Do you know why stock markets behave the way they behave? Or why Behavioural Economics is such an important branch of Economics? Because the assumption that human beings who run the markets and the economies are rational – is somewhat incorrect. Rather, hugely incorrect. Yes. Irrational people are everywhere. Some are very apparent, others are cleverly concealed 🙂 … and that’s why, dealing with irrational people is an art. One that we all need to practice!
Flashback your memory to unreasonable fights with your partner/ spuse / parents / siblings / deranged friends, colleagues or neighbours. Haven’t you felt that there have been times when someone is being so illogical that you are confused – whether to laugh at the person or to slap them hard 🙂
Before you dismiss irrationality as a stupidity you can’t deal with; wait. Irrational behaviour is nothing but an extreme overreaction to a trigger which sends a person into fight or flight mode and creates an extreme desire for the fulfilling of a need, no matter how trivial / impossible.
Pay attention to this sentence. For it is the key to dealing with irrational people.
Let me elaborate.
What is irrational and impossible behavior?
Let me share with you a story. A female friend, tired of her irrational husband, shared this with me.
“The husband was a little low on his EQ. He couldn’t handle even a little disregard for him that often stemmed out of my exhaustion or irritation and had nothing to do with him. Once I just asked him to leave me alone for a while in the room. I was trying to avoid a fight. He just went mad when I asked him to leave. He said – why don’t I leave you forever then? Let me just jump from the balcony and free you forever. And he actually tried to jump.”
I am sure you have been in similar situations. People just going bat shit crazy because they are unable to deal with a situation that was otherwise pretty normal. But then, normal is such a relative term.
There is another story I heard about a guy who handled an irrational lady on a plane like a pro. Through this story, I am going to decode for you – the process of dealing with irrational people.
This guy was sitting beside a lady on a flight. They had a good conversation, smooth and fun. The lady seemed alright. But when the flight was taxing, she started becoming agitated and jumpy. As people got up and formed a queue to get down the plane, she became extremely afraid and sweaty. Upon asking if she was fine, she said she was feeling claustrophobic and had to get down right NOW.
The aisle was full of people. They were at the end. No way she could have gotten down immediately. And her condition was worsening. He tried to calm her down by pointing out that the line would move soon and she will be getting down. But she just became more irrational – “I would DIE if I don’t get down now.” He could see a scream building up in her. That would have freaked people out.
He told her that if she really believed she had to get off right now, she can’t panic. She would have to calmly tap on people’s shoulders, tell them it’s a medical emergency and try to get down. And she did.
So what does this tell you about irrational behavior?
When someone is being irrational, it so happens that they are most likely not thinking straight. They wouldn’t normally behave in such foolish manner in such a situation but right now, something is triggering this extreme response. The overreaction sets in an extreme need to get a need fulfilled right away. In the husband’s case, he probably took his wife’s insult as a hit on his self-respect. And his desire to prove that he was extremely important became his primal need.
Angry outbursts, unreasonable demands, hurtful words or behaviour – are all their inability to control their response to a situation. And they start believing that if they can’t flee from the situation, they need to FIGHT and WIN.
How do you fight a person who wants to win at any cost and against all logic! Here’s decoding the ways of dealing with irrational people, especially irrational spouses, family members, impossible bosses and difficult boyfriends / girlfriends –
You have a CHOICE
As a Motivational Speaker I have always told and written about the importance of picking your battles carefully. Not every war is yours to fight. Sometimes you can just walk away. It’s the same with your irrational family members / colleagues. You have a choice. Can you deal with later? Or, can you not deal with it at all?
The guy on the plane chose to address this because he felt it was doable for him, and the lady looked like she would snap if help didn’t come to her soon. Depends on the magnitude of the problem. My friend could not have let her husband jump. She had to step in!
So you decide. Do you think it is really irrational behaviour and could harm the person if unchecked, or is the person just being a drama queen? Do you think there is nothing else you can do for the person? Their irrationality is not your responsibility and you need not feel guilty if you ultimately decide to give up on them.
