It is one of the greatest tragedies of humanity. Upset people often do not hear all our great wisdom. Upset people's brains are too busy being upset. When we drop all our amazing wisdom on an emotionally flooded brain, we are trying to reason with a person who is drunk... on emotion.
And how well does that usually go? We end up frustrated and often we make the situation worse.
When my beloved children get highly emotional, the hardest (and most important) thing for me to do is stop talking (or yelling over them so much). I teach groups that a basic principle of de-escalation is reducing stimulus. Most of us blow it here and talk too much or too loudly. I've never been able to yell 'calm down' and have it truly work as intended.
It goes best when I get quiet and breathe. When I allow Space and Time to work their magic. That's what a really upset person needs - space, time, empathy and understanding. Unfortunately, what my kids often get from me is impatience and the opposite of empathy. Sure, I expect my kids to control themselves, but when they are obviously overwhelmed with emotion, it is better to get them regulated before we talk about what happened or what needs to happen.
We've had good luck with practicing calming down. In advance, kids can practice things like taking deep breaths, balancing on 1 foot or repeating helpful phrases. The key is to practice it when they are calm so that they can perform it when they start to get upset.
The biggest lesson I have learned about dealing with people who are not calm is this:
The worst thing I can do is add pressure to the situation. I want it quiet soon (now). So, I insist on the upset person “calming down now?” How does that work? Only about as poorly as any technique in the world.
Instead, the best thing I can do is take that moment and breathe. Nice and slow. Let time work its wonders and get myself in a more calm, thinking state. Whenever I think “they need to calm down”, I can remember that I need to be calm first.
Then, my wisdom (assuming I have any) will increase – and the chances that the person I am speaking to will actually hear it will increase too.
For more, check out Love and Logic in Tough Situations