Do you find yourself in situations where you are uncomfortable and even frightened because the person you are with is really angry? In the workplace, it might be a frustrated and exhausted boss who is venting; at home it might be a spouse who is unable to manage his/her behavior, or a friend that is going through rough times. Or, if you are in the service industry, you might run into angry customers all the time. It’s an uncomfortable feeling and can be a stressful experience for everyone in the person’s path. Knowing how to diffuse the moment until the angry person can calm down is a helpful skill to have.
Let’s start with what generally doesn’t work. These are responses you should avoid because they only contribute to the escalation of the angry episode. They include:
1. Getting angry back at them.
2. Blocking them from moving away from you until their anger is resolved.
3. Telling them to relax.
4. Insulting them in any way.
Instead, employing some of the following techniques can actually help to temper and resolve the intensity of the moment. In fact, just the other night we were out to dinner when we witnessed a customer stand up and start screaming at his server because he felt like service was slow and she was ignoring their table. He got red in the face and was downright embarrassing to be around. He was so loud that the entire restaurant got quiet. She diffused the situation really well by utilizing a number of the following techniques. He eventually calmed down and seemed regretful for his behavior.
1. Start with acknowledging their anger. This doesn’t mean that you are saying they are right, but suggests that you understand how they are feeling. For example, “I understand that you are very angry right now because I missed my deadline.”
2. Now is the time to be empathetic. Try to look at the situation through the other person’s eyes. For example, “He has to report back to his boss and it will look bad that we haven’t completed the project”. Even though you may think the deadline was ridiculous because it didn’t give you enough time to turn in quality work, suspending judgment on the other person’s anger can help to diffuse things. Consider that the angry person is doing the best he/she can in the circumstances.
3. Be direct and ask exactly what the person wants of you, or if you can help him/her solve the problem. “Now that I’ve missed the deadline, what can I do to help the matter?” Try not to be defensive about the issue but helpful in finding a solution.
4. Give them peace and quiet to cool off. Remove yourself from the confrontation before it gets out of hand and you regret what you’ve heard or said.
5. Respond to the yelling, screaming and hostility with a calm attitude. The more you engage, the more intense the situation will become. Choose to back off and stay quiet or answer in a soft voice.
6. Realize that their angry behavior is their problem, not yours. Angry people tend to blame others for their inappropriate reaction, instead of taking responsibility for their own actions.
If utilizing these tips doesn’t seem to be working and you are getting worried that the person may eventually become physically violent, make a plan. Don’t wait until it happens, but be proactive with a safe way to keep yourself and any kids involved out of harms way.