Help me keep my cool.
March 5, 2009 8:33 PM   Subscribe

I yelled at someone tonight who deserved to be yelled at but I now really wish I could have kept my cool. How does one keep their cool while getting the point across to someone that they're incompetent?

Here's the background: I've been doing preproduction for a job while juggling other jobs for the last week and a half. To say I've been stressed out is an understatement. I've dealt with so many people over the last few days that have been professional and in some cases not extremely easy to deal with but we've all worked together to get the job done. But one guy, just one guy, has been a total tool. He's a vendor that I was renting gear from and when I called him this week to talk he gave me the big blow off - he acted like a total jerk. This is not out of character for him. I decided I didn't need to deal with him since there was another rental house I could deal with.

Tonight he called and was pissed that I didn't call him back to secure the rental. I simply stated I didn't need his gear. He then decided to dress me down and I finally blew a gasket and told him he wasn't the only game in town and that he was a jerk. I was screaming at the guy. Kind of embarrassing now that I think about it.

So, my question is this - how does one suffer fools professionally without losing it? I'm a nice guy but I have a temper - not a short fuse but I will blow up when pushed. Doesn't happen often but when it does I always think later I should have handled the situation differently.

Any advice?
posted by photoslob to Human Relations (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Don't argue. A simple, calm, but firm, "we're done here", followed by a hangup or a walking away works well.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:36 PM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Blowing up is great fun, but yeah, I tend to feel bad about it afterwards too. A simple "Go fuck yourself" tends to suffice: you make your point and also drain a bit of rage. You can dress "go fuck yourself" up with an additional "I'm tired of your shit" or even preface it with a "You know what?", which will draw the subject of your ire into a short-lived conspiracy.

"Suffering fools" is bad business.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:44 PM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I simply stated I didn't need his gear.

Yeah, that's the end right there. Nothing good can come of the conversation continuing after that point.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:45 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't need your gear, or your attitude. You just lost my business and my respect. *hangup*
posted by gryftir at 8:47 PM on March 5, 2009 [5 favorites]

When someone comes at you with an attitude, they're looking for a fight so they can convince themselves you deserved the attitude in the first place. If you don't give it to them, and are actually really great to them, they feel like a tool. I've had some complete assholes apologize to me, but more often than not, they just get a deflated air about them and stop talking much.

Usually when someone gets an attitude with me, especially over the phone, I find it sort of funny so I laugh and say, "Well, it's been nice talking to you, hope your day gets better." I don't say it sarcastically either. No one ever knows how to respond to this, and it almost always diffuses the situation. I think it helps that at least part of me means it, since most people aren't chronically nasty for no underlying reason.

Everyone has their breaking point, though, so you can't always prevent yourself blowing up. It's great that you want to improve, though. Being nice to people who are assholes makes me feel great about myself though, and the more I do it, the better I feel and the easier it gets. I'll grant there are occasions, though, where people won't understand anything else but a dressing down. That's almost always better delivered in an emotionally-detached way, though, if you can help it.
posted by Nattie at 9:06 PM on March 5, 2009 [13 favorites]

turgid dahlia, a simple "Go fuck yourself", "I'm tired of your shit", and even prefacing it with a "You know what?" is pretty bad business.

Professionals don't do that. They don't need to. Vulgarities, ad hominem attacks, and other ego-driven comebacks are playground stuff, appealing to our baser selves, but they really don't further our real needs in life (in this case, discontinuing a fruitless business relationship, and moving on).
posted by IAmBroom at 9:09 PM on March 5, 2009

Yeah, I take your point, but why would you want to "further our real needs...[to] discontinue a fruitless business relationship"? You're either coming or going.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:16 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: David nails my concern: I want to stay in control and not lose my temper because I need to take the high road. Not that I want be Mr. Nice Guy and get walked on either but I'd like to be able to stay calm while letting the jerk know how I feel.
posted by photoslob at 9:34 PM on March 5, 2009

I had a similar conversation yesterday. I have a stable of clients I provide services for. One of them phoned me up yesterday and was upset, and was verbally abusive. When I felt my own temper start to rise, and when I knew I was seconds away from shouting into the phone, I said:

"I'm sorry, but I don't think there is much point in continuing this conversation right now, and so I'm going to let you go. Let's talk later when we both calm down."

