When someone is completely exasperated or enraged, it is usually easy to tell. The body language gestures are rather specific and well known.
Rage is an extreme form of anger that has a special category because the person experiencing it nearly loses all control of her body. The extreme gestures of exasperation or rage are usually short lived and give way to more typical expressions of anger.
Here are a few things to look out for when dealing with an exasperated person.
Puffed out Cheeks
The genesis of this gesture is an exhale but with a closed mouth so the cheeks puff out. Of course, the steam coming out of her ears is imagined, but the look is unmistakable. This person is really upset.
Followed by open mouth with verbal gasp
The mouth opens and the person shows her teeth as she either screams or just gasps. The connotation here is that whatever happened to her is so extreme that she cannot imaging how to contain her anger and finds it hard to find adequate words to describe the situation rationally.
With a person who is exasperated, the hands are usually involved in the body language. Usually you will see both hands extended in front of the sternum with fingers rigidly curved as if the person is holding two invisible grapefruits. This symbolic gesture is a visual signal that the exasperated person needs to be restrained so as to not strangle the person causing her the angst.
Hands to face
The secondary gesture may also include hands to the face. The person would put both hands to her cheeks as she tries to restrain herself. Another form would have the person putting her hands on the top of her forehead as if she is trying to keep her skull from exploding due to the extreme pressure.
Eyes, eyebrows, and neck
The most common gesture with the eyes and eyebrows is a furrowing of the brows to reflect anger.
Another common gesture is a complete wide-eyed show of rage. A person who is totally enraged may have bulging eyes that look like they are about to pop out of the face.
You may also see obvious bulging ligaments in the neck, which is a common occurrence with rage.
An exasperated person will often roll her eyes in disbelief. It is like she is saying “How can you be so stupid?”
If the object of her anger is right there, you may see pointing with the index finger or a rigid vertical hand as she starts to verbalize what is upsetting her so much.
What to do when another person shows exasperation
People at this extreme need space to come to grips with what is going on inside. They need to feel heard, even if that cannot say a word. They often need time before they can speak. They are also looking for some form of response, but you need to be careful how you respond.
The first thing to do is not escalate the situation by mirroring the body language of the person expressing rage. Remain calm and let the other person blow off the initial steam without any comment. In this moment, it is so tempting to fight back, but that almost always makes things worse.
Think about being kind and caring at this moment. Don’t brush aside the whole thing, but also try to not appear condescending. Do not belittle her for losing control. Let the enraged person have her full say and consider carefully what response would de-escalate the situation.
By remaining calm, you take the fuel away from the anger of the exasperated person, but recognize that in some circumstances remaining calm can further enrage the person, so you need to read the body language accurately to know how to respond. It may be helpful to allow a cooling off period before trying to make a difference.
Once the person has regained composure, ask open ended questions to draw her out. Once she has expressed the root cause of the problem, then she may be able to hear and consider some ideas for how to move forward.
I think it helps to acknowledge the other person’s situation and show as much empathy as you can, once you are convinced the person is ready for dialog. If the situation were reversed, you might have had a similar reaction. By this method you can talk the other person down to earth and begin a constructive conversation of how to address the problem in a mature and rational way.
These actions will form a basis to start rebuilding trust with the other person. It may be a long way back to full trust, but you have to start with the proper baby steps.
Things to avoid doing
Do not go on the defensive or walk out. Do not attack or blame the person experiencing exasperation or rage. Refrain from snide remarks or making character assassinations.
Do not block the other person from expressing herself. Do not bully her into talking if she is not yet ready to talk. Don’t crowd the person; give her space. Refrain from dismissing the person.
The other side of the equation
The other side is what is going on inside the person who is witnessing the rage of another person. Someone expressing rage may be a trigger to those who have been abused in prior situations with someone else, like a parent or abusive spouse. A set of coping mechanisms may kick in as needed.
For example, the person may completely withdraw as a means of physical protection or experience genuine terror. If she was the potential trigger for the rage she is seeing, then strong feelings of guilt or shame may surface.
Both parties must use good judgment to de-escalate the situation and regain control. Once the situation has stopped boiling over, it is a good idea to debrief the flare up to identify things to do in the future that will prevent a recurrence. If done with sensitivity and kindness, the ugly incident may become the foundation for building higher trust between the individuals involved.
This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”
When someone is completely exasperated or enraged, it is usually easy to tell. The body language gestures are rather specific and well known.
