calm and angry people

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First off a most important disclaimer: this DOES NOT apply to rage.

What do I mean by the difference between anger and rage? What I mean is that if someone is angry they can still be reasoned with. Someone who is enraged is past reasoning. This is most commonly seen in childrens’ temper tantrums. After a certain stage it is no longer possible to reason with the child. Normally we cope with this by putting them somewhere safe so that they can get it out and (hopefully) have a sleep afterwards. If you are dealing with an enraged adult, in my opinion, the best thing to do is to leave if you can.

Anger
In responding to anger I think there are two options: Stay calm or Get Angry. Both of these have worked in my experience.

1. Stay Calm.
A shouting match can achieve little. In this situation it can be useful to focus on the issues and listen to the other person. Let them know that you understand what they are saying and that you understand they are upset.

Especially when the anger has come from frustration it can help when the other person can stay rational. In this situation it is possible to say something like, “So, what you are angry about is. . . “, or, “What’s really upset you is . . . “. Getting clear on why we are angry can help.

It is also possible to consider solutions. Anger may begin as a reaction but can usually be channelled into making changes. For example, if someone is upset by the way someone has spoken to them it will be possible for them to consider alternatives: having nothing to do with that person, having someone to debrief with, or telling the person that their way of speaking to them is not acceptable.

2. Get Angry.
Sometimes calmness is just infuriating. It makes the anger worse. In this situation it is useful to ‘get angry’ too. Or, another way of saying it, let the person know that you can feel their intensity.

In this situation the angry person is looking for engagement. They want to know that you care. Perhaps, that you are upset by what was done to them, or that you feel bad about what you did (if they are angry with you).

Getting angry with the angry person can make the situation worse. It is worth saving this until you have tried the calming approach first. Then try a little bit of anger and see how it is received. If they respond well then a little more may not hurt. I have found that engaging the intensity of the other person has worked well when nothing else has.

I would like to hear your experiences of working with angry people in the comments. Let me hear your experiences on what has worked for you (and perhaps what hasn’t).


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11 Comments to “How to Calm an Angry Person”

  1. liz says:

    I’m reading sounds interesting usually I’d lash out at the customers or make them feel dumb your right it would always result of both of us at a fighting match! I want to follow the calm and soothing voice with sorry about the inconvience and a smile sounds just about right. I really have to change my behavior when I get a job. I do think it’s a bit more complex to work with females though.

  2. Evan says:

    Hi Liz,

    Interesting about the difference with women – I hadn’t thought about that. Would like to say more about what you see the differences as being? Thanks for your comment.

  3. David says:

    You do have very valid points of view but, it sounds more like an “either, or” situation. I am married to a woman who “breaks all the rules” of anything I have found online. After trying the calm approaches, I tried the angry too – both failed miserably. After finally getting her to go to therapy she deemed it a “crock” within two visits and checked out. She is either happy (things going her way) or raging as there is no in between state of mind. She can go from one to the other in a flash too, so I am always walking on egg shells. Everything is a “tit for tat” and when I mention something that has made me upset (usually after writing several drafts on post cards to make sure I say it in the best way possible) I end up apologizing!

    She defends EVERYTHING she does so basically I am the reason that I am upset because I am the one that is flawed and has the problem. She will fight to the death to defend her actions even if she knows she is wrong. We have been together for 12 years now but I am loosing the strength to carry on. I am the cause of all the trouble in our relationship according to her.

    I admit, I am very disconnected right now. I am not saying I am perfect by any means; many a time after an argument after I have thought about things I will realize I was kind of an as#$%^& and apologize and do something nice as a gesture to make up. I can be an As$%^&, but I tend to recognize it after the heat has worn off.

  4. David says:

    I do love my wife greatly; I just… After being threaten with divorce on so may occasions (having bags packed on 4 or 5 then at the last minute she changes her tune) I have gotten to think of life on my own. All I can think about is the good times that we have shared and the places we have seen and how I would miss all of that. The last thing I want to do is start over! But I do not know if that is just out of my own fear of what lies ahead; people do tend to stick with what they know. Example: I have ordered the same thing for 12 years at this one restaurant.

    I am flawed. I tend to be aloof, oblivious and a “pick yourself up and brush yourself off and get back in there” kinda guy. I also avoid conflict when ever I can. I just hate arguing; if something upsets me I like to just take a few moments let the other person know if applicable and then move forward. Why do some people feel the need to argue for hours and hours (days and days in my case) about stuff and then make it more complicated than it needs to be?

