How to Communicate with Irrational People


Everybody is irrational sometimes. I am, you are, everybody is. Some people just peak into irrationalness for a brief moment and then return to earth, but others might be irrational for a little while. In this article we check into the thoughts and ideas of Mark Goulston and his book Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life to find out how we can communicate to people even while they are in irrational-mode.

For this article we did let the TechAcute community decide what subject we should write about, using a poll on Twitter. It wasn’t certain at first what option is going to make the race but Communication won and here we are with the article just as promised. Hopefully everybody who voted for something else, is also happy with the chosen topic and angle.

What Do You Mean “Irrational”?!

Temporary cases of irrationality are fairly common and part of being a human. In a popular tongue we call such episodes being crazy. Such moments of people entering their irrational-mode can be caused by a variety of things, but usually the impulse is an external factor that threatens or damages their view of the world and themselves in a way. But how do you communicate with unreasonable or irrational people during this irrational-mode?

When They Are Irrational

The key to a clean communication around irrational people is to stabilize the rapport with them by using empathy. You need to keep your cool and make a way for the other person to calm down. This is not about ignoring your opinion and giving way by discarding the conflict, it is more on accepting the moment, accepting the opinions and dealing with the facts as they are. You best search for the cause of their irrationality. If you can identify their trigger it might be a lot easier to avoid mistakes or even steer them around to come back to their normal-mode. Most importantly however, don’t argue. Communicate constructively lean and use the form of appreciative inquiries.

“Don’t shout at the irrational on the outside, try to connect with the sane person on the inside.”

Other than that you should use any opportunity to define boundaries when being in conversation with an irrational person. A good example for that is the common service desk rule, that when someone is rude or screams on the phone, agents are advised to inform the caller about their rule, that if they scream or talk rude, they will hang up. They are informed about the line they should not cross, if they want to stay in conversation. If the discussion is not a phone call, you can also try to lead the person away from their trigger with unexpected comments or with remarks on something absolutely off-topic. If they leave the boiling point even for a moment it helps regaining their coolness.

When You Are Irrational

It is very likely that you are aware of your own irrational-mode. You might already know your triggers and try to avoid them but maybe someone yet manages to hit the wrong button on you. In that case it is important to remain conscious and mindful of what you do, say and feel. Try to stay in control of what you communicate to others with words and with body language.


Try to keep your first impulse to yourself. Try to keep your cool and maybe just do nothing for a moment. Think, listen, breath, and then talk. Feelings of any kind are emotions that need time to understand and process. If you feel awkward with pausing conversations, try to communicate what you are trying to do. Even 10 seconds in silence, resisting the first impulses, can change the whole mood and message of what you are trying to express.

If you can’t control the communication anymore, it might be good to gain distance to calm down. It’s okay to excuse yourself with the explanation that you currently feel mad and will go out for a walk around the block and be back in a little moment. That’s helping the situation a lot more than fighting.

Closing Remarks

This article provides advice on how to deal with other humans (and yourself) whether they are a professional contact, friends or family. The points written down are focused on remediating temporary irrationality. If a person experiences prolonged episodes and does not regain a calm state even after a while, it might be best to involve others into the matter. It might be that this is not for you to fix but for a professional at anger management.

Further Reading

Talking to Crazy How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your LifeJust Listen Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

Photo credit: Ryan McGuireDean Moriarty
Editorial notice: Previously this article widely used the term “crazy” to describe temporary moments of irrationality of people, who are not mentally ill. After the valuable feedback of Deirdre St.Luke we have replaced that term with “irrational” throughout the article. We respect everybody regardless of background, ethnicity, gender or handicap and certainly we did not intend to upset anybody with this article.

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Christopher Isak
Christopher Isak
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris the founder of TechAcute. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. Drop by on Twitter and say 'hi' sometime. ;)
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