Posted: August 4, 2007
Reader Suggestions and Comments

Responses to
“Laundry List of 50 Outrage Reducers”

Although the “Laundry List” column was published in February 2002, it wasn’t until July 2007 that a reader sent me an email telling me the link to contribute a comment wasn’t working. I have no idea how long it wasn’t working or how many comments I missed. Time will tell how many start to arrive now.

Say something that shows you're listening, make eye contact, and then go silent

name:Jonathan Waldron
date:August 4, 2007
location:Georgia, U.S.


When people are outraged, reason or explanations often are not sufficient in the opening round. The situation needs to be stabilized before any meaningful conversation can take place.

A Baptist minister friend and patient (I am not Baptist), when asked by us how he deals with outraged persons, remarked that he first acknowledges their outrage by saying, “You know, you might be right….” or “There is much in what you say….” Then he shuts up, seeks eye contact, and waits.

This gives him time to determine body language (which is very important), and time to formulate the response using some of the “50.”

By the way, we used many of your “50” in our staff meeting. We suggested that all concerned apply these principles to their private lives as well. Thank you for sharing this valuable information in such a succinct way.

The section on “Listening” covers some of what you’re talking about. But I like the way your patient has combined several elements into what amounts to a protocol:

  • Say something that shows you’re listening – maybe an expression of partial or tentative agreement (as your patient suggests), maybe just an echo (“I can hear how angry you are about....” – or, less intrusively, “a lot of people are angry about....”).
  • Make and hold eye contact, showing that you are taking the matter seriously and are ready to engage on it.
  • Wait. Stay silent. This not only gives you a chance to assess body language and formulate a response; it also gives the other person a chance to think of additional things to say ... or, perhaps, to calm down.

I like your patient’s emphasis on silence – attentive silence. I think the column as written may leave the impression that somebody should be talking at all times, that if you’re not listening while your outraged stakeholder talks, then you should be responding while your outraged stakeholder listens. Pausing, too, can be an outrage reducer.

You might also want to look at my July 2007 column on “Empathy in Risk Communication,” especially the section on “Listening and Echoing.”

Copyright © 2007 by Peter M. Sandman

      Comment or Ask      Read the comments
Contact information page:    Peter M. Sandman

Website design and management provided by SnowTao Editing Services.