What To Do With An Adult Temper Tantrum
We had fireworks this past weekend. And that got me thinking about interpersonal fireworks, what you get when dealing with hotheads and twitchy people. Have you ever seen someone really lose it? I mean really lose it? Pupils dilating and contracting, facial muscles twitching, the wind picking up around them filled with leaves and scraps of paper. Not a pretty picture.
Do you know why people lose it? People lose it when they don’t feel appreciated, plain and simple.
In my ‘Bringing Out The Best In People…Even At Their Worst’ training programs, I call this behavior the Human Grenade. You know how it goes. Perfectly normal one minute, then after a brief period of calm, BOOM!!!! and they start screaming things that don’t make much sense. They lose control. They lose their temper. They lose it. In this post, I’m going to suggest that what works best to keep people from losing it. But be warned. It takes some energy to prevent explosive behavior. You have to find it in yourself to speak up, shine the light of your appreciative attention on someone whose behavior you find off-putting and awful.
Prevent People From Losing It.
Assuming you have a relationship with the individual, and there’s a bit of calm before the storm, it’s in your interest to find the pin on the grenade behavior and don’t pull it! If you can find out what specific lack of attention triggers the explosion, you can act to prevent it from happening by providing that particular kind of attention. How to find it out? You could simply come right out and ask them.
A good way to start is by stating your intent clearly. “I don’t want to fight with you ever again.” Then inquire as to what made him or her so angry that “last time.” “What made you so mad?” or “What got under your skin? ” Use clarifying questions to get the person to be specific. A useful question is “How did you know when to get angry?”
For example if the person says that, “I got mad because no one was listening,” do not try to convince them otherwise. You may know for a fact that people were listening, but based on what the person is saying, it is obvious that the signal that indicates people are listening was not received. Ask them in a friendly tone, “How would you know if people were listening?” The response may be, “When people don’t just sit there, when they respond!” You, of course will want to inquire, “What response would they give you when they are listening?”
Do not take anything for granted. Be specific. You can even get specific about what you can do to help the situation the next time it gets out of hand.
One of my clients, we’ll call her Denise, had a boss who blew up frequently. Most of the time it had nothing to do with her. For a year she felt bad, because she didn’t know what to do to help him. Everything she said or did seemed to make the explosive episodes intensify. A day arrived when she just came right out and asked him, “How can I support you at those times when you lose your temper?” He casually said, “Just walk out and ignore me and do whatever you need to do.” She couldn’t believe it! After a year of driving herself crazy trying to help him, the only help he wanted was to be left alone. Proof that it pays to communicate!
You may learn that it isn’t you who is pulling their pin. If the pin puller is someone else in the office, then one solution is training in team building, interpersonal communication, and conflict resolution. (Give me a call, that kind of work is right up my alley!)
Or, their pin puller may be someone at home. They get triggered, use their commute to work to get themselves all in a tizzy, and then the explosion happens at the office. In this case, drawing out the person by asking helpful questions may actually help the person to realize where the problem lives and the damage they are doing by bringing it with them to work. In that case, getting some help developing their EQ (emotional intelligence) by reading or working with a coach (again something is right up my alley!) can make a big difference. In the short term, the next question is, “What can I do to help next time this starts to happen?”
Whatever the cause of the explosion, if you’re willing to invest a little time every day in actively listening to the problems the person faces, and actively supporting this individual in talking instead of blowing up, you will slowly but surely have a positive impact, reducing the frequency and intensity of the negative behavior. At the very least, you will be one of the few people around whom they never lose it again.
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