How to Deal with Irrational People

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What does it mean when a person is irrational?

How do you deal with this kind of behavior?

Dr. Sherrie Campbell

Sherrie Campbell

Clinical Psychologist | Inspirational Speaker | Author

Give them as a little of a reaction as possible

The best way to deal with irrational people is to give them as a little of a reaction as possible. Irrational people want two things; they want attention and emotional reaction. They will bully, control, and provoke to get the attention and emotional reaction they desire.

Silence is your superpower with irrational people.

To succeed with them you must rob them of the emotional reaction and attention they are seeking. Further, silence cannot be misquoted. With an irrational person, everything you do and say can and will be used against you. Your best bet is to get these types of people out of your life.

Christine Scott-Hudson, MA LMFT ATR

Christine Scott-Hudson

Licensed Psychotherapist | Owner, Create Your Life Studio

Prepare yourself for it

A way to protect yourself from absorbing the bad moods and negativity of irrational others is to prepare yourself for it.

When you first get up in the morning and are taking your shower, do a visualization that you are washing away any negativity. Imagine the soap you are lathering up is an invisible shield from any of their stress or bad energy. You can imagine extra layers of protection going on your body with powder, lotion, sunscreen, hair gel, make-up, clothing, etc.

Think like a superhero! You have invisible protection. Suit up. You can imagine putting on an invisible cloak of protection after that! Zip it up or imagine a suit of armor! Decide that you are guided and protected. Imagine your ancestors going with you to work and having your back.

If you work with toxic and irrational people, on your commute into work, whether you ride a bike, drive, or take public transit, listen to some good music of someone powerful, like Cardi B, or a podcast about success & having a positive mental attitude, or Louise Hay’s affirmations to prepare your mind for the day. Decide you will stay above office politics and drama. You can even send good thoughts to each person before you arrive.

Once you arrive at your workplace, imagine a protective circle around your work station, like your desk, office, or chair. Decide to focus in on your own work and not engage in any gossip or negativity.

Remember why you are there. Stay focused on your task at hand, your job. Wear headphones to help you tune them out.

Do not glare at anyone or be rude, but remain neutral and keep a half-smile, like The Mona Lisa. You can employ the grey rock method, and remain as boring and uninteresting to your coworkers as any grey rock in a driveway, one is no more exciting than the other. This helps toxic people tire of dealing with you, as their supply is drama and you are not providing it.

Related: What Does It Mean to Be Professional at Work?

Keep an item on your desk that is a reminder of your own worth and value, such as a photo of your loved ones who adore you and who you love, or a protective talisman like a special crystal, such as black tourmaline, or shell from a special vacation.

Eat your lunch away from the office. Give yourself that break of a different environment. Don’t eat at your desk or in the break room, even if you packed your lunch. Go outside and sit in nature, or find a lovely indoor spot to relax, away from the office. Listen to something that inspires and uplifts you, whether it is classical music or an inspirational podcast.

When you leave for the day, wash your hands and imagine that all of the stress or bad vibes you may have picked up are now washing away, down the drain. When you walk out of the workplace door, picture leaving it all at work as you step outside and hear the door shut behind you.

If need be, stop off at a different location to decompress and unwind before taking any unwanted energy back home with you. Don’t stop off at a bar, though, maybe stop to look at some public artwork, or sit in a park under some trees and look at the sky, or sit in a coffee shop and write in your journal. Call a friend or someone who can laugh with you and remind you that you are loveable and you matter. Connect with someone who really cares about you before you even get to your doorstep.

Shake it off! Dance, run, or swim…go to the gym, get the stress out of your body. Take a walk at the beach or by a lake. Blue Space has healing benefits for your body, mind, and soul.

Seek a licensed Psychotherapist for support if your workplace has become too unhealthy. And finally, if it is truly is a toxic workplace or your supervisor has a personality disorder, make plans to leave or take a break! No job is worth your health or happiness!

Related: Why Is Work-Life Balance so Important in Today’s World?

Lisa Sansom, MBA, MAPP, PCC

Lisa Sansom

Organizational and Leadership Development Coach | Consultant, LVS Consulting

Consider that you do not have all of the information in this situation

Here’s one important thing to remember when dealing with irrational people: Most irrational people don’t see that they are irrational; they believe that they are entirely rational and that you are the irrational one! Irrationality is, for the most part, about your perspective. So what to do?

First of all, consider that you do not have all of the information in this situation. The other person knows things that you do not, and perhaps if you knew their situation better, you would understand their perceived irrationality better. That person who seems so stubborn about a specific issue might have some bonus riding on achieving a goal. They haven’t told you about their financial goals, but if you knew about it, then you might understand how to deal with their situation and perceived stubbornness.

