you might do if you are ever in such a spot yourself. If I could have a “do-over” for that original event, here is what I would do:
Brainstorm the questions and practice the answers beforehand: I would brainstorm the questions that the audience may ask, and practice the answers. I may ask a colleague to assist with this in order to surface some of the questions that might be asked. In short, I would be better prepared.
Breathe mindfully: When the audience became agitated, I would become aware of my breathing, pulling in deeper breaths, sending more oxygen into my brain and relaxing my body. This would allow me to do my best thinking.
Listen with compassion: Instead of trying to explain my reasoning and talking over their objections, I would have listened deeply while putting myself in their situation. This would help to understand their objections better allowing me to provide answers customized to their needs, rather than being defensive in order to meet my needs.
Find areas to agree on: Instead of being defensive of my position, I would look for common ground and affirm it with the audience members who were speaking out against it. If I am truly listening instead of waiting for my turn to talk this should not be difficult.
Apologize for misunderstandings: If I thought my words are being misunderstood, I would apologize that I wasn’t clearly stating the situation, re-state it differently and with clarity, and then ask if there were further questions.
We all deal with angry people at some point in our lives. Having some tools in your “anger management” toolkit will help. What tools have you successfully used?