How to Defuse Other People’s Anger
By Linda Larsen
All of us have been on the receiving end of someone else’s anger,
whether it was with our bosses, employees, coworkers, clients, or
customers. 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 might have actually made it worse.
If we want to effectively deal with the
problem in such a way that resolves the issue and
maintains the relationship, there are certain key strategies and
behaviors, which can employ.
Listen first. This strategy
is particularly challenging when we feel that we are right and
they are wrong. And even though we may not be speaking while they
are stating their
case, our nonverbal body language is usually screaming, "OK, you
idiot. But I know I’m
right and you know I’m right. So, I’ll listen – but only for you to
shut up so that I can start talking." Instead, we have to listen to
understand. Listen for information you don’t have. Assume that they
have (in their minds) a legitimate reason for their upset and listen
what it is. Nod, occasionally, to indicate that you are listening.
And, while you are
listening, remember to…
Maintain a neutral face. Experts
tell us that as much as 55% of the meaning of any
message comes from visual indicators – posture, gestures, body
positioning, etc. We
also know that as much as 75% of that 55% comes from our face. Make
effort to relax your face, unclench your jaw and lift your eyebrows.
Think, "open, pleasant, neutral, relaxed."
Maintain a level voice. Most of us
get extremely reactive (either defensive or offensive) when we hear
that tone of voice in the other person. Again, as much as 38%
of the meaning of our message can be found in our vocal qualities.
So if my thoughts (and subsequent feelings) are, "OK, I’ll humor
you, but everything you are saying is total garbage," then that
message will be communicated loudly in my vocal tone. Instead,
use the same tone of voice you would use if you were calm and
Feed back what you hear. While you
are listening, the opportunity will present itself
for you restate and paraphrase both their content and their
feelings. You might find
yourself saying things like, "so, no one called you back that day,
is that right?" Or,
"sounds like this entire experience was extremely frustrating for
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 pattern and refocusing their attention. Ways to
a. Say their name. When you do need to speak, start by saying the
person’s name. When a person hears their name they will stop and
change what they are focused on, if only for a moment. Next…
b. Say, "hold on a second". These words, said with extreme calm and
relaxation, again stop the person for a moment and change what they
have their attention fixed on.
Make empathetic statements. The
best statement you can make at this point is,
"Let me make sure I understand you. You’re saying…" and then repeat
heard them say. A person will stop to listen to you if they know
that what you are
going to say is what they just said. And when you repeat what
you heard them say,
make certain that you…
Number items. 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, if at all
possible, 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
format, is that correct?" In order to comprehend what you are
saying, the person
has to flip over to their left brain in order to follow the
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 we can talk them out of
Instead say things like, "I understand your feelings," or "I’m sure
if I was in your
place I would feel the same way." Get solution oriented. If you are
not sure how you can help, ask. If you are in a
position to provide help, again list the steps you will take in a
Either way, use the words, "I want to help." Let the other person
know, in no
uncertain terms, that you care about what they are going through and
are willing to
assist in correcting the problem.
Eliminate the following statements:
"If you will just calm down"
"If you will just let me talk"
"You’re being unreasonable"
"Exactly what’s your problem?"
The above statements, and others similar
in nature, serve to exacerbate the problem and intensify feelings of
anger. It’s also important to remember that if someone’s anger seems
threatening or getting out of control, the most prudent decision we
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," or, "I am unable to help you when you yell at me. I
appreciate how strongly you feel about this – and I will try to find
someone else to help you."
In life, the reality is that anger is a
normal healthy emotion. Sometimes, however, people can allow their
anger to cloud their judgment and negatively impact their behaviors.
When the other person is angry and upset and we are calm – then we are
in control of the situation. And when we have the ability to defuse
their anger and solve the problem, we emerge as the hero, and our
relationships become stronger and healthier. Using sound reasoning and
practical strategies enables us to just that.
Linda Larsen, professional speaker and keynote presenter, is the
the critically acclaimed audio program, 12 Secrets to High Self Esteem
of the newly released book, True Power – Get it, Use it, Share it. She
reached at 1-800-355-4420 or