How to deal with angry people

So we continue with kitchen psychology. This post is a sequel to this post.

brainThat is the human brain. Yes it is. Roughly it can be divided into three areas:

  1. Lizard brain. Handles the most primitive needs, like being angry, hungry and horny.
  2. Limbic system. Emotions and feelings.
  3. Neocortex. High level thinking, speech, logic.

As I said in the previous post, the lower levels of the brain get priority over the higher parts. So if you’re hungry and anxious, you can’t just think straight, let alone solve complex problems.

So lets imagine a situation:  you have a meeting with a client. When he arrives to the meeting, it’s obvious that he’s in a bad mood. He’s clearly upset about something. (You can replace “client” with wife or husband coming to home.) There are a lot of things you can do, but I can tell you what not to do: whatever the problem is, don’t try to solve it for him. Solving problems requires the neocortex of the brain, and because this person is all “limbic”, he can’t think logically. It’s not his fault, that’s just how the brain works.

As an engineer is tempting to try to solve the problem, but chances are that you make things even worse.  The same goes when you’re self upset about something. For example, you’re trying to solve a problem that should be easy. But you just can’t figure it out and you get frustrated. At this point there are two primal reactions that are natural to us:

  • Fuck this! Why can’t I solve this stupid thing?! I just try harder graaaaah! (Fight)
  • Ah nevermind fuck this I quit I’m bad at everything screw this why did they ever hire me.. (Flee)

Either way you probably can’t solve the problem at hand. Your neocortex is shut down because you’re having an extreme limbic reaction. So what to do then? The main idea is to get away of the limbic reaction. Here are a couple of things to try:

  • If you notice that you self are frustrated/angry/upset: don’t fight it. Take a break, have a snack, go to a walk. Say aloud “I’m frustrated”. Even that helps.
  • Angry client/wife/child: don’t try to solve their problems. Help them to express their feelings. “Are you upset because XX?” and then just listen them ranting. Don’t say “What’s the matter with you?” because that’s an open invitation to a fight.
  • You get pissed at someone because he jumped the queue / almost crashed you in the traffic / any other reason:  try to think yourself in the other person’s position. Maybe he’s in a hurry because his child got to a hospital? In reality he might just be an asshole, but thinking the best of him helps you to calm down.

Here’s the tricky part: At first remembering all this requires the neocortex, and by now you know what happens to the neocortex when you get upset. I personally suck at this, but I guess what can be done is to practice and practice, so that little by little these behaviors become natural to you, so that even in “limbic crisis” you can act by them.

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