Irrational behavior is one of the most difficult behaviors to deal with. When someone is being irrational, they don’t listen to reason, logic, or even common sense.
They are laser focused to fulfill a need.
And until that need is fulfilled, or they snap out of it, the irrational person can be unpredictable and sometimes even dangerous.
In this article, I’ll share with you ways to communicate and even “reel in” irrational people to bring them back to a calmer, more rational state of mind.
(after you read this article, be sure to tune into the Love and Abuse podcast to learn about irrational people in relationships)
Everyone knows or has met at least one irrational person in their lives. Whether it’s a relative, a co-worker, or even a friend. Even people who are completely rational most of the time can suddenly “lose it” because something triggers inside them.
But unless they have some sort of psychosis, there are ways to bring an irrational person back to rational thought. For all intents and purposes we’ll call rational thought “reality”.
When we confront an irrational person, the biggest challenge we run into is that the meaning they give to a situation is different from ours. Their meaning may not even be accurate, which offers them a much different perspective than ours.
For example, a restaurant patron could be yelling at the waiter about how cold his soup is, and most people would consider this type of behavior in this context to be a bit irrational (I know I would, as I would think about hungry people who’d love a cold bowl of soup).
But the patron could be thinking that the staff is incompetent or that maybe they have something against him, or who knows what? The bottom line is that his belief – the meaning he attached to the situation – transformed into his behavior.
If I saw someone yelling at the top of their lungs in a restaurant, I would certainly think it was irrational behavior. Perhaps the patron felt like he was being disrespected and cheated. After all, if he paid eight dollars for a bowl of soup, I’m sure he expected it to be hot. However, what we see from our perspective is someone yelling inappropriately and seemingly out of context.
In other words if he was at a rodeo, his yelling would seem appropriate for the situation. But since he’s at a restaurant, where it is not that common to witness patrons yelling angrily about their food, his behavior would definitely be perceived as irrational.
There are a number of reasons someone would “go off” like that. However in this example, what he’s really yelling about may not be obvious.
In this article, I want to give you some useful strategies that you can use to deal with irrational people.
- People acting irrationally will not usually listen to reason
- They won’t listen to rational explanations
- They want to fulfill a need right away so they behave irrationally until that need is fulfilled
The problem comes when they can’t fulfill that need, so they continue to act irrationally. And for some people, irrational behavior can sometimes go on for years. But after reading this article, hopefully you’ll have some tools under your belt to be able to deal with irrationality and all that it entails.
It won’t be easy. Irrational behavior is called “irrational” for a good reason. You may need to get used to doing things a little outside your comfort zone, and maybe even show up in a way that is completely foreign to you. But if you want to get through to an irrational person, the techniques I’ll share will be very helpful.
I need to get off this plane right now
Before I started coaching and writing I had a career in computers and technology. In 2010, I was fortunate to be chosen for an IT project that allowed me to travel all over the US to install computers for a major financial institution.
The work was easy and everything was paid for, including my food and lodging. I did have to give up a lot family time for about a year, but the work was fun and it allowed me to make and save a lot of money to get out of some financial struggles.
During the project I would fly a lot. On one particular flight I sat on an aisle seat across from a very talkative woman. She started telling me all the problems she’d ever had in her life. I don’t mind when this happens normally (people tend to share a lot with me) but today, I would have preferred a quieter flight.
We talked most of the trip about different things, and she casually mentioned how she’s usually a little claustrophobic when she flies. Because of this, I made sure not to talk about things that would remind her of being closed in or surrounded. I emphasized words such as open, free, and breathing easily during our conversation. My primary goal was to help her get through the flight without making her claustrophobia worse.
Fortunately, the flight was smooth with no issues. As we started coming in for a landing, there was still no fear or anxiety on her face. Things were looking great.
We touched down, slowed, then taxied up to the terminal. People started talking, pulling out their cell phones and shifting in their chairs, waiting to be given permission to get out of their seat. You know how it goes, everyone wants to be the first one in the aisle to wait even longer while standing.
As the plane came to a stop and everyone got out of their seats, the woman I was talking to suddenly appeared agitated and worried. She was started to breath faster and was clearly showing physical symptoms of fear. I asked her if everything was okay and she said she was suddenly feeling claustrophobic and had to get off the plane now.