We have all played the role of comforter at times in our lives. There are a number of body language considerations as we perform this important function.
The first rule when trying to comfort another person is to put on your figurative “listening hat.” Keep your ears open and your mouth shut.
Listen more than talk
It is annoying for a hurting person to get a few sentences into describing her pain only to hear, “Oh I have experienced that as well; my aunt did that to me just last month.”
If you are to provide comfort, try to have your output to input ratio be something closer to 10%, at least until the person has had the opportunity to tell the full story.
Use reflective listening where you let the other person know you are following the points closely with your following skills and an occasional natural reflection to indicate your understanding.
There is a caveat here. Most people believe they use reflective listening well, but they are actually clumsy with too many or poorly-timed reflections. Rather than help, poor listening actually makes matters worse by annoying the other person.
Touching the other person is often a way to provide some comfort, but obviously there are a host of caveats about using that technique. You have to use judgment and consider whether the other person would rather not be touched.
One possible way to analyze the situation is a derivative from the Golden Rule. Would you want to be touched by the other person if the roles were reversed? This idea is far from bullet proof, but it may provide some insight.
Touching may be effective with family or very close friends, but be extremely conservative with touching in a professional setting. Basically, don’t do it if you want to be safe.
Also, observe the overall body language as you approach the hurting person. If the individual pulls back, even in a slight way, it would be better to not use the comfort of touch, at least at that particular time.
This is not a time for the comforter to spout out platitudes of what might seem helpful to him or her. That kind of advice may be appropriate at some future time, but when the individual is hurting, he or she is in no mood for a sermon.
Seek to understand and empathize
By listening intently and asking questions, you can get the idea of what is causing the problem, but it is best if the hurting person comes up with what to do about it. Sometimes in an effort to be helpful, people will become prescriptive, and that often comes across as being pushy. It is better to ask occasional questions for clarification.
Ask open ended questions
Try to avoid asking a question that can be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.” For example, if you ask “Has this happened to you more than once in the past week?” the person could just say “yes.” Instead ask, “How often have you experienced this, and what did it feel like?”
Let the other person “come to you”
It is obvious that the other person needs some comfort, and since you are there it is only natural to try and help. Let the other person come to you when he or she is ready for your help.
Playing the role of comforter is essential, and we have all done it at times. Recognize that to do this task successfully requires great tact and skill. Take your cues from the person who is hurting, and let that person have the floor most of the time.
This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.TheTrust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe that people in a work setting have a remarkable ability to drive each other crazy. The same is true for our personal lives, but I want to focus on the work environment in this article.
Here are 12 simple ideas that can reduce the conflict between people and provide a more pleasant work environment:
1. Reverse Roles – When people take opposing sides in an argument, they become blind to the alternate way of thinking. This polarization causes people to become intransigent, and the rancor escalates.
A simple fix is to get each party to verbalize the points being made by the other person. To accomplish this, each person must truly understand the other person’s perspective, which is why the technique is effective.
2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – Most of the things that drive you crazy about a co-worker are things that you won’t remember by the end of the day or certainly not later in the week.
Recognize that the things annoying you about another person are really insignificant when considering the bigger picture and the numerous things both of you have in common.
3. Live and Let Live – The other person’s personal habits are just the way he or she is built. Don’t fixate on trying to change the person to conform to what you think should happen. Focus your attention on the things you like to do.
4. Take a Vacation – When pressure builds up, just take a brief vacation in your mind. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and visualize a happier place and time.
For example, you can take a vicarious trip to the beach anytime you wish. One trick with this technique is to get as many senses involved as possible;
- feel the warm air on your cheek,
- taste the salt water on your lips,
- hear the gentle lapping of the waves,
- smell the seaweed by your feet,
- touch the warm sand on which you are sitting,
- see the beautiful sunset over the water.
5. Be Nice – Kindness begets kindness. Share a treat, say something soothing, compliment the other person, do something helpful. These things make it more difficult for the ill feelings to spread.
6. Extend Trust – Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” We’ll forgive the flawed grammar, since Ernest is already in the grave, and also since his meaning is powerfully true.
Trust is bilateral, and you can usually increase trust by extending more of it to others. In my work, I call this “The First Law of Trust.”
7. Don’t Talk Behind their Back – When you spread gossip about people, a little of it eventually leaks back to them, and it will destroy the relationship. If there is an issue, handle it directly, just as you would have that person do with you.
