Strategies For Dealing With Irrational People

Unfortunately, sometimes we find ourselves in situations where the person we are having to deal with is just not being rational.  This can be a very difficult and frustrating conversation to have and so being able to employ some approaches that could lessen the stress and perhaps provide us with a better outcome might be a good idea.

Here are a few strategies you might want to try in order to manage a highly charged or emotional interaction more effectively.

  1. Acknowledge their feelings. By acknowledging the emotion that a person is displaying you will allow them to see themselves and how they are being perceived by others. Additionally, by validating their feelings you can help to defuse the situation. Usually, this increased self-awareness will help to lessen their emotional reaction. However, if their emotion intensifies rather than subsiding, you will have to decide if you can stay in their presence knowing that their irrational behaviour will not help them to engage you in the conversation. You might say, “I can see you’re upset.”
  2. Look for the meaning behind their emotion. When someone becomes emotional, you know that they are interpreting something that you said or did in a negative way. All you are experiencing at that moment is their emotional reaction to whatever miscommunication has occurred. The challenge is to get to the meaning behind that reaction. After acknowledging their feelings, you might want to ask them a question, such as, “What is causing you to feel this way?”  The purpose of this question is to try to identify the thinking behind the expressed emotion. Until that meaning is discovered, you may become caught up in the emotion of the exchange which will not provide you with the rationality necessary to resolve the issue. In other words, when high emotions are present, the conversation will likely go nowhere.
  3. Remain calm. Whatever the other person does or says, you must not take it personally, nor must you mirror their emotion with the same degree of intensity. If you do, the conversation will escalate until one or both of you loses control and ends up doing or saying something that you may both regret. If you believe that calm needs to be restored to the situation, excuse yourself and set a time to talk later. Certainly, do not blame them if they are the one who is highly emotional.
  4. Attempt to restore rationality. If you make a sincere attempt to openly and honestly state what is obvious it becomes a great way to recognize that there are some very different choices in behaviour available to exercise. For example, you could say, “We obviously don’t agree with each other, or I can see that you are not happy with what is going on. So, before we go too far down this road, I wonder if you would be willing to share what has led you to think or believe that has upset you so much. Then I will do the same. Can we do that?” Often when people become angry at one another, they have made huge assumptions about the other person or their actions. Slowing the conversation down in this way is effective because it forces both of you to draw consider a more logical approach for the basis of your actions and thinking.
  5. Ask for the facts. If the person continues their tirade and cannot seem to identify or offer any concrete information to support their thinking, then you can probably assume that they have no logical explanation for their assumptions other than what they thought. If they cannot offer a reasonable explanation for their assumptions, then you will want to offer some significant evidence to show what led you to what you said or did, and then ask them to comment or address what you have shared. Taking this honest approach may restore some degree of rationality because now they have to think, analyze, and comment on what you have told them.
  6. Listen for the truth. If you practice active listening while identifying the truth, no amount of blame, accusation, or criticism will derail you. You are trying to understand the basis for what the other person is thinking. Continuing to focus on this aspect of the conversation will allow you to avoid getting emotionally engaged. However, if you aren’t hearing any clear data, you will obviously want to ask for it as it will be crucial to the resolution of this disagreement or misunderstanding.
  7. Search for and identify common ground. As you listen carefully to the other person, try to figure out what is most important to them. Once you do that, try to combine what they want with what you want. In every argument, there are often common values, but the emotional reaction at the moment obscures our ability to identify what matters most to others and to ourselves. Identifying the common ground will lift the conversation out of the emotional state and put the focus on collaboratively creating a solution.
  8. Create a solution. Once you can identify what is important to them and to yourself, then you can work collaboratively to come up with a solution that will meet both your needs and theirs. However, this will only be accomplished if rationality is restored and each individual’s values have been stated clearly and honestly. Those key values will become the basis for the solution you will develop.

You will expect that the other person in the conversation has some degree of integrity, rationality, and interest in solving the issue rather than just addressing it emotionally. Unfortunately, there are those individuals who do not possess those interests or have never learned to resolve conflict in any other way.

You will expect that the other person in the conversation has some degree of integrity, rationality, and interest in solving the issue rather than just addressing it emotionally. Unfortunately, there are those individuals who do not possess those interests or have never learned to resolve conflict in any other way. What they have learned is that being highly emotional is a great way to control any conversation because most people will back down when confronted with highly intense feelings. Therefore, if you find yourself in this sort of situation, you may need to decide if you want to continue to work and interact with this individual. That decision would depend, of course, on the frequency you experience this type of behaviour as well as your comfort level in dealing with this difficult and rather frustrating behaviour.  Taking a  deliberate, calm and honest approach in resolving this type of situation can go a long way toward improving your relationship with this person as well as the kind of results that you create together.

No one enjoys this sort of encounter, however, if you can stay calm and exercise the various strategies suggested here, you will have a better chance of accomplishing a win/win outcome for both of you.


Sandy Chernoff
Sandy Chernoff
SANDY'S 30 years of didactic and clinical teaching in study clubs and continuing dental education, coupled with her almost 40 years of Dental Hygiene practice bring a wealth of experience to her interactive soft skills workshops. With her education background she easily customizes interactive sessions to suit the specific needs of her clients. Her energetic and humorous presentation style has entertained and informed audiences from Victoria to New York City. Sandy’s client list includes law firms, teaching institutions, volunteer and professional organizations and conferences, businesses, and individuals. Her newest project is turning her live workshops into e-learning programs using an LMS platform. Her teaching and education background have helped her to produce meaningful and somewhat interactive courses for the learners wanting the convenience of e-learning options. As the author of 5 Secrets to Effective Communication, Sandy has demonstrated her ability to demystify the complexities of communication so that the reader can learn better strategies and approaches which will greatly improve their communication skills and ultimately reduce conflict, resentment, disappointment, complaining, and confusion. As a result, the reader will be able to increase productivity, efficiency and creativity, improve all the relationships in their lives and ultimately enjoy a happier, healthier existence! Sandy blogs regularly on her two websites on the various soft skills topics that are featured in her workshops and e-learning programs.

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