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December 4, 2018

Teaching and training - how to deal with people who are flustered


People who get flustered aren't idiots, but they often think that they are. They can be very intelligent, but once they're upset, they just can't think straight. I've known a lot of people like that, and I describe what happens to them as "spiraling". It might be something small that gets them flustered, but once they start, they can find it just about impossible to calm down. But you can help.

I like the word "flustered". Or you can call it "discombobulated" or just "upset". In golf, it happens when a small mistake is made, and the golfer can't seem to do anything right for a long time - there it's called the "yips", and it's very common. I've seen some excellent golfers get the yips and suddenly it seems as if they've never played golf before. And since golf is a polite game, it's considered very unsporting to intentionally give someone the yips - by poking them in the ribs, for example. I've had the yips myself, and they're awful.

Everyone gets upset, or flustered, or discombobulated. Humans wouldn't be human if they didn't. And of course the goal is to get over it, and get back on track. I've seen many people do it with strength of will, by counting to ten, by taking deep breaths. And I really want to help people who get flustered get back to normal, and I only do what works for me. This is what I suggest:

• Let them rant. I compare it to letting my dog bark, for a few minutes. I don't join in on the barking, I simply wait for it to end. And it does. Most people will realize that they're making a fool of themselves, and stop.

• Walk away. This is brutally hard if you're standing there with one person, but in a group it's doable. Excuse yourself politely and say that you have to talk to someone. As a teacher, I would listen to a rant for a few minutes and then go find someone else to help. I will say to the flustered person something like "hold that thought, I'll be right back". And I do some back.

• Speak softly. This is what I call "fighting fire with water". If you believe in "fighting fire with fire", you're just gonna make it worse. Don't start barking yourself! It's a mistake so many people make that turns a spark into a raging inferno. I've seen people do this to me, their eyes sparkle, they smile, and I feel better.

• Change the subject. This may sound abrupt, but I like to ask a question, like "would you like to hear what my dog did yesterday?" If it's someone who knows that they're spiraling out of control, they'll understand. If not, you might get a punch in the nose, so be careful with this one.

I had a friend many years ago who literally said the sentence "I'm over it" after he had gotten himself flustered. I like that. My motto is that it's OK to get upset, but you have to get over it.

I hope this helps.

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