Why saying “Calm Down” is the worst thing you can do

Let’s count. When faced with an angry or emotional individual, when has it helped to say, “Calm down.”? Have you finished counting? I predict your answer is approximately ZERO.

It’s such a common response to anger, frustration, and sadness, yet has absolutely no benefit. Why? Emotional responses serve both a cathartic and communicative purpose. They are an important part of the coping response.

I was working for a large oil and gas company rolling out a ‘simple change’ to a project numbering system. It sparked a swift negative reaction. Employees called it the dumbest idea possible. With a rapidly escalating office buzz factor, I met with a variety of stakeholders.

They were angry. Their facts were wrong. Their knowledge of what we were doing was incomplete.

I listened. I took notes. I showed them the notes. I thanked them for their candor.

I did NOT contradict them. I did not tell them how they could manage the change. I did not tell them to calm down.

When you announce a change, some will welcome it and some will not. A range of emotions will result. Don’t invalidate them. Acknowledge that change brings real pain but there will be support for everyone.

Equip managers to provide that support. Give them a heads up on the potential reactions and how to validate and encourage. There will be time to help employees reduce and reframe, but when emotions run high, make space for people to feel what they feel and offer support.

No one likes to be told that what they are feeling is wrong. Don’t be ‘that guy’. Supporting your people is the first step in helping them succeed.

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Jeff Skipper
Jeff Skipper is an expert in accelerating change. Clients such as Shell, Goldman Sachs and The Salvation Army have engaged him to achieve dramatic results during strategic transformation by wrapping complex change in motivating mission. He has been quoted in Fast Company, Forbes and HP’s enterprise.nxt. Jeff holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and is a Certified Change Management Professional.