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April 17, 2014  |   Comments (1)   |   Post a comment

How to manage conflict and deal with angry people

Employees can express anger and frustration when they feel that their basic needs, such as feeling appreciated and valued, are not being met. Managers and others in leadership roles must listen to gain an understanding of the problem, learn the points of view of those involved and work together with the employees toward a solution.

by Michael Shields


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iStock image © TrentVino

iStock image © TrentVino

The business of transporting students safely to school will have days that include conflict with other human beings. How we deal with others, especially during a conflict, is probably the most important factor in our job. The better we do it, the easier our job is and the better we will feel about ourselves.

Every human being has basic needs that must be met. The primary needs are food, clothing and shelter. Other needs are to be loved, valued and appreciated, and to feel in control of ourselves and our destinies.

When we are dealing with conflict, we need to figure out why the person is frustrated or angry. Many of the frustrations we encounter on a regular basis, whether from parents, staff or employees, are because some of these needs have not been met. People will also get frustrated when they feel they are losing one of these needs.

Listen to understand the problem
Dr. Stephen Covey encourages us to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  This is habit No. 5 in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If we are to understand, we must first listen. Sometimes we listen with the intention of responding rather than listening to understand the other person’s position. If you are like me, you are too often ready with the prescription before you have properly understood the problem. So, we must first attempt to diagnose the problem. Listening and asking appropriate questions to gather information are the first steps.  

Covey tells us that there are five levels of listening: ignoring, pretend listening, selective listening, attentive listening and empathic listening. The fifth level of listening, empathic, is when you listen with both your heart and your mind. The words we use account for only 7% of our communication, while how we say it accounts for 38%, and the remaining 55% is our body language. Research shows that our listening efficiency is only 25%.

Madelyn Burley-Allen, in her book Succeed by Listening, indicates there are three levels of listening: listening in spurts, hearing words but not making an effort to understand, and listening with understanding and feelings. We can build on our listening skills, but it will not be effective unless we develop a caring attitude.

With many people who are frustrated or angry, you may never find out what their underlying problem is. For some of them, it may require professional assistance. Your job in resolving the conflict is to attempt to understand what their motivation is for the subject matter before you, not whether they need professional help. You must assess the situation: Can this conflict be resolved with a conversation, preferably face to face? Does this person always approach you in a difficult manner? Is he or she swearing or using derogatory terms?

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Read more about: behavior management

Great article Michael. I've shared this with my department colleagues and will encourage them to use it as guide when they face difficult people situations!

Alfred Karam    |    Apr 24, 2014 03:45 AM

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