Here Ten Ways to Defuse the Hostility of People Who Are Angry

We all dread dealing with the anger of those in our inner and outer circles. In fact, I can’t think of even one person who has described with relish an enjoyable moment dealing with the anger of a co-worker, a friend, a child, a stranger, etc. Dealing with the bitter, the hostile and the antagonistic among us is not easy for any of us but we can probably all agree that some of us are better equipped at dealing with the angry than others.

And this makes perfect sense. It is extremely unpleasant and anxiety producing to face the wrath of individuals who seem to give themselves permission to express their anger freely and to direct it at individuals who may or may not have anything to do with the creation of this feeling. And, most of us prefer harmony to conflict, right? Who among us feels good about themselves after getting yelled at, devalued or even ignored? We as members of many communities want to feel good and experience harmony in our daily connections. We thrive with social support and smooth interpersonal connections. Nonetheless, there are lots of angry situations that we all deal with and I would like to impart some skills that may make dealing with antagonism easier and a bit less draining. The goal of course is not to eradicate all anger but instead to face it down with some skills in your proverbial tool box.

Let’s begin:

1. When feeling barraged by the angry tirade of an individual either in person or on the phone consider remaining silent until the person calms down. As long as there is no threat of violence this often works well. The angry often run out of things to say if you don’t give then them any material to work with. You see they are often hoping for you to react and a lack of reaction may make them feel foolish or even bored or ineffective.

2. Similar to the advice in Number 1 you can listen quietly and perhaps even nod occasionally. This, too, may have the effect of frustrating the bitter person who at the very least will go seek to do his or her dirty work elsewhere or even alone.

3. Express empathy. I know. This seems so odd but this may work simply because it is such a paradoxical and unexpected reaction. Try “That must be so difficult for you” or even something like “That doesn’t sound like fun.” I must warn you to never ever make the mistake of saying “I’m sorry you feel that way.” That last statement always leads to increased frustration and agitation. I kid you not. Remove this statement from your vocabulary as soon as possible.

4. Change the topic. Ask the person questions about a topic that they have some expertise about. Who, after all, doesn’t long to talk about what they are good at? If you are not sure what this person is good at then change the topic anyway and ask questions about a neutral topic. Look, people like to talk about themselves. That is the simple truth.

5. If the anger is too fast and furious and you do not want to be around it then excuse yourself. Simply state that you have another task to attend to and the person will hopefully either move on to a different feeling or a different audience. It’s very interesting to watch emotional tone change within different contexts and with different audiences.

6. You can try stating that you are having a bad day and simply can’t be helpful with your conversational partner’s mood and difficulties. You are sorry but you simply don’t have the emotional reserves to be helpful today. You see that redefines the roles. The angry person is then seen as a needy rather than as an angry person. Interesting, huh?

7. If you feel that you can do this genuinely then you may want to validate the angry person’s feelings. Only do this if you are being true to yourself, okay? You can try something like “That must be so enraging,” or even “I can’t imagine having to deal with that.”

8. Guide said angry person to a different arena. Perhaps you can suggest that they make a phone call or even express their dismay in a letter. This may serve two purposes. You will be able to exit the situation more easily and you may even have provided the individual with another modality for expression.

9. Angry and disgruntled individuals often speak very quickly. Ask them to speak a little more slowly so that you can understand them. Generally, when individuals slow down their anger dissipates. Go ahead and try this if you are so inclined.

AND

10. Be a good role model. If you choose to speak to the angry and bitter among us then speak softly and slowly. They may just choose to try your style. At the very least you are not joining them in their unhealthy tirade.

Keep in mind that I am not at all suggesting that you tolerate unreasonable aggression from those in your life. Sometimes the anger becomes abusive or so intolerable that you have to cut ties with people. We are all well aware of that. I am trying, instead, to assist you in dealing with the sometimes emotionally unregulated among us. I hope that this is helpful.

Dr. G.