8. Don’t Regress to Childish Behavior – It is easy for adults in the work setting to act like children. You can witness it every day. Get off the playground, and remember to act like an adult.
Work is not a place to have tantrums, sulk, pout, have a food fight, undermine, or any number of common tactics used by people who are short on coping mechanisms because of their immaturity.
9. Care About the Person – It is hard to be upset with someone you really care about. Recognize that the load other people carry is equal or heavier than your own.
Show empathy and try to help them in every way possible. This mindset is the route to real gratitude.
10. Listen More Than You Speak – When you are talking or otherwise expounding, it is impossible to be sensitive to the feelings of the other person. Take the time to listen to the other person.
Practice reflective listening and keep the ratio of talking to listening well below 50%.
11. Create Your Development Plan – Most individuals have a long list of what other people need to do to shape up but a rather short list of the things they need to improve upon. Make sure you identify the things in your own behavior that need to change, and you will take the focus off the shortcomings of others.
12. Follow the Golden Rule – The famous Golden Rule will cure most strife in any organization. We tend to forget to apply it to our everyday battles at work.
If we would all follow these 12 simple rules, there would be a lot less conflict in the work place. It takes some effort, but it is really worth it because we spend so much time working with other people.
Following these rules also means leading by example. If just a few people in an organization model these ideas, other people will see the impact and start to abide by them as well. That initiative can form a trend that will change an entire culture in a short period of time.
The above ideas are part of a set of videos for improving human interactions. The program is entitled “Surviving the Corporate Jungle.” You can view three demo videos for free by clicking on this link. http://www.avanoo.com/first3/528 Each segment is just 3 minutes in duration. If you are interested in purchasing the entire 30 video set, use promo code JUNGLE to obtain a 70% discount.
This article brings up some cautions about how we express our empathy when people are in crises.
You will hear the phrase “I know how you feel” perhaps thousands of times in your lifetime. The truth is that other people can never fully feel your pain.
They may be able to approximate it based on their own experiences. They may be able to logically deduce how you feel by extrapolating the situation, how you look, and the things you say, but they can never fully experience what you are going through.
Far better to say something like, “I can’t imagine how difficult that must be for you.” Since you cannot put yourself fully in the other person’s shoes, why utter banal phrases that make it seem like you can?
I will direct this article mostly to what is called “Professional Hurt” which is a term I learned recently from Dr. Ruby Brown from Jamaica, who coined the phrase. I met Ruby while speaking at the Caribbean Leadership Program in Trinidad.
She wrote her dissertation on the topic of Professional Hurt, which is when a person in a professional setting is abused somehow by managers or circumstances beyond control.
Professional Hurt also would occur when a person gets demoted or is fired. It may be the result of being passed over for a promotion or being marginalized in any number of ways.
When someone else is hurting, spend more time listening to the person. Avoid the temptation to say, “Oh that is just like how I felt last year when I was not given the raise they promised me.” That is not going to make the other person feel any better.
Listening to stories of people who are worse off or have had the same problem does not relieve the person’s pain today.
Rather, ask thoughtful questions if the person wants to talk or just be present if the person is in shock or unable to verbalize the pain.
Body language is particularly important when dealing with another person who is in a crisis. You can show that you care more with your eyes and facial expression than you can with a constant stream of babble. Just listening and nodding may be the best thing you can do for the other person at that moment.
Logic is not a good approach. You may be tempted to cheer the person up by saying, “These things don’t last forever; you’ll be feeling better soon.” Not only does that kind of approach backfire, it can belittle the person who is suffering to imply that time alone will heal the wounds.
Try to avoid hackneyed expressions that are commonly used in the working world. If your friend has just been fired, don’t tell him, “Whenever one door is closed, another will open.”
Do not try to cheer him up with “Nobody likes working for that jerk anyway.” Shut your trap and take your cues from the person who is hurting.
Let your presence and body language do the talking for you. If it seems the other person is in need of a steady stream of words from someone, then you can perhaps help with phrases like, “you’re strong enough to overcome this,” or “what would you like to happen now,” but the laconic approach is usually superior.
Do not recount how your neighbor had the same situation and ended up with a big promotion. All those kinds of phrases may make you feel like you are helping, but in reality little real comfort is coming through the overused phrases or comparisons.
Above all, recognize that you do not know how the other person is feeling and the best thing you can do is admit that. Show your love and feeling by avoiding the typical mistakes made by well intended people who were never offered a course in EMP-101 in school.