Remember the steps of how to handle angry people, how to handle upset customers? Remember the process of those seven steps that begin with remain silent, remain silent, remain silent, thank them for their feedback, repeat back what they said, commit to action and follow up, and fulfill your commitment and take action. Here’s an example of how we handled an angry confrontation of someone who was absolutely convinced she was right and publicly declared it.
Healing from the Training
Let me share a story of what actually happened at one of our Transformational Leadership trainings. I was the one leading the session. As you may know at each training, I always read a suicide letter that I wrote years ago when I was very depressed. Sometimes I tell a little bit more detail about the sexual abuse that had taken place when I was young. In one of the cities we were working in, I was told there was a young lady there who had been dealing with sexual abuse when she was a child. She had come to the conference and had heard me talk about the abuse and wanted to know more about it. So, from the stage, I shared that personal detail in this training. When the conference was over, this lady came up to me and hugged me.
She wept and said, “After all the years of getting years of counseling, today I finally, finally dealt with what happened to me all those years ago.” She said, “If I bring back a whole table of my friends who have had this happen to them, would you do again what you did today?”
I said, “I’d be happy to do that.”
A few months later, I was back at the same city. When I showed up, she saw me and brought me to the table and introduced me to her friends and said to them, “This is the man who helped me.”
When it came time in the training to do that part, I read the suicide letter again, and I talked about the systemic nature of these issues that are growing at a growing rate. Then I went into the sexual abuse part that I had done before because I had told her I would. This was a pretty large group, and I was presenting on a stage. When this part of the session was over, as I was walking off the stage and got to the bottom of the steps, a lady sitting at a table right at the end of the steps at a table different from the table where the group of women the other woman had brought were sitting came up to me and hugged me.
She said, “That was powerful, and that was healing. Thank you for your transparency. That helped me more than I ever thought I could get help around that specific situation.
An Angry Confrontation
As she was sharing with me, two other ladies from the other table were making a beeline to me. They were in such a rush they almost cut off the first woman talking to me. I wasn’t completely sure she had quite finished, even though I knew she was close.
One of them pushed in and said in a scolding voice, “I want to talk to you about something that falls under our social covenant agreement.” The social covenant is an agreement that is always a first part of any Transformational Leadership training where the participants come to an agreement, first, about how they are going to treat each other and then how they are going to handle it when someone doesn’t do what has been agreed on. The first step when someone does not follow the agreement is to go directly to the offending person and speak to them personally about the concern.
I said, “OK. That’s good. So you brought a friend with you. Does that mean you want to talk to me with your friend or follow the social covenant which would be one-on-one?
She snapped back, “I want to talk to you with my friend.”
I said, “Sure. That’s OK. It’s just not following the social covenant. So, do you mind if this other lady stays?” And I gestured to the other lady who had been cut off.
She said, “I don’t care who hears!” And she started yelling at me at the top of her lungs. As she was yelling at me, she was saying things like “You have no idea what you are doing to people with that story! I’m a counselor! I deal with young kids who have been sexually abused, and what you just did would devastate them.” She continued on and on. She was so loud that the person who oversaw the room we were in went over and turned some music on because all the other participants had turned toward the woman and were watching and listening to her yelling at me. I didn’t know that because I was focused on her, but when he turned the music on, it was loud. By this point, she was still yelling, but not quite as loud.
I have a hearing problem so that when there’s music or background noise, there’s a certain pitch I can’t hear very well. So I leaned in a little bit to hear her. Then she started screaming, “Don’t you patronize me!” Then, finally, she calmed down a little bit, and I looked at her and said, “What did I do to patronize you?”
She responded, “When you leaned in toward me!”
I said, “I’m really sorry. I didn’t realize I had done that. I have a hearing problem and when that music came on, it was really hard for me to totally make out what you were saying with that background noise.”
She said, “You do?”
I said, “I do.” And I said, “Could I share something with you around what you just shared with me?”
She said, “Yeah.”
“The reason I shared that story tonight the way I shared it” and I could see the anger welling up again already because she thinks I was going to make an excuse. And I said, “The reason I shared it is because there’s a lady here who got real healing the last time I told this story, and she had brought a whole team of ladies tonight because she had asked me to talk about this again.”
She said, “There’s no way that what you just did could bring healing!”
About that time, the lady who was still standing there as a bystander from the beginning and still listening looked at the woman and said, “Have you ever been sexually abused?”
She responded, “No! I haven’t!”
And she said, “Well, I have. And what he just did right there is the most healing thing I’ve ever sat through to help me deal with this situation.” Then she leaned over toward the angry woman and said, “Do you need a hug?” And she leaned into her and when she did, the lady drew back, slapped her hand away, and got angry with her.
