Dealing With an Angry Person
7 Ways to Handle a Hothead -- Without Blowing Your Top
It's never fun to deal with an angry person, whether we're talking about a hothead who's quick to anger or a chronically angry grouse. Unfortunately, none of the natural reactions that an angry person inspires -- defensiveness, fear, or getting mad yourself -- tend to be productive.
What's more effective: these seven tactics. According to experts, careful responses can help you counter a hothead without losing your head.
1. Let the angry person know you understand that he's upset.
What this sounds like: "I understand that you're really angry right now that I missed our appointment." "Oh, wow, you seem really mad that the doctor's office never called back." "You're mad that I ate that last brownie -- is that it?"
It's important to be specific, to hit home the message to the other person that he or she is truly understood. Don't just say, "I understand what you're saying."
Keep the focus on the other person's emotions. Don't say, "I understand because I've been there, too." The upset person doesn't care; in the heat of the moment, he feels like his experience is unique.
Why it helps: The tactic known as "reflective listening" or "active listening" is a basic building block to all kinds of effective communication, says psychologist Steve Sultanoff, an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University. Especially with someone who's seething with anger, it's not enough for you to realize that he or she is upset (which tends to be pretty obvious). You need to demonstrate that realization to the upset person by saying so.
The effect of simply stating what's behind the anger is like pouring cool water on a fire. "As humans, we have a tendency to feel connected when another person gets us," Sultanoff says. "Repeating back what you're hearing the angry person say is both connecting and calming."