Managing Irrational People

Stella’s performance just wasn’t up to scratch. Kath, her supervisor, was keen to help Stella improve. But whenever Kath gave Stella feedback, the conversation got out of control.

Stella seemed unable to accept any form of feedback without becoming defensive. No matter how Kath worded her message, it triggered tirades and tears. Feeling at a loss about what to do next, Kath came to my course on Dealing with Difficult People.

During the course, Kath realised that Stella’s behaviour wasn’t normal. She began to wonder whether Stella had emotional issues which were impacting on her behaviour at work. I advised Kath to take these 4 steps to handle the situation. You can use the same process to handle distressed responses to feedback in your workplace.

1. Acknowledge that the behaviour as irrational

Irrational behaviour can catch you off guard initially and you may question yourself. For example, you might ask yourself whether you ‘caused’ the other person’s behaviour in some way. But if the behaviour is illogical and erratic, it probably has nothing to do with you. Simply accept that fact.

2. Don’t argue

Challenging an irrational person will only leave you feeling exhausted and demoralised. Don’t try to make sense out of their actions. A genuinely irrational person may not be in a position to think logically. Focus on finding out their perspective, rather than challenging it.

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3. React calmly

You may not be able to control the irrational behaviour of the other person, but you can control how you react to it. Keep your own behaviour respectful and non-threatening. Refuse to argue or fight back. Instead, suggest that the irrational person sits down and tells you what is going on for them. Focus on listening and, if possible, helping them to calm down.

4. Get help sooner rather than later

As with serious physical illnesses, there are occasions when expert assistance is urgently needed to help someone with distorted thinking. Speak to your Human Resources team or manager if you think someone needs help dealing with emotional distress. There may also be an Employee Assistance Program that you can access to help you deal with the situation and its impact on you.

Need advice on dealing with a tricky situation? Contact Eleanor to find out about communication skills coaching.