How do you react when someone is angry with you? Do you withdraw or try to avoid the person, clam up, get defensive, or get angry back? Unfortunately, silence and withdrawal usually don’t help, and responding angrily or defensively usually just “fans the flames” and makes the other person angrier.
The following strategies can help you cope effectively when the other person is angry, leading to a more productive discussion.
- Allow the other person to “let it out.” Many people will calm down on their own after being allowed to “vent” for a few minutes.
- Don’t take it personally. Your goal is to try to have a constructive conversation; if you let your ego get in the way, you may get into a battle of wills.
- Speak for yourself. Focus on your own thoughts and feelings (e.g., “I’m feeling upset”), rather than labeling the other person’s actions (“you’re being unfair”).
- “Keep your eye on the ball.” In other words, stay focused on the subject at hand, and try not to be distracted by the tone of the conversation.
- Try to find something you can agree with or understand, even if you don’t agree with everything you’re hearing: “I can see why you’d be angry, since you thought I’d have this project done earlier.”
If you feel that the other person is really getting out of hand (not merely upset), you have a couple of options. The first is to calmly say something like, “I’m happy to listen to what you have to say, but only if you can lower your voice and speak respectfully toward me.” If that is not effective, the best option at that point is usually to postpone the conversation: “I have a hard time listening when you’re this loud—let’s stop now and continue the conversation later on after we both have a chance to cool down.”
Listening to an angry person isn’t fun, but these approaches can help everyone stay calm and lead to fruitful discussions. You may never run for cover again!