This week we continue our discussion on dealing with the hard cases using Sternberg’s taxonomy of hate. The second entry in Sternberg’s taxonomy is hot hate. Hot hate is characterized by any extreme feelings of anger or fear triggered by a perceived threat. ‘Road rage’ is an example of hot hate. These feelings of anger or fear can cause a fight or flight reaction. Hot hate generally flares up suddenly and can be surprising. Here are some examples of what hot hate might sound and look like, taken from our files.
“What you are is disgusting, what you are doing is disgusting, and we would all be better off without you.” (Meeting participant, with raised voice and red face to another participant).
“That’s it. If you can’t respect us or at least the Mayor, we’re done.” (Meeting participant, with raised voice and visibly angry, and closing briefcase and rising to go.)
I hate you! (Accompanied by purse thrown in face of previous speaker.) or Never! (Accompanied by hot coffee thrown at previous speaker.)
Just as Hot Hate flares up quickly, it can also dissipate quickly, and is often accompanied by some remorse and embarrassment. If the facilitator is able to respond quickly, firmly, and with compassion for all, it is possible to continue discussions (usually after a break) with the original participants and no further incidents.
If and Hot Hate becomes a factor in discussions, a facilitator should be prepared to stop conversation, and describe what has occurred while also clearly explaining what will be needed to continue the dialogue process. This has to be done without further threatening or shaming the speaker while also reassuring and supporting the targets of the outbreak. For example, in the first of the above instances, we said something like “I understand you are upset. These are hard issues and you both feel strongly about this. Yet that kind of language will not help us move forward. He and you have both been invited here, and if we are to move forward we will need everyone to commit to being civil, and avoid name calling. Can we do that?” This triggered an apology, which was accepted. We then passed out papers and focused on some administrative tasks while the participants regrouped, and proceeded with careful attention and support to both of the key protagonists, who ultimately found some common ground.
Threats of violence, and actions like throwing objects or making threatening gestures need to be specifically identified, stopped, and firmly ruled out for future discussions. Generally a break in discussions will be needed. The facilitator might create both a break and a foundation for repair of the breach in behavior by saying something like: “You are very upset. We cannot continue this way. We are going to take a break, and then review what just happened. We will decide together whether and how to continue. Would [name groups or individuals] please wait [outside/other place] and I will join you soon.’ When the group reconvenes, ground rules need to be reviewed, and all need to commit that they are ready to proceed without further threats or other outbursts. The group might begin again by discussing what triggers to avoid, listing the most difficult issues, and discussing how to signal to each other that a break may be needed.
Overall, when faced with Hot Hate, the facilitator must be firm, direct, and authoritative (not authoritarian). This requires a focus on both the well-being of the group and of the individual speaker, allowing room for the participant who lost control to return if future control can be assured. (Other actions, such as removal, would be needed if a participant is, for example, mentally ill and incapable of control, or feigning lack of control in order to carry out a planned of disruption of discussions). Again compassion is helpful (“we all have lost our tempers at times, and I guess this was your time. Going forward, we have all agreed . . .”). In our experience, if a discussion does resume under these conditions, a new, more productive atmosphere is often created and participants are able to relate to each other in new, more supportive ways.
Other facilitation techniques that can serve to diffuse Hot Hate include acknowledgment and articulation of both the speaker’s emotions and concerns, and the use of open-ended questions, gently asked. Humor can also be helpful, although if quips don’t come naturally to you, you probably shouldn’t try this method!
Careful choice of a structure and sequence for dialogue can minimize the likelihood that you will experience Hot Hate. Planning for contingencies, learning about the participants, and watching for emerging tensions can also help minimize the likelihood that this form of hate will disrupt your dialogue. Even with good planning and facilitation, however, flare-ups can occur. If they do, sound planning and skilled facilitation can still allow the group to move forward.
Next week we will look at cold hate.