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Introverts and Confrontation
Hold your ground
People yell at other people because they think it is how they can get those other people to do what they want.
The thing is, being yelled at feels disrespectful and demotivating for most people. It is NOT appropriate in a 21st-century workplace to yell at people.
As leaders, we can make the choice to use our “inside voices,” because we are grown-ups and everything. But what do we do when our supervisor, or the company owner, or a client starts raising their voice at us, or at our people?
Basically, when someone starts yelling, they are using a “primate dominance display.” They want the other person to cower and give in. If you are an introvert, you may feel yourself “freeze up” or “wilt” when someone starts yelling.
But if you are the leader, you need to be able to speak up for what is right, and you need to protect your people. You don’t need to try to match their energy—you just need to hold your ground.
Physically put yourself into a non-submissive position. There is a balancing act here, since if you match their aggression with aggressive gestures (anger or contempt on your facial expression, fists clenched, arms crossed, etc.) it will escalate the situation. Consider the “Rock of Gibraltar” as a role model. Lean slightly forward on the table and use your arms as braces to steady yourself.
Keep face contact (eye contact will often escalate things). Ducking your gaze will appear submissive.
Pull in most of your emotional display—try to project a calm, “stone-faced” exterior.
Speak at a normal decibel level (or even slightly softer), but with confidence. Speak slowly and clearly. Keep your statements “sound bite” or “bullet-point” short, such as: “That won’t work.”
Do NOT draw attention to their behavior at this time. Telling someone to “calm down” or “stop yelling” often has the opposite effect.
Expect that the yeller is likely to repeat their yelled message again, possibly at an even higher volume. You can then repeat your sound-bite message. Usually, the person will give a sneering comment such as, “If you’re so smart, how do YOU think we should fix it?” You can also volunteer, “That won’t work, but we know something that will.” Again, this should be said slowly and calmly, but with confidence.
When they give you an opening, give them a one-sentence “bottom line” summary. You can expand on the details later, when they are calm enough to take them in. For most people who yell inappropriately in a professional setting, the combination of “the problem is being fixed” and your modeling of calm, quiet, mature, professional behavior will result in them giving a huge, long sigh and calming down.
This is not the natural way to interact for most introverts, but making these behavior choices is more likely to result in a successful resolution of the issues, as well as building their respect for you as someone who is “calm in a crisis,” even though your heart may have been pounding in your chest like a frightened rabbit the whole time. And your people will be impressed that you ran interference for the team and had their backs—this builds their loyalty and morale, which improves retention.