Regardless of your job you will have to work with colleagues, managers or clients. Sometimes, it’s harder to work with these people than doing your actual job. As our book title implies: “Software is easy. People are hard” . We each see the world through our own eyes and when somebody has a different opinion of how things should be done arguments are bound to happen.
I consider myself an average programmer, not a genius programmer or a 10x programmer. Where I shine though is in dealing with people. I always knew what to say and when to act when dealing with another person. The art of dealing with people comes to me naturally but I am more than happy to share with you what I try to do during an argument.
What to do when somebody starts screaming at the top of their lungs at you or calls you out for trivial stuff. In my opinion the most important question is how often does this happen? How often does the other person lose their cool and starts acting up. If the answer is once in a blue moon then that person probably has other issues pressing them.
“Okay, I get it. It’s not my fault that they get aggressive and snap. What can I do if they start yelling at me?”.
It’s rather simple honestly, but hard to implement. The best course of action is… to do nothing.
Sometimes doing “nothing” is better than doing or saying something (that you will regret). Here are the steps that I suggest you follow next time somebody confronts you poorly:
a) Don’t let into the rage
What I mean is don’t respond with your immediate gut feeling of escalating the conflict. I know it’s hard but saying: “You’re a moron, stop shouting!” Will not help either of you.
This is pretty obvious and most of us are aware of this so I will continue to the lesser known steps.
b) Don’t back down, stand your ground and look at them
Why it’s important to stand your ground. Honestly, this has to do more with the reptilian part of the brain than the logical part. You know how they say that if a lion is looking at you don’t run because then the lion will interpret you as prey and start chasing you? If a person is aggressive towards you they interpret backing down (verbally or physically) as a sign that they are right. Don’t apologize, don’t go cry in the bathroom (at least not yet).
This is a really important step because even if that person is right and you did fuck up screaming and shouting will not help anyone. There are more productive ways of managing a possible fuck-up. For instance, you can both think of what can be done to prevent it in the future instead of playing the blame game. Also, if you did indeed fuck–up (after things calm down) make it clear that you feel bad and that you’ll try to do better next time.
Good, so far you didn’t let into the range, you didn’t shout back and you somehow managed to hold back your tears. Now that the easy part is done let’s get to the hard part.
c) Respond with true kindness
What do I mean with “true kindness”. People can smell bullshit. If you say something like “I’m sorry you feel this way” or “I’m sorry you can’t see things my way” that’s like insulting them with extra steps.
Instead, tell your version of the story calmly. Repeat your point, elaborate it but don’t budge until they calm down. Try to subdue your own rage and their rage with compassion while you speak.
Each sentence that you speak at a normal volume calmly is like a battering ram hitting the main gate of a fortress. It will not seem to be effective at first but you will start to see damage and if you persist you will finally break through. Basically, you’re doing a reverse arguing. Instead of you raising your voice to match theirs they will lower their voice to match your normal tone of speaking.
That’s all, the abcs of arguing, easy-peasy. Well not quite, even if you are aware of these things it’s really hard to remember them and implement them in a real-life situation. If all of this is too hard to remember in an actual situation at least try to calm yourself. You’ll see that by calming yourself the other person will calm down as well.
I hope that you found something of use by reading this article. If you want to see angry people in the wild I suggest watching “Tiger King” documentary on Netflix – it’s worth the hype.