I said, “Alright, the good news is we’re safely on the ground, and we can just relax until this line starts moving. Everything is going to be just fine. In a few minutes, they are going to let people get off the plane and you’ll be great.” (The bolded words are the ones I emphasized to help her feel more calm).
She looked at me nervously. I could tell she was trying to comprehend what I was saying but couldn’t help but to continue to give into the fear she felt. She said, “I really have to get off this plane now.”
I asked her, “What do you think is going to happen?” She said, “I gotta go, I’m gonna die if I stay on. I really gotta go now.”
At this point, I could tell there was no turning back for her. She was becoming irrational. Her fight or flight response kicked in and nothing I said mattered. She needed to get a low-level, primal need fulfilled right away. And she made it clear that she needed to get off the plane immediately.
She became laser focused on her survival and if she didn’t get what she needed right then and there, she though she was going to die. I remember her telling me she would scream if she couldn’t get off the plane.
Knowing that a screaming woman on a plane might create a panic, I decided to take action. I told her to look directly into my eyes. I said in a calm, assertive voice:
If you do exactly what I tell you to do, you will be able to get off this plane.
She nodded, waiting for her orders I said:
Alright, here’s what I want you to do. If you really want to get off this plane, I want you to calmly tap people on the shoulder and tell them you have a medical emergency.
Do this calmly, and give people the time to let you through so that you can move your way to the front of the plane. Once you get there, you’ll be first in line to get out. Will you do this for me?
I had already developed a rapport with her for the last couple hours so that went a long way in assisting me in “commanding” her to do something that would help her.
I gave her a mission that would fulfill her need.
Since her primary goal was to get off the plane, I gave her the exact instructions on how to do so without causing a scene. Or worse, getting arrested from an overreaction.
Because she was looking for any way to escape, my guidance to help fulfill her need to survive gave her the foreknowledge that she was going to be alright. She had a specific, logical process to follow that would allow her to focus on something else besides her claustrophobia.
And like a soldier who follows an order without question, she went on her mission tapping on shoulders and moving up the aisle. One by one, each person let her pass. She broke free from the fear that paralyzed her and did exactly what I told her to do.
Why does irrational behavior happen?
We’ve all had to deal with someone who was irrational at one point in our lives. We all have the capability of being that way once in a while. And when we’ve been irrational, there was usually someone who told us to calm down, or look at things a different way.
But a funny thing happens when you become irrational: You get focused. Your responses and reactions become more primal than logical. You start getting tunnel vision and doing things that you believe will fulfill a need.
And that’s what irrationality really comes down to: Fulfilling a need.
Or something you think you need. After all, someone who is heavily intoxicated usually thinks they know what they want, but they are almost always just a little confused in some way. But someone who is more or less in a “normal” state who is acting irrationally is going off a belief system. They believe they know that what they want is rational, and sane. They usually believe there is only one way to get what they want, and will do whatever it takes to get it.
Hence, the term irrational comes in. After all, if you’ll do anything to get what you want, then you’ll do things that others might find offensive, stupid, or just plain crazy.
So what can you do if you come up against someone displaying irrational behavior? What’s the best course of action, especially if yelling “Stop, stop!” has no effect? Well, I will say this: If they’ve gone over the top, there may be no stopping them. Meaning, there is a point of no return.
Just think about someone who’s getting chased by the police. He drives faster and faster. It’s irrational to think he can possibly get away, as police officers can call ahead to their buddies and eventually capture the suspect. The irrationality goes into full-gear, no pun intended, when the suspect drives faster and thinks he or she can keep control of the car while going way beyond the speed limit.
No matter what the police do to convince this person, they will not pull over. They are not listening to logic. They have crossed the line, and will not stop until they get away.
This is what I mean by over the top and beyond the point of no return. At that point, there is no communication.
You want to do your best to catch someone before they go over the top, when there’s still a chance to communicate with them in hopes to bring them back to a more rational place.
So the first thing we need to do is define what “irrational” is. My definition is this: An overreaction.
When you are overreacting, that means you are making up stories about the situation you are in. You are fabricating your own meaning to something that is likely not at all what you think it is. Overreacting usually stems from letting emotion cloud your logic.
