Imagine. Someone calls you on the phone and says, ‘I’m very annoyed about this!” That’s one thing. But swearing, contemptuous, personal language, that’s another thing entirely. Anger and abuse are very different, and so is our strategy for dealing with them.

How abusive behaviour is different from angry behaviour

First, we need to recognise the difference between the two, because they’re not always as obvious as that example. In fact the two have a lot in common; angry and abusive people can be loud, gesture with force, swear and be demanding.

The difference—when anger crosses over to the dark side and becomes abuse—is when the altercation becomes personal, threatening or intimidating.

If the behaviour is abusive, set the rules

At the first sign of abuse, forget trying to soothe the person. Instead set the rules.

“Mr Jones if you make this personal I will terminate the call.”

Yes, use the word ‘personal’ to the abuser. If Mr Jones then fires another abusive barrage, follow through.

“I’m terminating this call.” Click.

Then go and tell your manager what you did and why. Jonesey needs to learn some manners. He uses abusive behaviour to control his world and get what he wants—a grown up child’s tantrum. You’ve just put him in time-out.