During a job performance review in the 1990s, my boss, H-E-B Vice President Ralph Mehringer said something that I remember to this day.
“You have the unique ability to take the venom out of angry people,” he noted. “You quickly de-fang them.”
I liked that.
Ralph is a keen observer and calls it as he sees it. His words were motivating, so of course, it reinforced my learning and practicing.
I became interested in studying Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP for short. Eventually I became a certified NLP Practitioner.
It helped immensely in leadership and dealing with others through powerful techniques such as “anchoring,” reading body language and facial expressions, “reframing thoughts” and building rapport.
As the years progressed, “de-fanging” became natural and automatic like.
Here are some tips I learned along the way and continue to use today:
1. When someone is angry and confrontational, stand next to them, rather than in front of them. You want to appear not to be much of a threat, after all you’re physically on their side, and they eventually calm down.
2. Slow the pace of speech. They are likely to be yelling or talking rapidly. It’s critical not to engage in a like manner. When it’s your turn to reply, do so in a deliberate, kind, quiet and slower tone.
3. Open with “I need your help.” Most people don’t like the guilt of not helping someone out. When asking for a favor from someone, begin with “I need your help.” It GREATLY increases the chances of getting the favor done. But best of all, it can be used as an opening line to someone very irritated about something. Usually I act innocently not knowing they’re upset. It’s a good precursor to leading them out of their anger towards a better outlook.
4. Rephrase what the other person says and repeat it back to them. In that slower, quieter voice, this helps you understand their concern. This makes them feel you care and are listening to them. It shows your genuine interest in them. It validates them and helps you. Note: Don’t overdo it. You don’t want to appear condescending.
5. If you want someone to agree with you, nod while you talk. I learned this as a door-to-door insurance salesman in the early 1980s and discovered it works well with group presentations too. When you notice them beginning to change their attitude, or better yet nod back, you’re on the right track. They are beginning to subconsciously agree with you.
6. If someone doesn’t like you, ask to borrow a pencil or pen. This is called the Benjamin Franklin Effect. It’s just a small favor that actually helps nudge them to like you. Not as effective, but still good, is to subtly touch someone’s upper arm when you ask for a favor.
7. Mimic them without them realizing it. It’s called mirroring and takes some practice. It has to be subtle and with finesse. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it try folding your arms in a non-threatening way. It helps to determine their interest. If someone is observing you, they will likely mimic you.
8. Repeat a person’s name many times in the conversation. Don’t overdo it, but it helps you remember their name, and makes them like you more.
9. If the person is a child, bring bubbles. Hint: this can work for adults too. Bubbles are magical mood changers.
BONUS: What if the person is just a narcissist?
Understand that narcissists are psychological warriors. They demand superiority over you. It gives them power to belittle and make you feel inferior.
They win if you lash back or try to explain yourself. Don’t let them win.
If you stay and explain yourselve (by arguing back or even by trying to talk calmly) you are showing them that they have power over you.
Walking away is a powerful strength.
I know for many, the idea of walking away after someone has hurt us seems like we are running away or letting them walk all over us.
But the truth of the matter is that when we walk away from a narcissist we are the stronger and better person.
Show them that you will NOT allow them to sully your character.
Show them that you will NOT be talked to like that.
And prove to them that you will NOT tolerate their childishness.
In walking away — and by not saying anything to a narcissist when they go on their childish verbal war — you remain 100% who you are. That’s totally true to yourself. You win.
You take yourselves out of that battle to which they are trying to wage against you…and you lose absolutely NOTHING.
They love drama…don’t be a character, or spectator, of their drama.
Walk away and say NOTHING.