It’s okay to be emotional about something, but when it actually clouds your logic, and you respond solely from a place of emotion, you are closing off rational thought. I realize this skirts along the lines of gut instinct, but even gut instinct has a path of logic when you respond. Irrational behavior usually does not. The path that is followed is typically not logical, it is solely emotional, leading to any number of possible outcomes.
Logic usually guides us to a more beneficial outcome, with knowledge of consequences. But even logic has an emotional foundation, because we won’t do something that isn’t driven by an emotion of some sort.
I know some of the analytical people are probably yelling at me right now, but it’s true: Logic is driven by emotion.
And the way you can test that is to think of something that needs logic in order to process it. Whether it’s a math problem, or fixing your car, or even tying your shoe – all things that seem to be only logic based. But the “why” is the driver for the logic. Why you do something is the motivation for the logic, otherwise, you’d have no reason for the logic.
Without emotion, you would not need logic. Why solve a math problem if there’s no meaning in solving it? Even if just to prove to yourself that you can solve the problem, that is based on an emotion.
So when someone becomes irrational, they are overreacting to an event or situation, causing them to respond from a place of raw emotion, what some people may label as the “Lizard Brain”.
Our lizard brain is the lowest level of behavior, or the closest we get to responding to life’s events like an animal. Very survival driven. An overreaction can be seen as an attempt to survive.
We’ve all seen someone overreact. Just watch any road rage video online. Someone merges in front of someone else, and the person they “cut off” gets out of the car and wants to fight. It’s a reaction of pure survival: “You could have killed me, so now I’m going to teach you a lesson because I am in fight or flight mode.”
That’s not exactly how it goes, as there is usually a lot more swearing, but you get the picture.
So now that we talked about what irrationality is, let’s talk about how we can deal with people when they are being irrational, or when they are overreacting. There actually are proven techniques to doing this. You might be surprised by one of two of them, because you probably don’t want to do them.
But overall, there are really only two reasons you may need to learn deal with irrational people to begin with. Here they are:
1. You have to.
You might be in a situation where you must be involved in order for things to work out as you need them to work out. So you better learn to deal with it.
2. You want to.
You want to keep a friendship, you want to protect someone, you want to protect yourself, or maybe you just know that the person being irrational is not normally like this and you are there to bring him or her back to reality.
And you remember what I said about reality right? It’s when we can experience life without adding our own meaning to it.
And this leads us to the first step in dealing with irrational people:
Do you have to deal with this person? Or, do you want to?
That’s it. Plain and simple.
If someone starts overreacting in front of you, just ask yourself, “Do I have to deal with this right now? Should I just walk away and come back when things are better? Or, just walk away and never come back? Or do I really need to stay and make sure all goes well here. Or, am I sort of stuck here and must deal with it?“
The reason I start off with that question, is to remind you that most of the time, you do have a choice. And if you don’t see a way out, then you must deal with it. But here’s the trick, if you believe you don’t have a choice, then you must accept it, and choose to deal with the situation and the person rationally.
What usually happens though is that someone overreacts, then we react to their overreaction. This is usually called arguing or fighting. And the toughest part about that is what leads to our second step in dealing with irrational people:
Don’t take anything they say personally
When they are being irrational, then basically anything they do or say is not personal. In fact, what’s coming out are usually repressed emotions of some sort. But, even if what they say hurts you, this is the worst time to respond to what they are saying. I realize it’s a challenge to not get triggered, because the person could be saying some very mean things. But the time to talk about anything they say is when you can bring them back to a calmer place, when the topic can be discussed more reasonably.
Of course, don’t confuse a raised voice or a highly emotional state with irrationality. Sometimes people just get heated or excited, and really need to discuss something. I’m talking about when people say and do things that seem excessive for what’s really going on.
For example, when I was a teenager, I had a friend who sold me some tires for my car. I remember he said he’d take ten dollars for each tire. So the next day, he asked me when I was going to pay the forty dollars for the two tires. I said, “You said they were ten dollars”.
He replied, “No, I said they were twenty dollars each” I laughed, because I thought he was joking. Then he ran up to me, with anger in his eyes, and his body tightened up and said something to the effect of, “If you try to rip me off, I’m gonna punch you in the face.”
