All of us have been on the receiving end of someone else’s anger, and through those miserable experiences, we have all learned one important thing: joining them in their anger and firing back verbal assaults didn’t solve the problem. In fact, it may have very well made it worse. If you want to effectively deal with any problem in such a way that resolves the issue and maintains the relationship, there are certain key strategies and behaviors that you can employ. Here’s how to diffuse other people’s anger.
This may be the most important – and most challenging step:
Assume that the person has a legitimate reason for their upset feelings and listen for what it is. Warning: This will not be your first instinct. Your first thought may be along the lines of, “What a total bozo.” It is extremely important to let that thought go and simply tell yourself, “What happened here, doesn’t make any sense to me, but clearly it did to her. I wonder what she is seeing that I’m not seeing.” Nod occasionally to let her know that you are listening. Be open to hearing about her frustration Again, this is not easy when you are locked and loaded with how wrong they are and how right you are.
And, while you are listening, remember to:
- Maintain a neutral (but interested) face
- Maintain a neutral (but interested) voice
Feed Back What You Hear
While you are listening, the opportunity will present itself for you to restate and paraphrase their feelings. Things like, “It sounds like you didn’t get the information you needed in time.” “If I hear you correctly, you are saying…” “I can see that this was very frustrating for you.” Remember, it is critically important that the person feels heard.
Change What the Person is Focused On
When people are angry and upset, one of the first things we want to do is change their emotional state. We can do this by interrupting their thinking pattern and refocusing their attention. Mention them by name or calmly say something like, “Sean, hang on a second. I really want to understand what you are saying and I need a little more information.” This can stop the person and allow him or her to change their focus.
Make Empathetic Statements
The best statement you can make at this point is, “If I understand you correctly, you’re saying …” And then repeat what you heard them say. A person will stop to listen if they know that what you are going to say is what they just said. Eliminate aggressive statements like “If you’ll just let me talk,” or “why can’t you just be reasonable?” These statements can make the other person feel unheard and want to dig their heels in further.
When people are angry and upset, they are operating predominantly out of the right, emotional side of their brain. In order to get them over to the logical, rational left side of their brain, give them a left-brain function. Example: “You’re saying, one, you didn’t get the report in time; two, it didn’t have all the information you needed; and three, it was not in the right format. Is that correct?”
You Don’t Need to Make Them Right but Don’t Make Them Wrong
At the height of their anger, there is absolutely no way that you can talk a person out of their feelings. Instead say things like, “I haven’t had this exact experience, but I’m sure if I was in your place I would feel the same way.” And, before you say “Oh no I wouldn’t!” remember, it’s not about how YOU would feel. It’s about how THEY feel.
Get Solution Oriented
If you are not sure how you can help, ask. If you are in a position to provide help, list the steps you will take in a numerical fashion. Let the other person know that you care about what they are going through and are willing to help them.
It’s also important to remember that if someone’s anger seems to be threatening or getting out of control, the most prudent decision you can make may be to leave. Appropriate comments would include things like “I can see that you are extremely upset. I do want to help, but not in this way.” Don’t just storm out of the room. The last thing you may remember could be the water bottle hitting you in the back of the head.
For more information about dealing with difficult people, check out this article:
Anger is a normal healthy emotion. Sometimes, people can allow their anger to cloud their judgment and negatively impact their behaviors. Remember – when the other person is angry and upset and you are calm, then you are in control of the situation.