Winning an Argument with a Three Year Old (4/1/22)

“How do I handle the angry person in my life?” That’s a common question during my women’s programs. As adults we know how to express anger, seek satisfaction and get results in a positive way. But angry people don’t always act like adults.

Ever had an argument with an angry three-year-old … and won? It probably wasn’t easy, even though you’re older, wiser, and certainly bigger. When angry people behave like little kids, it’s impossible to communicate because of their childish – and often irrational – behavior. These strategies can help bring “the little kid” up to your adult level.

Assess. Allow time for the person to “have her say” or “get it off his chest.” After a few moments of listening, you may be tempted to jump in with a logical solution. But “the little kid” doesn’t want to hear from you yet. Don’t interrupt. Let him or her talk – within reason. Sometimes people just want to be heard.

 Acknowledge the problem. Listen actively and give them your undivided attention. Even if they’re exaggerating or over-reacting, it’s important to validate their perception of the situation at that moment. They may simply be annoyed, irritated or frustrated and “need to vent.”

 Agree to the extent you can. You don’t have to agree on who’s right or wrong, but you can agree that there’s a problem or that the person is upset.

 Apologize to the extent you can. Know the difference between accepting personal responsibility and offering a sincere but blameless apology such as “I’m sorry that happened to you.” If you’re at fault, you should apologize because it’s the right thing to do.

Act as best you can. If you can’t solve the problem maybe someone else can. Sometimes no one can fix what’s wrong. But you can offer understanding, empathy and support.

Reassess. Take time later to reflect on the outcome. Was the person in a better frame of mind or more upset? What did you say or do that helped the situation? What did you say or do that made matters worse? Reflecting on the words, actions and outcomes will help you be more effective next time.

Remember, you do not need to accept verbal abuse of any kind – at work or at home. Talk with someone in HR at work, or with a trusted friend or family member in your personal life to help you decide how to handle the situation. If you need more help and want to dig deeper, everything you need to know is in my eBook, Secrets to Success in Dealing with Difficult People at The more you practice these techniques, the easier it will be to deal with the angry people in your life – even if they’re not three years old!


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