I stopped in my tracks, and the first thing I said was, “Whoa, we don’t need to do this. I remember you said ten, but if you really believe you said twenty, then I’ll give you twenty each. We’re friends, I don’t want this to come between us.”
He calmed down pretty quickly, then apologized he got so angry. It doesn’t even matter who was right in that situation, because the point I wanted to make was that he was just under the line of irrationality, but his body and temper were on high alert. He was still listening and responding to reason. If he wanted to, he could have simply punched me right then and there.
And even though he was angry, he was still rational. If he had just swung at me, that would have been a different outcome for sure. But, he was just really heated and was still open to communication. And, it wasn’t personal. He was protecting a part of himself, but his anger wasn’t about me. Sure, I was there to trigger it, but him wanting to hit me was protecting himself, not a true assessment of who I was at that time.
Don’t take it personally. Keep your level head as long as you can to keep the peace as long as you can. All emotion is personal to the person anyway, not to you. Someone else’s emotions cannot define who we are. If someone gets angry at you, it is anger they feel inside due to the story they convinced themselves of. If you take it personally, then you get sucked into that story and emotion.
I realize that’s easier said than done, but just hearing this now may help you next time you are about to respond to someone else’s behavior. Someone else’s behavior is not about you, it’s about them. And when you see that exactly as that, you will respond differently. It may not work to say, “Well, this is about you, not me, so good luck with it.” But just being cognizant of this fact will help you to stay in a more objective place when they overreact to something.
Trying to figure out if someone is overreacting is hard when you get triggered and react yourself. But if you can learn to exhibit some self-control when someone gets into this more excited state, you can usually calm the situation and help them fulfill whatever need they have in them.
With my friend and the tires, since I preferred to keep the friendship, and especially not get into a fight, I chose to submit. It wasn’t a threat to my masculinity, it was a reasonable course of action to get to the best possible outcome.
And it helps to keep a level head in order to get that best possible outcome. Otherwise you do more hoping that the situation will get better instead of doing to make the situation better.
Now let’s get into some more effective, practical steps that will help us deal with irrational people.
Step three is:
Don’t disagree with them
Yes, even if they are completely wrong. If they overreact and are now acting irrationally, don’t disagree with what they believe to be true. I’m not saying out and out agree with them, I’m saying don’t disagree.
Remember, we want to respond a certain way only after they’ve become irrational so that we can keep a line communication open with the person. When they’re in an irrational state, reason is thrown out the window, and logic takes a back seat.
In an irrational state, a person has a need to fulfill, and they are beyond logic. So if we don’t disagree with the person’s point of view, this will help us figure out where they are right now, and will also help bring them back to a more rational state.
There’s a technique called pacing and leading that I want to teach you. It involves understanding the person’s point of view first, then slowly guiding them into another point of view.
Pacing is when the other person knows you understand their world, and what they’re currently experiencing. If someone is angry at someone else, acknowledge that they are angry at them. “So you’re pretty angry with them, aren’t you? What happened next?” Pacing is showing them that you are with them every step of the way. You aren’t judging what they’re saying, you’re just along for the ride. You’re letting them know you’re absolutely listening to what they’re saying, and you understand everything they’re saying. You might even ask them to tell you more.
“And after he said that, what did you say?”
The whole point of pacing is to be curious and act interested in everything they have to say. It shows that you care and want to learn everything you can about their situation.
Have you ever talked to a customer service agent who just didn’t understand why you were so angry? Or didn’t seem to care that you were angry? You know the type, they always answer with, “I’m sorry, that’s our policy. There’s nothing I can do.”
And you respond, “I’m telling you that your company caused the problem, so it’s not about policy, it’s about you correcting the issue!”
And they say something like, “I apologize, but there’s nothing we can do.”
If you’re in customer service, the first rule of thumb should be to first seek to understand the customer. That’s it. Just listen, and explore all the reasons they are upset. So many problems would be rectified a Lot easier if you just seek to understand the person.
Stephen Covey talks about this more extensively in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Everyone who communicates (which is everyone) wants to be understood first and foremost. Otherwise, why communicate?