  5. Evan says:

    Hi David, without knowing your situation I think I can say the following. I left my wife because I simply ran out of energy. I now wish that I had left sooner – although the opportunity to be loving and expect nothing in return is no small thing (I also learnt that my resources are not inexhaustible). Sometimes our behaviour is so influenced by our past that the current reality doesn’t get much of a look in. It is possible your wife feels attacked whatever is said. What do you both get out of this situation? It’s been a while now and so this usually would mean that there is something in it for both of you. I’ll leave it here and reply to your next comment.

  6. Evan says:

    Hi David, without knowing either of you. I think you can be sure that the other person does what they do for some reason. If someone feels the need to defend themselves then it is likely they feel attacked. The trick is the person doing the attacking may not be you but someone in the past that they are carrying around in their heads. I think we all do this.
    You say you would miss the good times but avoid them at the moment. There seem to be two lots of feelings here. My hope is that you can pay attention to both of them.
    It may be that you can get good things in other ways than with your current partner.
    It may be that your way of responding is part of the problem. I tend to be pretty laid back too. Those who like emotional intensity can find this infuriating.
    I hope these few thoughts are helpful, or at least give you some starting points or new perspectives.

  7. David says:

    Evan,
    Thank you for your comments; it does give new perspectives. I often do wonder what she is not telling me about the past or even with us. I have always had a “gut feeling” like there is something I should know. She is very good at lying if she wants to be and if I ask her a question about the past or an incident that happened with us she gets really mad and accuses me of not trusting her etc. But, she never answers the question. So I wonder if her anger is a way of controlling an argument so that focus is never turned to her. Maybe it is how she handles stress?

  8. Evan says:

    Hi David, hope it helps. When we have something in our past that we feel is awful/shameful/whatever then any reference to it can be felt as very threatening. And so what looks to be an extreme reaction.

    Anger is a very energised state – and so it could be used to handle stress too.

  9. Paul says:

    Hi David,
    A few years have past since the above were posted but I thought I would add a few comments.

    I had a similar situation with my wife. I won’t bore you with the detail but it boiled down to her using emotional control techniques to get her own way. Having done everything I could to oblige her I eventually told her that I had given her everything that I had to give, I had nothing left. She got the message that she had pushed me to breaking point and if she didn’t change she would lose me. She changed overnight. She’s still prone to being moody but I’ve developed a tougher skin and she knows that I won’t ‘roll over’ any more. I leave her to think it through rather than bend over backwards to try to please her and given the space and time she’s usually the one who wants to make up.

    In a nutshell, I toughened up! It save our marriage and my kids still have their dad.

    All the best,
    Paul

  10. Elizabeth says:

    David – everything you say is exactly what I am going through. I am a woman married to an angry man. He is highly emotionally charged and has even said he feels like he has estrogen in his body. I am like the man, always logical and rational and never upset. I see him as the emotionally crazy woman, eventhough he is a man. Reading your posts is like reading about my own life and my own marriage. You haven’t posted since 2009, any update on your situation that can help me? Words of advice, things to say?

    Evan – what you say about the past is TOTALLY TRUE! I have found out that my husband has treated all his prior gf’s the same way before we got married. He left his email open on my laptop and I read through all his scathing emails to ex’s over the past 10 years. And then read their responses that he has depression and anger issues. He has so many triggers, I am the largest trigger currently. I admit I trigger it and I’m working towards fixing those triggers and changing that. But how do I deal with the work triggers, the triggers he get from watching TV, from his friends, from his day to day interactions with others? I don’t know what to say or do. Anyone have a recipe for what to exactly say to these people?

    Thanks, Elizabeth

  11. Evan says:

    Hi Elizabeth, I have a new blog Living Authentically (it is that name all lower case, all one word, and a dot org not a dot com. Done this way to avoid spam), you are most welcome to contact me there.

    My first question is: What is he doing to manage his reactions when triggered? His behaviour is not down to you.

    Does he expect you to do anything about his being triggered? I’d be very careful about making any agreements to do this. Certainly not without it being a shared project – and it being clear that you are helping him work on his stuff.

    Do you need to do anything? The first thing is to keep yourself safe.

    What you say depends on how much you and he are happy to have revealed. You can go with general naff stuff along the lines of, “He’s going through a hard time right now”, or if they say taht it has been happening for a long time, “Sorry, we’re working on it”.

    Without knowing your situation it is hard to give ideas. Is he willing to do therapy or look at his childhood?

    I hope these ideas are helpful, please get in touch with on my new blog if you would like to.

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