And then I hung up the phone.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:46 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, there is absolutely no benefit calling a vendor names, no matter how shitty they are. It's just the wrong thing to do. Just say you don't require their services any more. Not getting paid work should be enough of a hint for them to investigate their ways.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:49 PM on March 5, 2009

How does one keep their cool while getting the point across to someone that they're incompetent?

In general, maybe keep a grip on your goals?

You had no real need to talk to this person after you'd decided to use another supplier. So what benefit does either party gain if you "win" by convincing another person that they're incompetent? How does that help anyone?
posted by rokusan at 11:35 PM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Confrontational assholes usually are looking for a verbal fight to cover up their inadequacies (as Nattie mentioned). I find it helps channel rage to think that the worst thing you can do to a self defeating idiot is not to clue them in. Saying "Sorry but we found another vendor!" and hanging up lets them continue their self-defeating ways. I'd much rather help someone address their shortcomings in a constructive way, but when they start turning toxic and personal it's time to let them stew in their own juices.
posted by benzenedream at 12:07 AM on March 6, 2009

Foolishness is relative. For every *smart and knowing enlightened* person there are about 10,000 others who are smarter, more knowing and more enlightened. It's merely a matter of degrees. Then you get into the spheres of the highly intelligent, most knowing and most enlightened and the original person who thought themselves *all that* is virtually kicked to the curb and maybe even getting a huge reality check that involves a bruised ego that takes time to heal.

I think what's important is to recognize that essentially we're all just trying to make some kind of life with what we've got and with some basic rules to live by - and that is

Love your neighbor
Do no harm
Be humble
Be charitable
Recognize that there is always something greater than you that runs The Show.

That said - the life lesson you've been given is to show this person love (N SPITE of how many bloody buttons they're pushing (simultaneously - in full force - with cackling glee) and to rise above it all. Yes. Rise above it. Be the bigger person, show gratitude for this person being in your life so that you can exercise the muscle of *self restraint* and turn a negative into a positive. You are now becoming an alchemist - lead into gold, anger into happiness, negative vibes into happy light filled ones. And it's not hippy woo hoo new age BS either. There are scientific studies done into how positivity effects not only the sender, but the receiver as well and before you know it - this person who *deserved an ass kicking* because of their obnoxiousness - transforms into a kinder, more gentler, more receptive human being. They can only do that with your help though. If you continue to send them negative thoughts - that is what they will mirror back. And then you simply up your negativity and they respond similarly AD INFINTUM! There is no breaking the cycle - until YOU break it. It's your decision though.

Open your heart to possibility. There are enough wars in this world right now. Want peace? Be that peace. It starts with you.

Be well.
posted by watercarrier at 1:40 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Maybe this isn't "business smart", but I think that whole hippie approach of using "me" language, and talking about your feelings, can make the issue clear without you losing it and without you coming across as a meanie.

he: I am still waiting here, when do you need my shit?
you: I am using another vendor, I will not be needing your things now.
he: (angry) ehh? I have this stuff reserved, what the hell are you doing?
you: The last time we talked I felt bad because I was worried that I would not be able to get the things I needed on time, and so I decided to rent from ABC.
he: You jerk, what am I supposed to do with my shit now?
you: It makes me feel sad when people call me a jerk. I feel best when people don't call me names when I am at work.
(etc. etc.)
posted by Meatbomb at 1:48 AM on March 6, 2009

These kinds of people are self-righteous jerks, and they will never stop to reconsider themselves or reflect on their behavior. They think you need them more than they need you. This is the exact opposite of what the vendor/client relationship should be.