So when you meet someone who makes it a priority to understand you, and how you feel, and what your beliefs are, you connect with that person. You bond in a way.
So pacing someone means to understand them. Ask them questions. Really be, or at least act, interested in everything going on. It goes a long way, and it’s a great way to develop a rapport with them. Rapport is a shared trust in one another’s company.
When someone is being irrational, or even just really excited or agitated about something, it’s hard for others to communicate with that person because most people around them aren’t in the same space. So when you come along and just want to know more of what’s happening inside of them, it does a few things:
- They feel like someone cares
- They no longer feel like that they have to tackle this problem by themselves
- They get to release some emotions. They get to vent
Pacing allows the other person to ease back a little because they get to release some steam on someone else. I won’t lie, you gotta be ready for it. You might take what they have to say too personally and won’t be able to handle it. But if you are resilient, and really want to help this person come back to reality, then listen to them and seek to understand them.
When you can tell that they’ve eased up a little, or that they now seem to trust you a bit and you have a good rapport, it may be time to start the second part of this technique called Leading.
When they feel understood, and know they aren’t alone in their struggles, and you can sense that you are now getting along well and have good rapport, now when you say things, they may start to agree with you. You will notice that they are now unconsciously pacing you.
Leading is when you behave the way you want them to behave.
Just like the story I told of that lady who wanted to get off the plane. I listened and related to her. Then when she knew I understood her, I then helped her get back into a calmer state. But if I never first paced her experience, or chose to seek to understand her first, and just said, “You need to calm down right now”, she may have completely lost it.
Who knows actually, maybe if I had yelled at her, she would have been more scared of me than anything and would have acted differently from that point on. But I’m glad to chose the path I did for obvious reasons.
Another example is a time I worked with someone I didn’t like at all. He had a superiority complex and believed he knew what was best for everyone. Well, our supervisor yelled at him, really putting him down. He told me about it, and I did exactly what I’ve been talking about: I paced him. I listened to him and related to him. I really chose to understand his version of events. And after he shared everything with me, I started asking him questions like, “What do you think you did to make him so mad?”
At this point, we already had rapport, so that question wasn’t offensive. To him, it felt like a genuine question that made him think about his own actions. He thought that maybe he could have acted a little differently. And realized that his own behavior might have been over the top.
In this case, even though I didn’t like the guy, I chose to relate and understand him. By doing this, he opened up to me. By the end of the conversation, he wasn’t as agitated anymore. Though, I really wanted to say, “Why don’t you just quit?” ha ha, actually, I may have ended up saying something like that later on down the road.
There are other ways of pacing and leading, but when it comes to bringing people out of a hectic or frantic state, it’s a good tool to keep in your toolbox.
Which leads us to the fourth step in dealing with irrational people:
Act more irrational than them
Now we’re really diving into how flexible you can be. I recorded an episode of my podcast a while back where I talk about how the more flexible you are, the more you can control the system or situation. Well, when dealing with an irrational person, the more flexible you can be in your behavior, the more likely someone will snap out of theirs.
It’s like they become rational when you become irrational. It’s almost a reverse psychology. The example I shared earlier with that coworker I didn’t like, I did this very thing. He was upset at our boss, and was saying things like, “He’s a nobody, he doesn’t have a right to talk to me that way.”
I came back and said, “I would totally go in there and punch him square in the face. Who cares about your job? Who cares about a stupid lawsuit? It’s worth the risk and it saves your dignity and respect.”
Well, now he had to calm me down! He became more rational noticing how irrational I was getting. It’s a really neat trick, but you do have to be careful how you use it. Because if they are already in an excited state, it’s possible they would actually do the things you’re suggesting. In hindsight, I should have said, “I’m going to go in there and punch him in the face! He has no right to talk to anyone like that. I just paid off my house, but I don’t care. It’d be worth getting sued and going to jail just to see his face when I do it.”
Of course, I’m not serious about all this. It’s just an act! But to an irrational person that you’re trying to reel in, it could be what calms him down.
Act more irrational, and they may just snap out of it and figure out a way to calm you down. Again, just be careful with it. In fact, you want to be careful with all of these steps because someone in this kind of state where they are acting irrational has the ability to do irrational things.