So how would you find out what’s going on for the other person? The answer is clear – you need to ask. It’s important and most helpful to ask open-ended questions, such as “What’s going on for you right now in this situation?” or “What’s really important for you about achieving that goal?” or “What do you need me to know to understand your situation better?

When we ask, there is no guarantee that we will get answers, but the chances of getting more information are much higher, and then it’s possible to find alignment and understanding. As Stephen Covey put it, seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Then, it’s important to also share your perspective and your situation. It’s like the two proverbial children who ask their mother for an orange, and there is the only one left so the mother cuts it in half and gives half to each child. Those children expressed their positions – I want the orange.

But had those children shared their interests – their reasons behind the positions – they might have gotten more of what they wanted. One child wanted the orange to eat, the other child was baking and needed the peel. Both could have gotten 100% of their needs, rather than 50%, just by sharing their interests and needs behind the position.

When you share your perspective – your goals, your information, your situation – then it’s much more likely that you and the other person can find some mutual ground.

Of course, there is always the possibility that you and the other party are at odds – but at least the perception of irrationality will be gone. You will know what they want, and why, in a completely rational way, which makes it much easier to bargain and negotiate – and you may even craft a positive professional relationship along the way.

Ahram Arya

Ahram Arya

Intuitive Guide + Coach

Change the setting of a conversation

First, we need to slow down. We can’t expect someone who is behaving irrationally to respond to logic or correction. I often recommend changing the setting of a conversation in order to calm the waters first.

Second, the most effective tool I have found is to talk to the irrational person like a child who doesn’t know what’s going on.

With children, we are compassionate and understanding. We allow them to be emotional and express feelings without judgment. It might seem strange to treat an irrational 50-year-old man like a 5-year-old, but when the person feels seen and understood, then we can begin to ask them questions to truly understand the situation.

Lastly, ask for help. Often irrational behavior can be the result of temporary shock or trauma that we just don’t know about. Getting in touch with someone that the person trusts can lend a healthy perspective right away.

Christine Lawler

Christine Lawler

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Try to see where they could possibly be coming from

When dealing with an irrational person, the very best thing to do first is to try to see where they could possibly be coming from.

You’ve already determined they’re “irrational” so trying to convince them of your logic and rationale before hearing theirs will be totally fruitless. However, if you can set down your pride and take a step into their shoes to try and piece together why they are feeling the way they do, you’ll immediately disarm them.

There’s nothing people love more than to be validated. So if you can first connect to and validate your irrational foe, you’re much more likely to have success pivoting their perspective to align more with yours.

Belinda Ginter

Belinda Ginter

Mindset Success Expert | Certified Emotional Kinesiologist

Realize that you can not control their reactions

You need to learn how to ground yourself around irrational people as often they are very reactive to things going on around them. Realize that you can not control their reactions and therefore knowing that you can not take their reactions personally.

If you are grounded in who you are and your good intentions, no matter what people react around you, irrationally or not, you will still be emotionally well.

I always visualize myself as a tree that is deeply rooted in the group. When someone is irrational, I just stay rooted and trust that their reactions can not phase me. Their overreaction or irrational behavior can be like a windstorm blowing my leaves but I stay rooted anyway.

Darren Smith

Darren Smith

CEO, Making Business Matter

Try to deal with the situation

Resolving conflict is hard because as humans, we are wired to ‘fight or flight’. To run away or to take a stand. Alternatives are relatively new in our evolution – like dealing with conflict assertively and co-operatively. These skills must be learned, as they do not come naturally.

According to the Thomas-Killman Conflict Mode Instrument, there are 5 natural behaviors when we are faced with conflict. They are plotted on a graph of how assertive we wish to be, and how co-operative. The 5 modes are: Avoid, Accommodate, Compromise, Compete, and Collaborate. Each mode has its place.

For example, sometimes avoiding conflict is best. Maybe because the person is just too angry to listen. Other times the best choice might be to compete because there is a lot at stake.

The TKI model teaches us that we each have a default mode. Similar to our personality when we do the Myers-Briggs test. There is no one personality that is better than another. It is just who we are. TKI is the same.

Accepting that your default is a certain mode will help you to accept that’s who you are. The challenge is to then try to adopt another mode when you need to. Like having another tool in your toolbox. For example, if you always “Avoid“, it would sometimes be better to adopt the next mode – “Accommodate” – so that you can try to deal with the situation.

Jeff Blackman

Jeff Blackman

Leadership Strategy Expert

Understand that emotions are never rational

We are all ticking time bombs of irrationality. Each of us is a ticking time bomb of bottled emotion waiting for the fuse to light. Irrational people are the “figurative” explosions of their fuses being lit.

