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Hissy Fits

It’s a lovely spring morning, the sun is shining, birds are singing, it’s Friday and you’re feeling great. You go to work, greet everyone and smile. Only Katie didn’t say anything. She didn’t even look at you. You approach her and ask: „hey there, is everything fine?”. Still looking at her computer’s screen, she answers “sure…”.

You know the sound of her voice; higher, a bit ironic as if with reproach. Houston, we’ve got a problem.  A hissy fit on board! The question is if you want to work it out immediately or maybe just wait it out. Hissy fits don’t last forever. My advice: say “oh, great!” and go back to work. In the meantime, you can observe if it’s a typical hissy fit or maybe it was a worse moment or it was a hissy fit about someone else. If it weren’t just a “worse moment”, but a regular hissy fit – then you should take actions.

A hissy fit belongs to a passive-aggressive behavior. A person who throws a hissy fit has a problem with you – you either did or said something he or she didn’t like. But why you can’t simply say: “I don’t like what you did/said”? Sometimes it’s impossible. Reasons are different – we often don’t know how to express our thoughts. Really! We are not born with assertiveness. It’s something you can learn and practice! Sometimes we know how to say something but we feel ashamed of our feelings. Sometimes we know what to say but we feel it’s not appropriate to speak up. Sometimes we know how to say something but we want to punish our partners for not guessing what our problem is. I can go on and on. Generally speaking, it’s when someone’s behavior (or its lack) irritates us but we can’t, we are unable or don’t want to express our thoughts directly. That’s it. The question is: what to do when we suffer from someone else’s hissy fit?

At the beginning I would name directly what you see, for example: “Katie, you haven’t talked to me since morning. Did something happen?”. Katie may give you different answers, such as: “no, everything is fine”. Then you should go on with: “Katie, maybe nothing happened, but you haven’t talked to me since morning and this only happens when you’re angry with me. Are you angry?”. If Katie persists in her hissy fit and says that nothing happened, then you should feel free to reply: “if nothing happened – that’s O.K. If I actually did or said something that insulted you I would like to hear it from you directly. If you expect me to apologize I need to know what I did”. What’s the worst-case scenario? Katie can say: “you should guess”. If any reader of this text has ever said this, I have a huge favor – don’t do it again! You really expect others to guess and read your minds what you do or don’t like, what makes you sad or hurt? Really? Coming back to Katie’s hissy fit and her response “you should guess” – I propose you should say directly: “Katie, I do wish to understand you. Unfortunately, I can’t read your mind. I can’t guess how you’re feeling right now. As long as you keep quiet about what’s bothering you and what you’re expecting from me I’m unable to do anything about it”. If Katie opens up – there’s a space for a dialogue. If she persists in her hissy fit you can respond: “Katie, I can tell you don’t want to talk. That’s fine. When you’re ready, you know where to find me”. I advice against responses such as „come on, don’t be a child”. Experience shows that this reaction only makes the situation worse. Can you address the word “hissy fit” directly and say for example: “I see you threw a hissy fit”? Of course, especially because the most common answer would be: “no, I didn’t!”. Then, I usually ask: “so how else can I call your all-day silence and your favor to guess what’s wrong?”. If you’re not the source of negative emotions, then a typical response is: “it’s not about you”. OK, we know that the hissy fit is not about you and we can let it go. But if the hissy fit actually is about you, then the usual reaction is an ostentatious sighing or “topic opening”. Bringing the hissy fit to light is the most important. When you finally hear what is going on and why the person is hurt you both can find a constructive solution. I also encourage to make an arrangement for future, for example: “Katie, I wish next time you could tell me directly if my behavior irritates you, ok?”. You have no certainty that this arrangement will be put into practice but you can always allude to it and say: “hey, we’ve made an arrangement – no more hissy fits. Please, tell me what’s bothering you?”.

Can hissy fits be eliminated? It obviously depends on numerous factors. I know that it is only through a mature, open and genuine communication that number of hissy fits can be decreased.