Being with angry people
I recently spent some time with an old friend who had become quite angry. I found that seeing him in a different light challenged me a lot and in this article I talk about how we can effectively deal with angry people.
Some days, it seems anger surrounds us at home, in the workplace, on the roadways, and at sports events. The easiest thing we can do is to respond in the same way and get caught up in an escalating spiral of angry exchanges which usually upsets everyone and does nothing to improve communication or solve the problem at hand. As an alternative, we can try some of the following ideas whether it is with (1) explosive people who might be dangerous or (2) people who are chronically angry toward you.
DEALING WITH EXPLOSIVE PEOPLE WHO CONFRONT YOU:
1. Do not respond in kind. Hostility often leads to more hostility.
We usually want to defuse the situation so we may try responding with a non-hostile message. The classic example of this is in when simple inconsiderate driving or even aggressive driving suddenly escalates into road rage due to two drivers ratcheting up hostility in response to the other's hostile acts, words, or gestures. When I started responding angrily to my friend, I was contributing to the outcome by my decision to return hostility.
2. Take their upset seriously and validate their feelings.
Listen to what they have to say and hear them out; ignoring them or minimizing their feelings will tend to escalate their anger further.
3. Respond to the feelings they are having - not the content of what they are saying.
Try to hear and respond to the underlying hurt or pain the person is experiencing underneath the angry words. Use statements such as "I can appreciate why you feel that way," "Many people feel the way you do."
4. Allow angry people to physically escape the situation.
Don't block their way or prevent their exit, and don't insist on solving the problem "now" when the other person is in an agitated state.
5. Don't defend yourself by attacking back at them or their character.
Defensiveness often escalates anger in the other person and, in fact, is one of the predictors of divorce, according to recent marital research. There is a time to present your side, but not when your partner is unable to hear it due to his or her anger.
6. Don't try to solve an emotional issue with logical arguments.
Trying to diffuse an angry person with overwhelming evidence of their thinking errors or mistakes in logic, or facts to the contrary, or reasons for why they shouldn't feel the way they do, or why they should feel differently - usually makes the situation worse.
DEALING WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE CHRONICALLY ANGRY TOWARD YOU.
1. Consider changing your behaviour that triggers their anger.
Sometimes the most practical thing to do is to change whatever it is that triggers anger in people close to you. Not that we should go overboard on this, but simple changes can do a lot, especially if they don't lower your self-esteem or don't "cost" you a lot to change.
2. Think about terminating the relationship.
The truth is, some relationships we get involved in are so "toxic" that it is not helpful to continue in them or to try and repair them. At times, we need to protect ourselves from people we know who create an atmosphere that is not good for our well-being.
3. Limit the time spent with them.
But If ending the relationship is too drastic a step, consider simply limiting the time we spend with such people. Decide we can put up with the person several times a year at the family Christmas party, for instance, or we will be tolerant toward an angry ex-spouse once a week for the sake of our children.
4. Ask them directly why they often appear to be angry toward you.
Sometimes the quickest way to find out why someone appears constantly angry is to simply ask them. They may not even realize they were communicating angrily toward you, so an inquiry may open up a great opportunity for dialogue.
5. Communicate clearly about how their negativity affects you.
Honestly letting people know how their behaviour is affecting you emotionally is often an "eye-opener" to the other person. Start with "I feel" statements rather than "you" or "you should" statements.
6. Adjust our expectations of them.
People may be chronically angry toward us because we communicate that they are disappointing us in some way and see us as overly critical. If we change the expectations we have to them, that may result in them being less angry toward us!