Understanding we are all crazy is the first step in dealing with irrational people. Experiencing dissonance, differences between our beliefs and reality triggers our emotional responses. Emotions are never rational. Irrationality is the consequence of a large dissonance in our beliefs the mind cannot process.

Example:

  • Belief: I am a healthy person.
  • Truth: Receiving a cancer diagnosis.
  • Result: Severe disbelief or irrationality.
  • Dissonance: I can’t have cancer because I am a healthy person.

According to Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow, our brain has two systems:

  • Fast brain: This is our emotional response or auto-pilot. This is the brain that helps us drive home without thinking about the directions.
  • Slow brain: This is the logical part of the brain or the processing brain. This the brain that helps us solve assemble a bookshelf or solve a math problem.

The fast brain is our “fight or flight” response which activates first. Irrationality manifests in the fast brain and is calmed by rational in the slow brain.

6 steps for dealing with irrational people

  1. Get them talking. Talking gives their “slow” brain has time to process the emotions.
  2. Actively listen. You need to find out what is the cause of their dissonance. Summarize their words and look for agreement.
  3. Never disagree. Disagreement with their words will cause further dissonance and will reactivate system 1.
  4. Change location. Move them to a place where they cannot hurt themselves or anyone else.
  5. Bridge the gap. Change the perspective, making easier to accept by providing them justifications towards the belief they have of their self.
  6. Rinse and Repeat until calm. 

James Cobb, RN, MSN

James Cobb

Founder, The Dream Recovery System

It depends on the situation

If it’s relatively non-emergency and non-pressured, here’s a process that’s worked for me many times.

Relax

Don’t get flustered. Stay calm. Getting flustered only makes the situation worse and antagonizes the irrational person.

Change the subject to one that’s non-contentious

It’s great if you can get a laugh out of them, but be careful with that. You don’t want any comment you make to be misinterpreted. The general goal with this step is to put some conversational distance between the controversial issue and you.

Come back to the contentious subject

See if you can tell if their apparent irrationality was based on a misunderstanding. If it is, try to clear it up. Don’t argue with them though because you’ll be back at Step 1 again.

The longer you spend talking with them, the better chance you have of understanding, generally, how their mind works. If you do, you have a better chance of explaining what you need them to understand in a way that they’ll understand and appreciate.

Varda Meyers Epstein

Varda Epstein

Parenting Expert & Writer, Kars4Kids

Lower your voice almost to a whisper

If a conversation is getting out of hand and beginning to become adversarial, I suggest lowering your voice almost to a whisper. This forces the other person to lower his or her own volume in order to hear what you are saying. It also causes them to listen more closely and focus on your words and what you are trying to convey.

I have also found that keeping your answers short helps make sure your point is heard. Don’t mix in too many ideas at once. Mirroring, finally, is always a great technique and has the effect of making the other person feel heard. If you mirror their words back at them, e.g. “You feel you should not have to pay for your meal since you’ve been eating here for 20 years,” they calm down and are more ready to hear what you are trying to say.

Karen Tibbals

Karen Tibbals

Founder, Ethical Frames LLC | Author, Marketing Landmines: The Next Generation of Emotional Branding

They are responding from a context that is so different from yours

When you think that people are acting irrationally, it may be that they are responding from a context that is so different from yours that you can’t recognize the validity of their remarks.

We can be blind to other’s concerns when they are so different from our own. When you can recognize the Ethical Zone behind their remarks and what is important to them, you can reflect that back to them, which tells them that you understand them. Then you can reframe what you are saying in such a way that they might be able to hear what your concerns are.

Mike Catania

Mike Catania

Chief Technology Officer, Promotion Code

Reframe their tangents back to them

In the business world, it’s frustrating to have an irrational employee or colleague–you’re stuck with them. A common mistake we make is trying to win them over or somehow defeat them with rational arguments or infallible logic since that’s how we like to think of ourselves as being influenced.

Unfortunately, irrational people can use that behavior as a defense mechanism, so even the most empirical data sets aren’t going to win them over to your side.

A better technique is to “question wrap” and reframe their tangents back to them as actionable questions. Forcing them to revisit the foundations of their thoughts will, at the very least, provide some additional insight, and ideally cause them to take pause and reflect on their positions.

Chris Shuptrine

Chris Shuptrine

VP of Marketing, Adzerk

There is some rationality behind people’s apparent irrationality

We all have to deal with seemingly irrational people sometime or the other. I say seemingly because more often than not, there is some rationality behind people’s apparent irrationality.

I mean, if somebody is appearing irrational, it is possible that we haven’t tried hard enough to understand what that person expects from us. We may not think so but someone’s irrationality might be in response to our own. I would suggest that we probe deeper.