Author Topic: "I don't want to calm down!"  (Read 11702 times)

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SamiHami

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"I don't want to calm down!"
« on: February 12, 2014, 03:35:05 PM »
I don't know that there is really a solution for this one. I spend part of my day at the front desk/lobby area of my office. It's very high traffic with current students, prospective students, various vendors and others coming through all day long. It's busy, but manageable and most people are very pleasant. However, once in a while we get a student who is upset about something; maybe a grade or a conflict with a teacher. When this occurs I usually try to listen to the students' concern and determine the appropriate person to speak with them for assistance. Most of the time it works out just fine. Other times we get someone who is really, really upset. This happened a couple of days ago.

"Mary" came to the lobby almost in tears because she had a conflict with an instuctor and felt she had been treated unjustly. As always, I tried to be soothing and told her I would find the appropriate person for her to talk to. She continued to stand over my desk and carry on about it, getting herself more tearful and worked up as she spoke. I gently suggested she have a seat and try to calm down a little while we waited for her advisor to come to the lobby to get her. "But I don't want to calm down! I'm angry and I want to be angry! This needs to be dealt with!" and so on.. you get the gist. She was filled with righteous indignation and wanted to keep that head of steam going until she got whatever would satisfy her sense of justice. *Note-I have no idea who was right/wrong here or if the instructor really did do anything wrong or unjust. But that is the student's perception of the situation and that is what matters in the moment.*

I can't ask her to leave and come back when the advisor is ready; the last thing we want is for a student to feel they are not being taken seriously and decide to withdraw and go elsewhere. Nor do we want someone tearful and angry carrying on in the lobby where potential students are getting their first impression of the school, either. It's a catch 22. If I could, I would put her in a separate office/room to wait, but space doesn't allow for that.

How would you suggest handling this?

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daen

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2014, 03:40:35 PM »
Maybe you could agree that yes, this needs to be dealt with. Then add, "but unfortunately, most people don't take things as seriously if the person is obviously angry as they do when the person is calm. You can be firm without being angry, and you'll get better results that way."

I don't know. I haven't had to deal with this kind of situation, so I have no idea if this would work.

TootsNYC

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2014, 03:44:29 PM »
"I'm going to have to ask you to take a seat; I'm going to do something concrete to help you, and I need to concentrate."

Or "I've given you as much of my time as I can, and I have other things I need to do now."

"Perhaps you can't calm down, but you can take a seat, yes? Thank you--then I can get started on figuring out who you should talk to, and you can wait over there."

Maybe you need to be less soothing and less of an audience for people who seem drama-queen prone. Feel free to get chillier and less welcoming as they get more hysterical.

TurtleDove

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2014, 03:44:40 PM »
In my experience it is never helpful to tell an upset person to calm down.  I find it works best to say, "I understand you are angry - let me get you to the proper person." Ignore that the person is agitated, and do not agitate them further by becoming the next person on their list because you invalidated their anger (in their mind) by telling them to calm down.

TurtleDove

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2014, 03:45:30 PM »
Maybe you need to be less soothing and less of an audience for people who seem drama-queen prone. Feel free to get chillier and less welcoming as they get more hysterical.
This is not likely to diffuse the situation.

shhh its me

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2014, 03:48:22 PM »
  I would avoid saying the "c word"* , its often not soothing.  Unfortunately I don't have much beyond that.

*Calm down

lowspark

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2014, 03:49:47 PM »
I like the "I understand you are angry" approach. Sometimes it's helpful just to know someone was listening and heard what you said. I'd also bring them a glass of water if possible. Drinking water seems to calm people down naturally.

GreenBird

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2014, 04:06:55 PM »
This is a tough one - someone who is determined to be upset will take anything you say as more reason to be upset.  I think the best you can do might be to try not to engage the crazy part, don't discuss the problem with the student, don't even try to be particularly soothing.  Just say, "I'll get your advisor for you; he'll be out as soon as possible.  Please take a seat."  You're professional, calm, relaxed, and working on getting her advisor for her right away so she's not being ignored, but you're not really open to discussion.  And you're not asking her to take a seat because you want her to calm down, you're asking because sitting down is what people are supposed to do while they're waiting.  If she continues talking to you, just repeat "Your advisor will be out as soon as possible.  Please take a seat" in the same relaxed, professional voice. 

MrTango

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2014, 04:07:03 PM »
I'd say, very calmly, "You can either calm down and stop disrupting this office, or you can leave until you are able to deal with the situation calmly.  Those are your only options at this point, and if you cannot choose one for yourself, I will have campus security assist you with making your decision."

wolfie

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2014, 04:09:45 PM »
I'd say, very calmly, "You can either calm down and stop disrupting this office, or you can leave until you are able to deal with the situation calmly.  Those are your only options at this point, and if you cannot choose one for yourself, I will have campus security assist you with making your decision."

I would only do that if your supervisor has your back because if the student complains it could go very badly if the OP . Honestly if I was upset that response would make it so much worse.

TurtleDove

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2014, 04:12:33 PM »
I'd say, very calmly, "You can either calm down and stop disrupting this office, or you can leave until you are able to deal with the situation calmly.  Those are your only options at this point, and if you cannot choose one for yourself, I will have campus security assist you with making your decision."

