4 Ways to Diffuse Toxic Business Situations

Business owners are faced with a variety of daily difficulties.  They’re basically the business equivalent of a superhero. Sometimes, though, things can get out of hand.  And that can leave business owners in some uncomfortable situations. When that happens, all other tasks seem to fade away because suddenly, all that matters is simmering everything down and getting things to normal. Here are 4 ways to diffuse toxic business situations.

1. Listen.

One of the most important and easiest ways to diffuse a bad situation is to listen.  You can’t fully understand what’s going on unless you know the other person’s grievances are. Most times, your opponent just wants to be heard. Make sure you are using active listening skills.  And give affirmation that you are not just hearing them, but that you are actually listening.  An affirmation can be as simple as nodding or saying things like “yes,” “I see” and “I understand.”

2.  Repeat.

One of the best ways to affirm that you’ve heard what the other person has said is to repeat it back to them.  Begin with the words “Let me see if I understand you correctly…”  Then, repeat back to them with precision what they have said.  It’s okay to paraphrase as long as the gist of your words is clear.  In doing so, you will affirm that you’ve done more than just hear their words. Moreover, you will demonstrate that you have genuinely been listening. And better yet, you’ve retained what they’ve said and truly understand it.  Typically, people will simmer and fizzle out once they realize that they’re actually being heard and understood.

3. Keep calm.

It’s only natural that our innate “fight or flight” response takes over when someone raises their voice to us in anger.  Likewise, it is natural for us to want to respond with similar behavior. But it’s important that you respond to their hostility with a neutral tone and open body language.  Leave your chest exposed, rather than crossing your arms and forming a physical barrier between you and your opponent. If they don’t feel physically shut out, they may just take a breath and adopt a calmer tone.

4. Address issues.

Rather than confront them for coming at you verbally, address their concerns using “I” statements.  Negotiation expert Roger Dawson recommends the “feel, felt, found” technique in his book, Secrets of Power Negotiating.  In this way, you demonstrate an understanding of how the other person feels by reassuring the that you have also sometimes felt the same.  Then, end with a statement that steers them in the direction you want them to go. Begin with “And when I was in a similar situation, I found that…”  Also, sincerely apologize, when necessary. Never use a “you” statement, because you’ll sound confrontational.  As a result, their mood will take a nosedive towards infuriated. Example: ”I am so very sorry that this has happened to you; I will do everything in my power to fix this. How can I help?”

Diffusing toxic situations isn’t an exact science because human emotion and behavior is involved.  Everyone reacts differently to different situations.  But if you remember to speak calmly, listen, and apologize, then you should be able to diffuse just about any negative situation. However, should you find yourself feeling physically threatened, then take your safety into account and contact security or the police.