Keeping Your Cool Dealing With Angry Difficult People
My goal is to provide the most useful and relevant information I can to you and my other readers. Here is my response to one reader’s question.
His question asked about how to deal with unstable and verbally abusive people. Most certainly those kinds of people are often a trigger for stress….so how to handle interacting with them in a way that honors God and reduces your stress??
While there are a few mindsets and practices that can be helpful, here are two that I believe are the most powerful.
First is a helpful mindset or mental perspective about interactions with angry hostile people. Their response to you is about them, not you. It is very likely they were unstable angry, hostile type people before you met them and they will most likely continue being so long after your last conversation with them. So don’t take their angry, hurtful demeaning disrespectful attitude personally. Sadly they have been and will likely continue to be profoundly unhappy people. But despite what they may be saying to you, you did not create their original unhappiness and nor will you be the last person they believe to have caused their current unhappiness.
I know this may seem a bit crude but this illustration makes the situation clear. Imagine what your response might be to someone when you have to pee so bad you are starting to fear an embarrassing leak or a burst bladder. The other person could be very polite, engaging, and kind but if they are not assisting you immediately to the restroom, it is likely your reaction to them will be less than polite. At best you might ignore them or worse yell something like “Get me to the bathroom or shut up!!” Was your response to them due to them being rude or a terrible human being? Of course not. Your response was driven by a deep internal need to fix a very urgent problem …. pee before you embarrass yourself!
Chronically angry people have a constant internal feeling of having an urgent need that must be fixed now. Usually the source of that feeling is not completely clear to them so they identify any immediate issue around them that might be irritating them and blame it on that problem. If you are in any way connected to the identified cause of their current discomfort, you are most likely going to be the receiver of their felt distress. It is not about you.
The Bible offers some really awesome advice about dealing with angry distraught people. “A gentle answer turns away rage, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1 GW) The first obvious way to use this, is simply to talk softer. If you are talking in such a soft tone that the other person has to quiet their voice to hear you, you are already contributing to a calmer conversation.
Another great way to use the gentle answer principle is to simply reflect back to the angry person the emotional essence of what they are saying. The goal is for them to feel truly deeply heard and understood.
Angry Person: “You must not be paying attention. I ordered 3 hamburgers and you gave me one! I’m trying to feed hungry kids at home and you made two of them wait just because you are too stupid to count!”
You: “I’m sorry ** your kids didn’t get their hamburgers. They must be starving! Can you please give me the receipt so I can confirm what you ordered and get it to you as quickly as possible.”
The statements “your kids didn’t get their hamburgers”, “they must be starving”, and “get it to you as quickly as possible” reflect back to the angry person that you really heard their distress and that you are taking it seriously enough to try to help solve their problem.
** “I’m sorry..” is not a reflection but an apology that fits well with the “gentle answer” approach. It costs you absolutely nothing, and it is a very powerful way to help an upset person calm themselves. It can have profound lasting effects if you follow your apology with real and genuine effort to fix the their problem to the best of your ability. (I know I promised you two methods but apologizing is just too simple and powerful for me to not add in 🙂 )
The more angry and stuck a person is on how terrible, unfair, or wrong, you or the problem is, the more you continue reflecting back the emotions you hear. If they tell you you don’t understand, try reflecting back their exact words, but try to repeat them like you genuinely feel them, not like a parrot just making fun of them. Keep reflecting back their emotions until they calm down. Then you can start the process of solving their problem or as gently as possible explaining why you can’t do whatever they want you to do.
If you can’t do anything to fix their problem, reflect back how terrible, unfair, or wrong it is that you can’t fix this for them. Remember you are simply reflecting their emotions and your understanding of them. You do not have to agree with them to be able to do this.
I often use a phrase something like: “Man, if someone treated me like that I’d be very angry too! That’s just crazy!” Notice, I am not stating that I agree they have been treated badly, only that if I was treated the way they believe they have been treated, that I could easily see myself feeling the same way. That is usually enough for them to feel heard and understood which nearly always leads them to calm down…sometimes much more quickly than you might guess!
If you give these two (three with the apology “bonus”) approaches a try, let me know how they work for you at Steven@TheStressReliefCoach.com