You found it somewhere else, period. One you found it somewhere else, then you didn't need him anymore, and it really didn't matter that he was yelling and screaming at you, who cares. You solved the problem, it's all over, he didn't get your business, you don't have to deal with him anymore, and that's that. When you have that idea in your head, who really cares how you "break up" with him. Just break up with him and move on.

Personally, I'd respond extremely nicely, very apologetic, very cordial, (fake of course), get off the phone when I want to, and then never talk to the guy ever again. Instant deflation of the whole matter. This way, I am controlling the entire conversation, he'll never know that he made me mad, and he didn't get to fight with me (which, as others have said, is probably what he wanted in the first place). Maybe that's a little passive-aggressive for some people, but it gets the job done for me.

And who knows -- you may be forced to call his company again someday -- better he remebers you as nice, if he remembers you at all.
posted by aglet123 at 2:07 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

You ever try to resolve a dispute with a company who has an endless array of sub-minimum wage employees arrayed to waste your time? It's only worth it from a cost benefit standpoint if the money at stake is more than your time is worth, or if you must continue doing business with that company. Similarly, engaging in conflict with confrontational assholes is always going to hurt you worse than them. Just get off the phone, and content yourself with the fact that at the end of the day, the guy has to live with being an asshole. I guarantee you that there's at least one aspect of his life where he's getting a karmic payback.

As for screaming at him, it's all ok if no one heard you on your end, and you don't make a habit of it.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:40 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I usually say to people like this, "There is something going on with my phone. It is going to sound like I just hung up. Ignore that sound and keep talking." Then I hang up.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:50 AM on March 6, 2009 [11 favorites]

Two things: don't feel too bad, he sounds like he deserved it. Second, it sounds like you used his jerkiness as an excuse to blow off some steam. Figure out a way to not get so stressed out.
posted by gjc at 4:13 AM on March 6, 2009

I don't have a flippant phrase you can use. But, if you want to be the type of person who takes the high road, this is what I recommend: Empathy.

For example, you are on the phone telling him you won't need to rent his equipment after all. He rants. You think about why he's ranting. Maybe he held that equipment for you, and now he's in trouble with his boss. Maybe nobody ever showed him how to not rant at people. Maybe he needed the business to keep a roof over his head, and he's worried.

Hey, many things are possible! But, the subtext of his ranting is not "photoslob is a jerk." His yelling is not telling you something about you. He's telling you something about him.

So, let's say he rants and you think it's because he held the equipment for you and now he's in trouble with his boss. If he'd just said that, instead of ranting, you wouldn't feel like yelling at him, would you? Of course not.
posted by Houstonian at 5:17 AM on March 6, 2009

and the more I do it, the better I feel and the easier it gets

I think Nattie's advice is spot-on, but as she notes it does get easier with practice - but many of us don't have the opportunity to practice it all that often. So you might read through this thread and come up some good ideas and strategies but if the next jerk vendor doesn't come along for six months, you might not be able to draw on the advice before your temper kicks in.

I am fortunate that in my work I deal with great people. But when I started riding my bicycle to work I found out there is a special class of jerks who don't care for bicycle riders very much. The first few times I was hassled I was surprised at my sudden and not-at-all-calm response. So much so that I worked hard to change and come up with different strategies. I was happy with the results and much cooler and calmer.

But in this area most people don't hassle bikes so some months later when one driver was extremely rude (yelling, honking, swerving, close passing etc.) I reacted...not so calmly.

So I find it is something I have to be conscious of, and I think about and practice responses in my mind every once in a while. This has worked well.
posted by mikepop at 6:03 AM on March 6, 2009

Response by poster: So many great answers. After sleeping on it my conclusion is I gave him way too much of me in the conversation. I said what I needed to say and I should have just hung up without raising my voice. When he started in I should have just repeated that I found another vendor and thanked him for his time.

Using the "me" language is going to be very hard for me to do because I'm just not that kind of person but I understand and want to embrace the spirit behind it. I guess what I'm looking for is that ability to react quickly in the situation and control it without losing my cool.

