5 Proven Ways to Keep Your Cool During Heated Confrontations

“I need to get this done; I don’t have much time, and you’re not helping me!”

I was cleaning up my area to clock out on time when I had to stop to talk Darrell (not his real name) through the process of putting in a request for a few days off on the Amazon app – a simple process that should’ve only taken about 5 minutes.

But he was already agitated when Human Resources sent him to me in the Learning Department, and each time something went wrong – he forgot the code to verify his identity twice, the app took forever to load until I discovered he wasn’t logged into Amazon’s network – he got MORE agitated.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash


I jumped for the second time when his desperation kicked up a notch and he slammed his phone onto the cart, cussed louder, turned red-faced, whimpered, and shook his fists in frustration – enough ammunition for most managers to issue an ultimatum: calm down or leave. 

“Darrell, look at me!”

I got his attention, talked to him in soothing tones, and reached out my hand for his phone.


Keep cool when other people get hot!

Napoleon Hill

A good leader solves problems, and that means establishing the self-discipline to maintain emotional control with someone who is already agitated. Getting agitated with them will only escalate an already unstable situation to a whole new problem.

Yet, you argue, “I’m human! They don’t pay me enough to get screamed at, and I don’t remember seeing that anywhere in my job description.”

Trust me, I see your point.

However, leadership requires stability – and since controlling another person is impossible, the stability has to come from the leader …

… and here are a few ways to learn the skill of staying calm in heated situations.

  • Don’t take it personally: When someone is screaming at you, no matter what their subject matter is, it’s not about you. Sometimes remembering this is difficult, but even if you are part of their reason for being angry, how they are handling that anger is not about you. You must separate what they are saying from how you are receiving it. Not everyone knows how to handle their emotions when they are angry, but as a leader, taking your feelings out of the equation is imperative. This moment is not about you, it’s about them and you won’t be able to hear, empathize and help if you’re caught up in yourself.
  • Focus on THEM: I mentioned empathy earlier because it’s a skill that everyone in a leadership position should already have or be willing to actively work on. Empathy allows you to direct your focus on the other person – and take your focus from what they are saying, and how that makes you feel. Consequently, learning to empathize keeps you calm because you’ve established that you’re there for them.
  • Examine YOUR triggers: … and prepare for them. Interrupting me when I’m trying to explain is a trigger for me. When I wasn’t in a leadership position, I’d talk louder – not cool because then it turned into a shouting match. Now I’ve learned to back off. Examine what might set you off: is it being cussed at, shouted at, rolling eyes, mumbling, someone determined to get the last word? Figure out what may distract you and set an emotional game plan. The more you’re prepared, the more effective a leader you’ll be.
  • BREATHE! Steady breaths help maintain focus – and not just while practicing yoga. As a leader, you are responsible for effectively managing many different personalities – and you can’t just handle the easy ones and hope that the more challenging ones will never come to you with an issue. Keep breathing inhale in; exhale out – and let them rant, get it all out of their system. They’ll eventually run out of steam and meanwhile, breathing will have helped keep your heart rate calm.
  • Play as hard as you work: Leaders need down time too. Running and weight training work for me. Neither clears my mind, but rather separates every thought into manageable chunks that I can analyze. It’s during those times I revisit confrontations and learn to see what was really happening. OR, I push negativity completely out of my mind during my workouts, and let my music take me away. At the end of my workout, I’m sweaty and calmer – and more able to think of the best ways to handle excitable personalities…

… like Darrell.

He let me take his phone when I reached out my hand for it.

Science might describe his calming down – even though his situation was not yet resolved – by using the psychological term “co-regulation.”

I first heard that term while reading this article, Why Calmness Can be Contagious. Co-regulation, basically means that since human beings naturally want to connect with one another, an agitated individual is more likely to calm down if the person he’s relating to at that moment remains calm.

While I didn’t like Darrell’s loud cursing, and visibly escalating anger, I heard his frustration through his angry rants. He needed to get this done in a timely manner so he could leave and get to his other job on time.

So I connected the wifi, restarted the process and returned his phone so he could pick the days he needed. He finished and was able to leave on time – but not before giving me a sincere apology.

He’d been so wound up, I hadn’t expected that he’d calmed down that much to see the need for an apology, but I thanked him – and clocked out 15 minutes later myself feeling good about staying calm.

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