6 Communication Steps for Dealing with a Hothead

business communication communication tips conflict strategies dealing with a hothead
dealing with a hothead

Have you ever tried to communicate with a hothead without success?

If you have a hothead in your life, you know exactly what I'm talking about. A hothead is someone that responds or communicates in an impulsive, aggressive, or even explosive manner. They often react before thinking,

Hotheads can put us in an immediate, unprovoked conflict situation. It's not a fun place to be.

Here are 6 steps that will help you communicate better with the hothead in your life.

Hothead Communication Step 1: Stop, breathe, and think.

Think before you speak. When you keep your cool and talk in a mild tone, you will help keep the situation from escalating. Don’t get drawn into their energy, or join in a battle.

Decide: do you want to let it go, or do you need to deal with it?

Hothead Communication Step 2: Acknowledge the conflict; name the issue.

Say something like: “I’m sensing a lot of emotion and frustration. I think the two of us need to talk about this (name the issue),” or, “I’m feeling that what I said upset you. Can we talk about it?”

Listen to what they have to say. Try to put a name on the issue and stick with that.

Hothead Communication Step 3: Use your active listening skills.

Even if they are angry or say something hurtful, don’t interrupt. Don’t get defensive. Use your active listening skills and calmly listen to what they have to say, from their perspective, first. Many times, by listening first, you'll learn that you have misunderstood the real issue that needs to be addressed. Or, you’ll get clarity on what the real problem is.

Be assertive and stand up for yourself when necessary, but don't be aggressive.

This is hard but will make the difference between whether you diffuse or escalate a situation.

Say, “help me understand.”

Usually, you need to let them blow off some steam before you can have a reasonable discussion. Don’t get sucked into getting defensive when they say something you don’t like, agree with, or that isn’t even true. Let them vent, without judgment.

And, no matter how tempting it is to join in their bad behavior, do your absolute best to conduct yourself in a calm and respectful manner.

You can’t control what others do, but you certainly can control your own behavior and response.

Hothead Communication Step 4: Focus on the issue and not the person.

Don't make it personal. Try not to get angry or defensive.

Keep your communication about the actions and behaviors, not the person:

Tell them what you feel and want to have happen. Example “I don’t feel like we are communicating well.” “I thought we were talking about the dishes, can we focus on that?” or “I sense this is important to you. Help me understand how we can solve this problem.” Say, "Do you understand what I mean?"

If the person is your partner, try talking about how their behavior affects you rather than just telling them what they're doing wrong.

Hothead Communication Step 5: Pause and check for understanding.

Rephrase what you heard and say, “Did I understand you correctly?”

If they try to make it personal, back up and revisit the issue. Be a broken record if you have to.

For example, “I think we are getting off-topic, what we were talking about is this…”

Remember that anger can be a sign of other emotions like sadness or frustration - find out why the person is feeling this way and offer support if needed.

Hothead Communication Step 6: Make a plan to move forward.

Agree on a specific action to have happen by a specific date to help work towards resolving the issue/conflict, then follow-up.

Try asking yourself these questions:

1. What is my greatest concern?

2. What do I most want to see happen?

3. What do I most want the other person to understand?

Use the following questions to determine what is most important to you. Ask for baby steps in the areas of biggest concern with a specific request. For example, when you feel like you are getting angry, will you count backward from 10 and walk away?

Then, follow up with: Can you do that for me?

Try these 6 steps, (and repeat as necessary) and you’ll see a huge improvement with each time. Start small and if you want, practice what you will say first. As you have successes, it will become easier and easier to do. The trick is to deal with the conflict sooner rather than later --- conflict tends to grow over time.


For more information on conflict strategies, interpersonal communication, and communication skills that will help you transform a relationship or two, please visit my web site.

Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of two books on communication, and a newly published journal, Intentional Gratitude.

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