Handling anger and hostility while getting useful information

By SteveDrozdeck

Drozdeck & Assoc.

No matter how good your intentions, if you don’t have appropriate techniques to manage hostility, you will not prevail in your effort to persuade. This article presents the technique of “fogging and questioning” to deal with such situations.

“So, what’s his problem?”

“Why are you angry at me?”

Unfortunately, with one variation or another, these are common questions that we regularly ask ourselves.

As someone in sales, a manager or just about any other professional, you regularly encounter situations where you must deal with anger, hostility, displeasure, criticism, etc. It’s unavoidable in the job. It could come from numerous sources — from friends to firm officials to clients. (It is even possible, however remote, that a spouse may not be entirely pleased with you and express that displeasure.) At those moments, our tendency is to react in ways that often exacerbate the problem.

No matter how good your intentions, if you don’t have appropriate techniques to manage hostility, you will not prevail in your effort to persuade. Virtually everyone is phobic in their reactions to criticism and anger that is directed at them.

We’ve all been in situations in which someone was critical of us. For most people, it is decidedly uncomfortable. This article presents the technique of “fogging and questioning” to deal with such situations. These techniques can be used singly or in combination and are the basis of an all purpose response to get you out of difficult situations while getting valuable information to use later.

When you are attacked by insult, innuendo, put-down or some other tactic, or if someone becomes overly emotional, you can control the situation with the techniques described below. Knowing what to do prevents you from becoming too emotionally entangled in the situation.

The basic rationale is it takes two to have an argument or a conflict. This strategic attitude eliminates one of the key ingredients (you) that would have otherwise sustained the conflict. Yet you use an indirect method of control via your dialogue. This method is a form of conversational judo that uses the gentle way of managing an attack or disagreement.

When most people are angry or their adrenaline is up for any reason, they do not think clearly – they react emotionally.Thinking with one’s glands has a very different effect than keeping cool under fire. You will have the advantage if you don’t become defensive and remain in control of yourself.

The first step is to generate an unexpected source of satisfaction for the other person by listening attentively and realizing that if you were in their shoes, with their information and their concerns, you might feel the same way. Always ask yourself, “What perspective must he have to feel this way?” This highlights one of the best defenses against criticism: become curious, not furious.
The second step is done virtually simultaneously with the first. That is, you remove yourself from the conflict through a technique called “fogging.” The source of the term fogging is in a child’s pastime that most people would remember.

Imagine you are throwing rocks at a target and you can gauge your success by seeing how close you come to hitting it. What would happen if a thick fog totally obscured the target? How long would you continue to throw? You’d probably quit after one or two more throws — it’s no fun anymore. In the fogging technique, you avoid the give and take, the verbal duel necessary to have an argument and step aside, allowing the anger/criticism to dissipate.

Before outlining the steps of the technique, here is a sample exchange to give you a sense of how it might work.
[Client] (angrily) You people are giving me bad service, and I want it changed.

[You] I can see that you are upset. Exactly what would you want done that would allow you to feel okay?

[Client] (still angry) If the situation were taken care of when promised, I wouldn’t be so angry.

[You] So if the issue were taken care of on time, you’d feel better? What else would you need done?

[Client] The service people also need to be more courteous. They don’t seem to care.

[You] Then if the job was done on time and they were more courteous, the issue would be resolved?

[Client] Yes (substantially cooled off)  

It is important to note from the above exchange that nothing has been agreed to thus far. The client has merely cooled off and we know that promptness and courtesy (whatever they mean) are important factors for him. The net effect is that the anger has been neutralized and we have obtained information that will be important to this relationship. We can now continue with the dialogue in a more effective way and create a win-win situation.

Other initial comments which acknowledge the person’s concern and pave the way to obtaining information include:
  • “Well, I can see you are upset. Tell me what will provide what you need.”

  • “It is obvious you really mean that. How could it have been done differently?”

  • “I think I understand. What specific things will improve the situation?”
In review, first you acknowledge the person’s comment, and then you question toward a desired outcome/solution. Your question amounts to: “How will you and I know when you have made your point?”

Then you follow it by asking for his or her definition of a solution, getting as much information as possible. You then have a goal to share. You actually help the person make the point regarding the complaint or concern. This is an unusual move, because his or her expectations of an argument are deflected or bypassed.

This technique helps bring passions under control and replaces emotion with disciplined thought; that is, the person moves out of his or her emotional mode into an intellectual, fact-finding mode. Many people think this is too simple an idea to work.

Believe in it. It works and it works well.