In most of my earlier posts, I have discussed how to master your own anger. And, in the vast majority of situations, it is your own anger that you will be dealing with.
However, in the course of dealing with other people, it is quite likely that someone has gotten angry at you and you have become a target. Recognizing this, I included a chapter in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, entitled Dealing with Someone Else’s Anger Directed at You.
As I would like to cover this topic in more depth and as I do not want each post to be too long, I will address mastering the anger of another person in the next three posts.
Mastering the anger of another person directed at you involves 6 steps each of which has two substeps. All 6 steps parallel the Anger Mastery Cycle and how you master your own anger. (You can download a copy of the Anger Mastery Cycle by scrolling up to the top and clicking on the tab on the right side of the page.)
Here is an overview:
- Prepare to engage. Sub-steps: a. Calm yourself b. Take a physical step back
- Insure your safety. Sub-steps: a. assess personal threat level b.Assess need for immediate action.
- Validate their anger. Sub-steps: a. Assume their anger is valid. b.Calm them down.
- Forgiveness. Sub-steps: a. understand what forgiveness is. b. Don’t take their anger personally.
- Empathize with and attempt to understand the other person’s anger. Sub-steps: a. Seek first to understand. b. Address 7 general issues.
- Decide how to respond. Sub-steps: a. If you did something. b. The issue is in their head.
I will address steps 1 and 2 in this post, steps 3 and 4 in the next post, and steps 5 and 6 in the third post.
Let me set the stage…
You are at _____ (work, home, walking the dog) and someone interacts with you in such a way that it seems clear to you that this person is angry with you. He (or she) might be yelling at you, talking fast, accusing you of having done something and so forth. It is not immediately clear why they are angry.
Steps 1 and 2 go together and involve preparing to engage the other person and insuring your own safety.
Remember from the Anger Mastery Cycle that all of us are constantly and subconsciously scanning our surroundings for any threat that might hurt us. Anger tells us that we perceive a threat that we believe we can overpower if we throw enough force at it. This is the message of anger.
The other person’s anger informs you that he sees you as a threat. As you don’t know what it is that he perceives or if you are at risk, you need to think about your own safety first.
Steps 1 and 2 are about your safety.
Step 1 (Prepare to engage) involves two substeps. First, you need to take a deep breath and second, you need to take a physical step back from the other person.
Taking a deep breath performs two functions for you.
Taking a deep breath calms you down just enough so that you can choose what you do next. This will inhibit you from reacting to the person and possibly escalating the interaction. Taking a breath also gives you some psychological distance between you and the other person.
Taking a step back from the person also performs two functions.
When you step back from the person, you provide yourself some physical distance between you and the other person. You also signal to them that you are not an immediate threat to them.
Step 1 and its sub-steps can happen very quickly. But, they are not automatic and must be “practiced”. More likely than not, when someone “angers” (my word) all over you, you will want to react and “anger” back on them. This is never a good idea.
Even if you are “justified” in reacting aggressively toward this person, the actions you take will most likely escalate, or aggravate, the interaction and will not move you and the other person toward resolving whatever issue is eliciting (not causing) the anger. While this is not necessarily an issue if the other person is a stranger, it may be a very important point if the other person is a colleague, a boss, a co-worker, or a customer talking to you on a help line or at your business.
You “practice” your response to the anger of another person by rehearsing, in your mind’s eye, the actions you will take if you are ever in this situation. Actors, preparing for a part, rehearse, or practice their actions. Maybe, you have rehearsed what you would do prior to a job interview or a meeting with your boss during which you plan to ask for a raise. Same idea. Think about someone getting angry with you and yelling at you. When you do this, you might feel yourself reacting as if this situation were actually occurring. If this happens to you, relax, this is normal. The mind often reacts the same to a vividly imagined event as it does to the event itself. Have you ever gotten scared or cried at a movie?
So, create an angry interaction in your mind and then “see” yourself taking a deep breath and taking a step back. You should do this several times for a week or so. While rehearsing makes it more likely that you will do as you plan, I have to tell you that there is no guarantee. The more you rehearse, the more likely the new action is to occur.
Step 2 (Insure your safety) also involves two sub-steps. First, you need to assess your personal risk and second you need to assess the need for any immediate action.
Assessing your personal risk involves looking at the other person, their tone of voice, the actions they are taking (moving toward you as you move away), what they are saying (any threats) and so forth. If your “gut” tells you that you are at risk, then your best course of action is to act as if you are at risk. This gut feeling is your Amygdala sending you a message. Honor it.
Sub-step 2 involves deciding what you need to do in the moment based on what you feel following sub-step 1. If you sense that you are in danger, leave. If you have to, just walk away. If you need to excuse yourself before you walk away, make an excuse and leave. If you do not sense that you are in danger, then you can move on to step 3 and step 4 which we will discuss next week.
I welcome your comments.