Managing Hostility

The airline lost our luggage.

Weary from our long trip we grudgingly schlepped over to the “lost luggage” counter. It took 24 hours to resolve the problem. During the process we had a chance to observe excellent customer service by the airline representative. She was calm, courteous, and gave us the information we needed. At one point we asked her,

How do you typically respond to hostile customers?

Her reply confirmed how good she was at her job.

“I remain calm and detached. I don’t allow myself to get dragged into their drama”.

We all encounter undeserved hostility. At times it is directed at us. On other occasions we are not attacked directly but the person carries obvious malice towards us or at the least is highly critical.

What is the best way to respond rather than just reacting? It starts when we ask the following questions.

 1What “hot buttons” are they pushing in me? A personal “hot button” is always about the reenactment of an old drama.  It could be that we were the designated scapegoat in our family of origin. Here others projected their emotional “stuff” onto us. So when we became the human punching bag we either rolled over or fought back. But too often our response came from unproductive and unconscious battles.

Practice: Be conscious of how, why, and when people press your hot buttons

2.  What is behind this person’s hostility? There are often multiple factors that make  a person respond in a hostile manner. Understanding that they may be shadow boxing  old ghosts or facing challenging current circumstances will enable us to have more compassion for their situation.

Practice: Seek to understand the inner and outer world of the hostile person

3How can I remain detached from this situation? Detachment involves finding a way to respond to the hostility from a calm place within us. Making a choice not to get dragged into their drama and responding in a  consistently kind manner helps with the detachment process. This would include the biblical advice that “a soft answer turns away wrath”.

Practice: Make the choice not to fight fire with fire

4.  How do I set boundaries with this person? There comes a time when we need to directly confront the hostile person with an explicit “Back off” or in the words of the movie Network, I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore” However wisdom teaches us that we need to choose our battles carefully.

Practice: Choose wisely to set boundaries  

What are your best practices in responding to hostility?

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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2 Responses to Managing Hostility

  1. Great post, Cedric. I like these strategies. I always advocate the ‘strategic pause”: that moment to think, allowing you to respond not with your gut but with your more considered and thoughtful response, which is likely to deliver better results.

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