Houstonian and BrotherCaine nail it - he's a jerk and given what I know about the person he's someone to feel sorry for. Karma is currently biting him in the ass pretty hard and it's because of how he treats others.

Anyway, thank you for responding. You all rock.
posted by photoslob at 7:42 AM on March 6, 2009

As an aside, find your Angry Place (kinda the opposite of the proverbial "Happy Place"). My angry place is the gym and I only "let" myself unleash there. So when someone really gets to me, my mind immediately channels the gym where I picture myself beating the hell out of something, with no mercy whatsoever (I have access to a sledgehammer and a fake wall, works wonders). So what the outside world sees/hears from me in anger-inducing situations is...silence, because I'm so enraged that I'm picturing the gym and my mouth is clamped shut. I do manage to eek out something along the lines of, "I'm not discussing this any longer" and then I get my enraged ass to the gym ASAP. By God, anger has to go some where. Don't bottle up that shit. Just make sure it goes to a socially acceptable recipient.
posted by December at 7:59 AM on March 6, 2009

When I get someone on the phone who's angry behaving badly, I tell them, "I'm not going to continue this conversation if you don't stop yelling." They almost always keep yelling, and then I say, "I'm hanging up now." Then I hang up with the sound of yelling in my ear. It helps me avoid engagement and escalation to focus on keeping my tone of voice as calm as possible, like I am utterly at peace and nothing can bother me.

I have a co-worker who gives people "time-outs" if they're yelling at him in person. He says, "I'm going to walk away to give you some time to pull yourself together. I'll be back in 5 minutes." It tends to make people even angrier at first, but then they usually have no choice but to settle down and behave.
posted by Mavri at 8:50 AM on March 6, 2009

Here are things I do that help:
- I don't listen to people who are abusive on the phone. If I'm at work, I will hold it away from my ear, hearing just enough to note the person's issues (assuming I have to respond to them).
- Say to myself "I'm too busy to deal with this" or "I have more important things to worry about." In fact, when I start getting drawn into petty fights, that's a sign to me I need to find bigger things to worry about.
- Say to myself "this is just business." The way you said you "gave him too much?" I think that's what I'm saying here: this is just business. Who cares if he's an asshole? If he was your boyfriend, you'd have to explain why it bothered you. But as it is, simply repeating, "yeah, I'm sorry, but we're going with ABC rentals this time" would do the trick.
posted by salvia at 8:53 AM on March 6, 2009

By the way, I'm not saying you need to find bigger things to worry about. Under stress, I get very focused (and then under even more stress, scatter-brained and frozen), but not angry, and it's only if I have tons of spare time, I'll imagine drama where none exist. Sounds like stress turns to anger for you, so that second suggestion might not help you.
posted by salvia at 8:57 AM on March 6, 2009

Here's a completely different suggestion: Call up the vendor and apologize.

Seriously, call him up and apologize for losing your temper. "I wanted to apologize for losing my temper with you on the phone. You didn't deserve that from me, and I hope we can put this behind us for the next time we talk....Take care."

This is your way of telling yourself that your previous behavior was wrong, but also showing that you can recover from it. If losing your temper is this big awful *dangerous* thing, you'll keep it at the very edge of your mind and you won't make conscious choices. But if you treat it just as an undesirable thing that you would, given the choice, prefer not to do, you may find it much easier to consciously decide, in the moment, whether or not to let loose on someone.

So just keep your past behavior in mind, and it will help you behave more as you want to in the future. Sometimes it's painful to admit you were once capable of certain things, and may be again, but that pain is the price of character.
posted by RobinFiveWords at 12:22 PM on March 6, 2009

Houstonian and BrotherCaine nail it - he's a jerk and given what I know about the person he's someone to feel sorry for.

I'm glad you found a resolution that works for you, but that's not what I meant by empathy. I didn't mean, find ways to feel sorry for him. Instead I meant, look harder to see the human that he is -- a human with good and bad attributes, strengths and weaknesses, good days and bad -- a human just like you.
posted by Houstonian at 12:45 PM on March 6, 2009

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