Don’t take it PERSONALLY
Irrational people will say a lot of hurtful stuff; especially when they are in one of their rages. They are hurting and they want to lessen their pain by hurling it on anyone in the vicinity. They think it will help them deal with it.
They start believing that the only way they can survive the situation is – by fighting you. Not everyone has the ability to rationalize their behaviour and calm themselves down without intervention.
So, the first step to dealing with irrational people is separating yourself emotionally. How anyone else behaves is about them. It is NEVER about you. Please – always remember that. If someone else is going off like a volcano, you don’t let that trigger your irrationalities. No one can fight FIRE with FIRE.
You need to douse the fire of their anger with the waters of your calm voice and logic. Irrationality takes people away from their balance, their equilibrium. If you want to bring them back, you should keep calm with all your will and might. Easier said than done, but very important nonetheless. (Here’s my blogpost on dealing with anger issues, in case you need some help for yourself too).
Think – normally, in a similar situation, would they be reacting like this? The answer will help you take the next step.
Pace with them
In his best-selling book, Stephen R Covey says the 5th habit of highly effective people is –
“They seek first to understand. Then to be understood.”
If you want to bring back an irrational person into the realms of logic, you need to first understand what is making them go off the track in the first place. You need to understand what’s triggering them, the real issue that is causing them all the trouble. Here’s what you can do –
- Let them vent.
- Listen to them with attention
- Ask questions to show them that you are listening and you care. And that you are understanding the situation.
- Summarize the issue they think they are facing
For e.g. here’s a conversation that could have probably helped my friend (after she stopped her husband from overreacting)
“I am sorry for what I said. Why did it hurt you so much?” (Now let him vent and you listen)
“I understand what you are saying. Is there anything else I said that you did not like?” (Asking questions to show you understood the problem)
This is also called pacing. Giving them a sense of company, that they are not alone. Bringing them to a state where they are slowly calming down and coming back to human state from their dragon state. And that’s your window of opportunity.
(Communication is an important art. Here’s how you can improve your personal communication talents)
Once you have paced, now you lead. There is this famous saying-
‘No one in the history of calming down ever calmed down by simply being asked to calm down!’
In fact, it might trigger stronger emotions. Irrational people are being illogical and highly emotional about their need. Not a very good combo. But once you have paced them into the same page as you by building a rapport with them – you can start reasoning with them. They will be more receptive and less paranoid.
You need to communicate with them that the meaning they are attaching to the situation is a little too overboard. I think choice of words, when you are leading an irrational person to rationality and logic, is very important. Research says that –
- Using positive words e.g. “I will remember next time” (instead of I won’t forget) / “I will be on time” (instead of I won’t be late) etc. helps.
- Taking the name of the person instead of going “Tu” / “Tum” / “Abeyyaar” ensures that the person doesn’t go too far. It helps them relax.
But remember not to be meek. You have to be polite but face the aggression head on, instead of letting the person bully you. If an irrational colleague is beyond control, tell them that you will come back when they are ready to talk calmly; that right now they are in no state for an honest conversation. If you lose your strong stance, you will end up getting personal and emotional. With family members you can still manage the situation a little. But when it comes to impossible colleagues and dealing with irrational people at the workplace, you really need to keep your head in place.
See how the guy helped the woman on the plane. He understood her situation, asked her questions to pacify her a little. Then he showed her ways to get out of that situation and ensured her it will help. And it worked.
(Another post I think might help you – How to become a Rockstar in Dealing with People in your Life)
As I said in the beginning – fighting irrationality and drama with logic is an art. And it comes with practice. You have all my sympathies if you have a bunch of irrational relatives, family members, colleagues of friends. But remember – you would have also been irrational many a times. And someone must have handled you beautifully, by not reacting, by lovingly bringing back to sanity, by being patient with you.
You extend the same to others, when there is need!
Because, as Aldous Huxley puts it –
“You see, I’d behaved pretty badly. Losing my head about someone I didn’t really love and hurting someone I did. Why is one so stupid?”
“The heart has its reasons,” said Will, “and the endocrines have theirs.”
Next time, do remember that the heart may be alright. It might just be the endocrines wreaking a havoc 😉