I looked at her and said, “You know, I would give anything if I could apologize to you because I really think it might help you. But I can’t. I can’t tell you I was wrong, because you know what? If someone comes to me and says they’re bringing ten people who need help around this issue, I’m going to help them. And I cannot apologize to you. Because like this lady just told you, there’s a whole table of people over there who got the same kind of help. So I can’t tell you I’m sorry. I can’t ask you to forgive me because I’m not going to change what I do.”
Another Anger Issue
Then her eyes kind of teared up, and I said, “Is there anything else you’d like to share?” And she started yelling at me again around the social covenant and about how I had made fun of their table when we were developing the social covenant. When I do the training, to fully understand what she’s referring to, you have to see the process I use, that I make fun of people and tell them in advance that I’m going to make fun of what is said, not of a person, but of the ideas that come from the table.
When I said that, she yelled back, “You did not say that!” At that moment, her friend said, “Yes, he did.”
And the other lady said, “He made more fun of our table than anybody else’s, and we were cracking up because he had told us he was going to do it.”
“Well, he didn’t say he was going to do it!”
And the other two women said, “Yes, he did.”
I looked at her, and I said, “Do you think maybe you might have an anger issue that we might want to deal with? Because I can’t apologize for that either. This is the process we use. It works, and this is what I’ll continue to do. But I can tell you I’m really, really sad that you’re in this kind of pain.”
She said, “Well, I’m a counselor, and I deal with teenagers. And if you did that to them, what you just did up there, it would devastate them!”
I said, “Well, it’s interesting that you say that. I coach a high school volleyball team, and I’ve dealt with a number of girls on that team who have been sexually abused. But do you think I deal with them the same way I deal with adults?”
“Yes, I do!”
I said, “Trust me. I don’t. Their minds are not fully developed until they are twenty to twenty-five years old and they can’t handle what I just did when they’re fourteen or fifteen.”
Literally, then, tears just poured from her eyes. She said, “So you wouldn’t do that with teenagers?”
I said, “Absolutely not.”
And she just cried. I reached over and gave her a hug and said, “I really, really hope that you’ll come back tomorrow. But if you can’t, I totally understand.”
Returning with an Apology
So she left and the next morning she came back. She had a piece of paper and she said, “I wrote this down because I’ve never done this before.” She opened up the paper and said, “Yesterday, I came up and yelled and screamed at you. I was wrong. I’m sorry. Would you forgive me? Would you hold me accountable not to do that again to you? And, is there anything else?”
She went through the whole process of the six-step apology. When she got to step four and asked me to forgive her, of course I said yes. When she asked me if there was anything else she needed to ask forgiveness for, I said, “Well, two things. Number one, you asked me to hold you accountable, and yesterday at your table I saw you behaving the way you treated me, just not as loud. Do you want me to hold you accountable today if I see you doing that again? ‘Cause if you do, I’ll come over and tell you that you’re doing it again.”
She said, “I do.”
I said, “One more thing. Would you come yourself and bring the number one counselor whom you know who deals with sexual abuse and also bring all the people whom you know who have had healing over sexual abuse, not that they’re coping with it, not that they’re taking drugs around it, but that they’ve been healed of it, they’re free of it, and that means they can talk about it to anybody, any place, any time, because that’s what that means. And I’ll bring all the people whom I’ve helped, and I’ll challenge you and the number one person in the industry whom you know, along with all the people whom you know who have been helped, people who are done with it, finished with it, and are now helping others. I’ll challenge you that my room will be ten times fuller than yours.”
She went dead silent.
I said, “Would you take that challenge?”
She said, “No, because I’m afraid it would be.”
Now that lady became a friend. I don’t see her all the time because she’s in a different city. I don’t know if I would even recognize her now, but during the rest of that conference. at some level, we became friends. Here’s why. if we have the social covenant and we think we’re right, they have the right to bring another person or two and challenge that. And that’s what she did. Also, we’re not supposed to apologize for things we’re not going to change if we’re going to continue doing it the same way, I’m not going to apologize for it. We’re not supposed to apologize if we’re right because, if we do, it just keeps the other person in their “muck.”
Leadership Tools That Work Together
You can see how these different leadership tools work together, about dealing with an angry person and the six-step apology. Consider trying to really understand how these different tools, these ingredients, how each one of them is connected to the other one. They all come together to help us become transformational leaders to impact the world around us in positive ways, to help people through their angry outbursts, and to extend truth and forgiveness. Being a transformational leader means we are humble enough to meet people where they are and help them come to a new understanding.
Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.