How To Deal With Irrational People

Feb 09

Preparing yourself for that challenging conversation with irrational people who pushes all your buttons, can be one of the most daunting things you’ll ever do. Yet moments like this are inevitable, and you need more than courage—you need the right strategy to emerge unscathed and in a stronger position the next time.

Finding that right strategy—the one that will help you cut your losses and make the best of the situation—involves recognizing that you are being triggered to respond in a defensive and irrational manner both by your biology and the other party. Giving in to the pressure, and responding in a defensive way, will only serve to allow the other person to drag you kicking and screaming onto their playing field where they have the advantage—leaving you feeling drained, demoralized, and fearful of that next encounter with them. Then they leave the conversation empowered and victorious. How can you keep from moving from rationality to irrationality in these situations and also keep the conversation on your home turf?

The three tools below will help you keep your upper brain engaged (where logic and reason prevail) and keep you from being drawn into responding from your lower brain (where fight or flight and emotion are king):

1) Put the Brakes On to Avoid Being Emotionally Hijacked

Delaying your response and taking a pause allows the center of your brain, called the amygdala, to calm down and to regain the high ground where you can choose to respond from a place of calm and logic. We have all heard of counting to ten and choosing to walk away for a brief time as time-tested methods, but they are not the only option you can use to avoid emotionally being hijacked. You could also choose to pause and become more conscious of how you’re feeling physically by asking yourself: What am I feeling at this moment? Or you could play out what you would really like to do or say in your mind. For example: In this moment, I want to scream how difficult they are being and see yourself screaming at the person. Choose what works best for you, but make sure that it allows you the needed time for the body to reset itself.

2) Become Present, Clear and Focused In The Moment

Reframing the situation and seeing opportunities to de-escalate and disarm the other person are essential to shifting the game back to your turf. Repeatedly engaging in de-escalating and remaining focused will clearly communicate to the other person that their usual bag of tricks isn’t working on you. However, don’t expect that in the short term they won’t try to escalate even more with an outrageous outburst to test your seriousness. Keep focused, clear, and present in the situation and continue to ask them questions that show them you won’t engage and act out in the same way. Here are a few to consider the next time you’re in a situation like this:

  • What is this really all about?
  • In what way can I do something, so we don’t end up here again?
  • What do you need from me, so we don’t have this conversation again?

Once you notice that you’ve broken their rhythm, you can attempt to steer the conversation in a more productive way. If you cannot shift the focus to the positive, and if the person is still extreme, then you know you’ve done your best, and looking for the most graceful way to disengage is the only option.

3) Seek Inspiration from Your Gurus, Heroes and Others You Admire

As you’re trying to navigate your way through this type of conversation, you might feel as if you alone are against the world. This doesn’t have to be the case. If you start feeling unnerved, uncertain, and like you’re losing control, stop and take a deep breath and ask yourself: What would my Guru, Hero, or person I admire do in this situation? How would they react to what I am experiencing? Tapping into the collective wisdom and strategies of those who mentor and we admire, even if only in our minds, can help us focus, regroup, and choose to respond in a more effective way. So the next time you feel like the person’s barbs are hitting their mark and your resolve is diminishing, call upon the collective wisdom and experience of those you admire to guide your approach. Thinking about the wise advice you’ve been given and how it could help you will lead to you shifting your perspective from fear and defensiveness to gratitude and sanity.

Overriding our natural biological influences (the fight or flight response) and long-standing approaches to irrational behavior can be challenging to overcome. Yet with practice and mindfulness in these types of situations, you can develop the strategies that will allow you to emerge unscathed from encounters with less-than-rational people. Remember each time you try these strategies that, the other person is less likely to try their usual bag of tricks on you the next time.