They could be so upset or distraught that you may be in danger. And this leads to the final step in dealing with irrational people which is:
If things are beyond help, get you and anyone else involved out of danger
Irrational behavior is brought on when something snaps inside someone. I know a woman whose husband got mad at her one night. She said she never saw him look at her that way before. Ever.
She saw him disconnect from her completely and became entirely engrossed in his own anger. He was livid, and also illogical. He let go of rationality and reason and grabbed a gun. Fortunately he didn’t shoot her, but just the fact that he grabbed it was enough to send a message that this person has the ability to be a completely different person if he feels angry enough. You’ve probably seen this in people yourself: Someone gets pushed too far to the point they snap. They behave unconsciously and act out of pure animal instinct.
This happened to me when I was eleven or twelve. My friend and I were play wrestling, trying to push down and keep each other on the floor. When we were done, I sat at the table but he wasn’t ready to quit. He decided he wanted to keep wrestling so he said, “Come on, let’s wrestle!”
I said, “No, I’m done.” He said it again, “Come on! Let’s wrestle!” I said, “No, I don’t want to.”
“Let’s go, let’s wrestle!” and he started pushing me and and lightly slapping me on the face. I said more emphatically, “No, I don’t want to!”
He persisted, “Come on, let’s go. Let’s wrestle!”
I was starting to get angry. And no matter how many times I said “no”, he was trying to force me into a “yes”. My blood was beginning to boil.
When I was that age, I had never gotten into a fight nor had I actually ever gotten this angry. So this was the first time I felt this type of intense feeling before. When he pushed me one more time, I suddenly turned into someone I had never known.
I snapped! It was almost a blackout because I don’t remember consciously making a decision to snap. But I did just that. Without thinking about the consequences of my actions I stood up, swung my fist toward him and belted him in the jaw. He fell to the floor, holding his mouth.
In that instant, I felt all my anger disappear. Then I calmly sat down and said, “I told you I don’t want to wrestle anymore.”
It seemed like an eternity before he got back up. But when he finally did I don’t remember if he looked at me or said anything, but I do remember him going home.
We all have this ability to snap. We all have the capability of becoming irrational. When you are pushed to your limits, you eventually snap and push back. I believe this behavior is hardwired in us. In fact, over the thousands of years of our adapting and evolving psychology, we’ve learned to repress our emotions and be more tolerant when people are pushing us beyond our comfort level.
This is actually a good thing. We can’t react hastily in every situation because we could hurt people when we don’t mean to. You have the ability to snap even if you are the kindest, most sincere person in the world. You can become “irrational” just like everyone else.
Surprisingly, the more subservient and submissive you’ve been in your lifetime, the likelier the possibility that if and when you do snap, it’ll be like a nuclear explosion. Submissive people can have a lot of repressed anger. This buildup of negative emotions over the years can become a ticking time bomb.
This is why it shouldn’t always be the hotheads you should worry about. The quiet ones can be a force to reckon with as well. You hear things like that on the news all the time: “Oh, he was always so quiet and nice. He couldn’t have killed all those people.”
I’m not trying to generalize quiet people because I enjoy my solitude. But be aware that some quiet people may not just be enjoying the present moment. Some might getting wrapped up in everyday drama but aren’t saying anything about it.
A quiet moment for a generally calm person might mean they are swallowing anger or sadness in that moment. This will build inside of them causing behaviors like those I talk about above. If the negative emotions are dealt with through introspection, therapy, or in many other ways, irrational behavior is less likely to happen.
There are of course quiet people who are quiet because they don’t have much to say. Then there are those that are swallowing their anger and feeling resentful, and believe they can’t speak up for one reason or another. These are the ones that have a lot of power stirring up in them. But that might be a topic for another article.
Irrational behavior is nearly impossible to deal with when it comes down to it. You ever watch those cop videos where the officer is trying to talk rationally to a heavily intoxicated person? The officer is doing his or her best to communicate, but the conversation usually goes nowhere. Too much alcohol will create irrational behavior.
I know this first hand as one morning as a child I woke up to find smashed eggs all over our kitchen. They were on the floor, ceiling, walls, everywhere. It was like a chicken exploded. In reality it was just my step-father being irrational because of too much alcohol.
