So, you are not a hot head. But you have to deal with one or two or three. Below are some ideas to consider when dealing with outwardly angry people—note: we will have to talk about the quiet angry types in another post.
[Most important: your safety! If the angry person becomes abusive (or you believe it is heading in that direction) you should remove yourself from the situation and seek appropriate help. What we are discussing here is anger that does not result in abuse.]
Anger usually comes from some insecurity, fear, guilt, sense of inadequacy, etc.:
Understanding this can help us to NOT internalize the other person’s expression of anger. When we internalize someone else’s anger we tend to get defensive—at least this is true for me. When we get defensive we can get side tracked from the real issues at hand.
Expectations: Do you have unrealistic expectations about the reasonableness of the angry person?
It is unreasonable to expect a person in the passion of anger to be completely reasonable. The biology of anger does not support it. The more angry the individual the less the reasoning center of the brain can operate. The blood flow actually decreases to the reasoning center (pre-frontal cortex—the part behind your forehead). Instead the body/brain puts its resources in to the fight/flight response.
Anger, fear, anxiety and alike all have a similar physiological response. It is important that this balance be restored before attempting to engage in a reasonable discussion. Justifying our actions—even if we are in the right—accomplishes nothing in the heat of the moment.
Post-traumatic stress responses can involve anger outbursts. PTSD is not a means for excusing inappropriate actions. However, it can be helpful to keep in mind that the stress and anxiety that accompany PTSD can help contribute to a shorter fuse.
Diffuse before Engaging:
In the heat of anger (our own or that of another) our goal should be to diffuse the situation before attempting to solve the problem(s) surrounding the event. Time is an important ingredient in this mix. People’s bodies need time to work out the rush of hormones that accompanies anger and the fight/flight response.
It may not be helpful to declare an official “time-out”. However, some kind of separation in time and space should be considered.
It is important that the individuals involved reengage the issues when all have had an opportunity to cool down. If we are not careful time and space can lead to avoidance and the underlying problems will never get resolved.
Get someone else involved:
I don’t mean that you should drag someone else into the middle of the argument. Rather, when a relative calm has set in, invite someone to help mediate the discussion. This person should be perceived by all involved as being relatively neutral.
Addressing their anger issue:
Yelling back, “You have anger issues!” In the middle of their outburst is not likely to be helpful. (I know, I have tried it.) When all is calm it may be possible to discuss your concern for how they are handling anger.
However, in order to be able to successfully deliver this message, it helps if you actually care. I have not found many people ready to accept a “critical” message from someone who does not care. If that is the case, then try and find someone who does care to deliver the message of concern.
This is by no means a complete list of things to help deal with angry people. What ideas or strategies have helped you deal with angry people? (Please share your thoughts in the comments section.)
Check out the first part of our podcast series on anger: “Anger!!! What Lies Beneath”