I would only do that if your supervisor has your back because if the student complains it could go very badly if the OP . Honestly if I was upset that response would make it so much worse.

I agree with wolfie 100%.  If the goal is to diffuse the situation, do not demand that a person calm down and do not patronize or belittle them.  Acknowledge their anger and present a solution.  This likely to result in a calming, and certainly will get better results than essentially forcing a confrontation.

LemonZen

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #11 on: February 12, 2014, 04:17:47 PM »
I too think it would be helpful to avoid the "calm down" approach and try the "I understand" approach.

Another thing that may be helpful (although if they are really wound up I'm not sure it will work) is to listen, and then paraphrase what they are saying back to them. So Mary says "Instructor X is terrible and he doesn't like me and he gave me a failing grade just because my hair is green and I need this class or I'll never amount to anything in life blah blah blah..." then you say something like,

"I understand this must be very upsetting. What I am hearing from you is that Instructor X has been unfair in his grading, and that you think he dislikes you based on your appearance. It sounds like this is a very important class to you and we will get it sorted out as soon as we can. I think we need to talk to so and so to resolve this issue. I will get them on the phone (or whatever you need to do) right away so this can be resolved. Can I get you a glass of water/box of kleenex while you wait?" and then guide/direct them to a chair. Make it clear that you understand the issue (and understand their anger/frustration), are working on it, and from then on out I would not continue to engage the student except for short phrases. (Advisor will see you in 10 minutes, etc.)

Lynn2000

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #12 on: February 12, 2014, 04:29:02 PM »
Yes, for some reason, "calm down" spoken in even a soothing tone seems to set people off more, sometimes. Maybe something like, "I can see that you are very upset about this, and I'm going to do what I can to help you. Why don't you have a seat right over there and I'll get right to work on this?" Of course tone is very important--I'm thinking calm, helpful, "I'm on your side." Obviously the same words could be said as chilly or patronizing, and that wouldn't help things.

If you've got water right there, I like the idea of offering her a drink. If you can do a sort of "just between us girls" tone well, you might say something like, "I think the dean will be free in about 15 minutes. [if true] Do you want to go to the ladies' room and freshen up first?" I think the goal is to sort of "break the cycle" of her being upset--if you can distract her for a few minutes, like by sitting quietly or washing her face or having a drink, that might stop the escalation. Perhaps you could give her some paper and a pen, and suggest she start writing out her complaint while she waits? Even some random form that looks official--reading the instructions, checking boxes, etc. might make her quiet down and focus. You want her to feel like she's been heard, and that you're on her side, and you're actively doing something to help--again, not necessarily for her sake, but to help her calm down and stop making a scene.

I like LemonZen's paraphrase-back approach too.
~Lynn2000

TootsNYC

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #13 on: February 12, 2014, 04:31:02 PM »
Maybe you need to be less soothing and less of an audience for people who seem drama-queen prone. Feel free to get chillier and less welcoming as they get more hysterical.
This is not likely to diffuse the situation.

Perhaps not, but I do think that being soothing can encourage the drama-prone.

I think the OP is perhaps overextending her role--and I think it would REALLY overextend her role to offer people tissues, glass of water, etc. Just say, "I'm sorry you're upset; please have a seat and give me a moment to think what I can do to help you. No, please sit down over there, I need to concentrate."
  Or maybe even, "Is there a friend you can call, since you're upset and need someone to talk to? Perhaps that might help you."

I do agree that saying "calm down" isn't going to help. I once was having a dispute w/ a car-rental person when our reserved car seat wasn't available at the airport at midnight, and she just stood there, looking at us, as I held my sleeping two-year-old. I wasn't going to break the law by leaving the airport without one, and every suggestion I'd had, she completely countered with something non helpful ("the manager's gone home" "No other rental agency has one either"). So I got a little testy; not as bad as many people might be, but I was definitely upset.
    She said, sort of snotty-scoldingly, "I'm not going to help you unless you calm down." I blew up--she should be helping me, period; it shouldn't be conditional. You're customer service, and your company screwed up, you fix it no matter how rude the customer is. And it wasn't "helping" me to get me the thing I reserved; you're not "helping" *me* by fixing your company's screw-up. And she hadn't seen "non calmed down" yet!!
    Fortunately, I was smart enough to say one sentence and turn away (I gasped so loud after she said that, and said, "you won't help me -unless- I calm down?!"), and leave everything to my DH.

So yeah, if you want to say "calm down," you need to camouflage it quite a bit.

I like the, "I think it might be in your best interests if you can collect your emotions, and direct them into firmness and clarity" concept.

TurtleDove

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Re: "I don't want to calm down!"
« Reply #14 on: February 12, 2014, 04:34:48 PM »
Maybe you need to be less soothing and less of an audience for people who seem drama-queen prone. Feel free to get chillier and less welcoming as they get more hysterical.
This is not likely to diffuse the situation.

Perhaps not, but I do think that being soothing can encourage the drama-prone.

I am not saying to be soothing either - that, to me, comes across as patronizing.  I am saying acknowledge the person has a complaint and that you are addressing it.  No need to soothe or coach - that would infuriate me, personally. 

I liked your story about the rental car.  That is exactly what I mean when I say it is very likely to backfire if you confront someone who is agitated or insiste they calm down because it comes across as very belittling and patronizing.  It would infuriate me even more.