Dealing with angry people in our society is becoming increasingly challenging. Some days, it seems anger surrounds us at home, in the workplace, on the roadways, and at sports events. It is easy to 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, this survival guide is designed to provide practical tips on how to deal with two types of angry people in your life: (1) explosive people who might be dangerous and (2) people who are chronically angry toward you.
PART 1- EIGHT TIPS TO DEAL WITH EXPLOSIVE PERSONS WHO CONFRONT YOU: DEFUSING POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS SITUATIONS:
1. Do not respond in kind. Hostility often begets more hostility.
Respond instead with a non-hostile message to defuse people who are behaving in a hostile manner toward you. 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.
Please remember that in these and other hostile situations, you contribute somewhat to the outcome by your decision to return hostility or not.
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. There have been untold numbers of workplace violence incidents that could have been averted had supervisors or managers listened with empathy to disgruntled employees rather than responding in an insensitive, or uncaring manner.
3. Never argue with someone when they are intoxicated.
When someone is drinking or intoxicated, this is no time to try to solve relationship or other problems (especially if you too have had a few drinks). A high percentage of angry confrontations as well spousal abuse arrests occur when drinking is involved by one or both partners. Drinking often impairs judgment, decreases inhibitions (resulting in saying things we don’t mean), and distorts your normally astute reasoning ability.
4. 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,” “It sounds like you are very angry right now,” “Many people feel the way you do.”
5. On roadway, don’t make eye contact with an aggressive driver.
This is the secret signal in the animal world to engage in combat and will frequently escalate things, sometimes into “road rage.” Just ignore aggressive drivers and stay out of their way.
6. Allow angry people to physically escape the situation.
Don’t block their way or prevent egress, or you may be putting yourself in a dangerous situation. Take off the heat rather than increasing the pressure! Don’t insist on solving the problem “now” when the other person is in an agitated state.
7. Don’t defend yourself by attacking back at them or their character flaws.
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.
8. 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.
Part 2- HOW TO DEAL WITH PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE WHO ARE CHRONICALLY ANGRY TOWARD YOU.
1. Consider changing your behavior 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 you 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.
Truth is, some relationships we get involved in are so “toxic” that it is self-abusive to continue in them or to try and repair them. At times, you need to protect yourself from people in your life who create an atmosphere that is not good for your well-being.
3. Limit your time spent with them.
If terminating the relationship is too drastic of a step, consider simply limiting the time you spend with toxic people in your life. Decide you can put up with the person several times a year at the family Christmas party, for instance, or that you will be tolerant toward your angry ex-spouse once a week for the sake of your children.
4. Ask them directly why they are often appear angry toward you.
A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Sometimes the quickest way to find out why someone appears constantly angry with you is to simply ask them. They may not even realize they were communicating angrily toward you, so your inquiry may open up a great opportunity for dialogue.
5. Communicate clearly how their negativity affects you.
Honestly letting people know how their behavior 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 your expectations of them.
People may be chronically angry toward you because you communicate that they are disappointing you in some way and they are perceiving you as overly critical. Adjusting those expectations you have toward others may result in their being less angry toward you!
7. Stop trying to solve unsolvable problems in a relationship.
According to some marital researchers, up to 60% of issues in a relationship are unsolvable due to the couple’s being “gridlocked” around it. Trying to solve unsolvable problems creates much anger. Instead, find a way to dialogue about the issues and live with each other around them, rather than trying to fix them.
8. Suggest ways to remedy anger, if the other person acknowledges he or she has an anger problem.
If the angry person in your life is open to it, suggest an evaluation by a psychologist or physician to determine what the problem is. There are many underlying problems such as Depression, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Bipolar Disorder, and other conditions which can lead to anger problems. Often, anger management classes are recommended in addition to treatment of an underlying problem.
Author: Dr. Tony Fiore