When alcohol or drugs are involved, it’s almost pointless to deal with the irrational person. Either get out of the way or do what you can to keep them from harming anyone. It’s important to consider if you want to have people that can act this way in your life or not. After all, anytime a person is irrational they can become dangerous.
There are different levels of rational and irrational behavior, and you have to judge in the moment if the behavior you see is actually irrational. But you’re likely observant enough to know when things don’t seem right. Just remember then irrational people are just trying to fulfill a need. Even in their irrational state, their behavior is still trying to serve a purpose.
Be curious, find out what that purpose is. Can it be fulfilled? Can something else placate them for now?
Irrationality really comes down to fulfilling a need.
If you’ve tried to calm the person down and it’s not working, remember that irrationality is a state one is in when they are over-reacting to something. If a person is overreacting, then you know they’ve already gone beyond logic and cannot be reasoned with. It’s just not going to happen. Well not easily that is, because you’ll find that “reason” simply doesn’t exist in an irrational person.
Irrational people let emotion cloud their logic allowing the lizard brain to kick in. Emotions are a great tool for decision making but can cause havoc when they override rational thought processes.
Since we can’t always rationalize with an irrational person, use this summary as a reference to help you whenever you need it:
1. Ask yourself, “Am I dealing with this because I want to or because I have to?”
Remember just because someone is “going off”, it doesn’t mean you have to be involved. Walk away or stay, but almost always you have a choice.
2. Don’t take anything they say personally
We tend to remember the mean thing that some irrational person said or did to us more than a nice thing that some completely sane person said or did to us. Remember to consider the source. You are doing the best you can, and you are worthy. Anyone who thinks less is simply irrational. Period.
3. Don’t disagree with irrational people
If they are already irrational, then it’s time to get a little irrational yourself. Don’t disagree with what the irrational person is saying, at least verbally. This is where pacing and leading comes in:
Pace their experience by seeking to understand where they are and what they believe right now. Once you do, they will tend to trust you. Then when you develop a good rapport with them:
Lead them back to reality.
It’s hard to get an irrational person to just listen to your commands but if you build a trust with them, it will be less work for you to get them to follow you where you want them to go.
It’s good to remember that seeking to understand someone tells them that you care – that they are not alone. And it also helps them to vent a little. The goal is to help them feel a little less frazzled and a tad more in touch with reality.
And finally, when all else fails…
4. Act more irrational than them.
This is where your true acting skills come into play. If they are so irrational they won’t listen to you or anyone else, be even more irrational than them. It may be exactly what’s needed to snap them out of their unconscious state of mind. If you don’t think you can do that or decide that it might be too dangerous, then just make sure to get you and anyone else involved out of danger.
When people snap it may seem hopeless. Sometimes you can reel them back in, sometimes you can’t. But maybe some of these tools will help you the next time you need to deal with that kind of situation. Or at least help you to communicate with them on another level in order to get through to them.
The Final Destination of the Woman on the Plane
As she tapped on shoulders making her way through the aisle toward the exit, calmly telling people that she had a medical emergency, I eventually lost site of her. We were near the back and it was a long plane. But I could see people allowing her to pass.
To most people, this may not be perceived as a real medical emergency, but it could have turned into something much worse. After all a woman screaming uncontrollably on a plane could go terribly wrong. She might have gotten tackled by another passenger. Or perhaps airport security would have handcuffed her and dragged her off the plane. It could have been much more unpleasant if it hadn’t unfolded the way it did.
When I got off the plane and into the first hallway, I saw her standing there. She gave me a hug and said she felt so stupid but wanted to thank me for helping her. I told her how great she did and that we all have moments that pop up that we think we can’t handle. But I told her, “You did it. You handled it!”
I never saw her again after that but I’d like to think that in the future if she’s ever in that kind of situation again, she will believe that she can get through it just like she did before.
We all know someone who can get a little irrational every now and then. The trick is to reel their irrationality back in so that it doesn’t escalate. And if you ever find yourself as the irrational person, it might be challenging to consciously remember these steps and perform them on yourself so share this article with a friend and perhaps they will save you from any future, embarrassing situations.
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Tune into the Love and Abuse podcast, a show about poisonous communication and toxic behavior for more information on working with difficult and irrational people.