Does this apply to you?
You are interacting with another person and their reaction to you leaves you “scratching your head” and wondering what is going on with them or elicits an emotional reaction in you such as anger which isn’t consistent with the situation or your history with this person.
In this post, I will address how to begin to understand others who direct their emotions at you.
There are several issues which you should take into account when you are dealing with an emotional reaction of another person.
They are (in order of importance):
I. The specific emotion the other person is expressing and the message of that emotion as well as your emotional reaction (if relevant).
II. The situation including the nature of the relationship between you and the other person.
III. The BRR: Giving meaning to their behavior.
IV. How you want to respond or “intervene”
I. The specific emotion and the message of that emotion.
As soon as you become aware that someone is directing a specific emotion at you, your first actions should be to take a deep breath to calm yourself down and take a step back from the situation to initially create some physical space between you and the other person.
You can then become aware of and begin to assess the specific emotion the other person is expressing and the message of that emotion.
The emotion that you observe in the other person is a direct reflection of how they perceive their interaction with you.
The message of the emotion will inform you about how the other person is perceiving you and your situation and their interactions with you..
By attending to the message of the emotion, you gain important insight into how the other person perceives, conceptualizes and understands what is going on between the two of you.
Their perception may or may not conform to what you intend to happen between you.
This information will be critical when you decide how to interact with this person and address the emotion which stems from their perception.
Anger: they perceive a threat in the situation that they want to eliminate. Anger prepares one for war.
Anxiety: a future based emotion the message of which is that there MAY be a future threat that might be “dangerous”. They are facing a possible threat in their relationship with you.
Shame: the message of shame is that the person believes they are inherently a bad or damaged person. There is something going on between you that is eliciting self-consuming thoughts in them.
Fear: this is a here and now emotion which communicates that they see you as an eminent threat which must be immediately avoided.
The message of your emotional reaction communicates to you how you are perceiving them. You may need to pay attention to your initial reaction so that you do not overreact, escalate the interaction, and make it more difficult to master what is going on between you and the other person.
II. The situation including the nature of the relationship between you and the other person
Awareness of the emotion is the beginning of the process of responding to that emotion.
The next issue for you is to be aware of the situation as your options may be limited by elements of the situation in which your interactions with this person are occurring.
At least 3 situations come to mind…
1.Are you at risk?
If you need to escape or hide, what are your options.
2. Are you in a position to comfort, advise, or offer assistance to this person?
If the person is opening up to you about an emotion such as anxiety or sadness, are you in a position to offer assistance?
3.Are there power differentials which impact how you can respond?
- Is the other person a superior or boss?
- Is the other person someone you want or need to respond to as opposed to “dismissing” them in an appropriate manner?
- Does your “status” as a woman, a manager, an hourly employee, impact your response options?
III. BRR: What is motivating their behavior
You are aware of the emotion which informs you of how the other person perceives you and their interactions with you and of your situation which gives you additional information regarding your options.
You can now look at the individual and what how they are interacting with you. You do this using the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR).
The BRR tells you that every person in every situation does the best they can (not the best possible) given their Model of the World (how they perceive what is going on) and their Skill Sets (The behavioral tools they can call upon to help them deal with their interaction with you.)
Changing their Model
If you know how they are perceiving their current interaction with you (the message of the emotion) and you know that their perception is elicited by their Model or how they make sense of, understand, or interpret of what is happening, and you can change this Model by asking questions, offering some suggestions, then intervening to change the Model is a good choice.
Dealing with a skill set deficit (They don’t have the right tools for the situation.)
If their inappropriate actions are stemming from a skill set deficit, then they are in a situation in which they don’t really know how to interact with you and are struggling. In this case, you may have to resort to reassuring them that it will work out, give them some space, avoid confrontations, or use distraction if possible and so forth.
IV. Choose an adaptive response.
Based on all of the above, choose how you want to respond and take action.
Anger as an example…
This is the scenario I used..
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.
I discussed 7 general issues and 6 steps.
Here are the 7 general issues that I originally addressed in my book Beyond Anger Mastery: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.
- What is the nature of the threat the other person perceives?
- Are they telling you that you have done something wrong? If so, what is it? Is is something you did recently, are currently doing, or something you did in the past?
- Are they just venting and you just happened to be in the way?
- Is the threat, or the implied threat, that they perceive in the present and something you may be able to resolve?
- Is the threat they perceive, or the implied threat, in the present but totally unrelated to you?
- Are they using their anger to “manipulate” you in some way or get you to do something specific like back-off (anger as a communicator) or give in (instrumental anger)?
- If there is no obvious threat, what else might be going on? Could they be using their anger to cover over some other feeling (secondary anger)? Or, if they are attacking you or demeaning your character, could they be attempting to divert attention away from issues you have raised and onto you as an individual?
Here are the 6 Steps…
Step 1: Prepare to engage.
Sub-steps: a. Calm yourself by taking a deep breath b. Take a physical step back if your physical safety is an issue.
Step 2: Insure your safety.
Sub-steps: a. assess personal threat level b.Assess need for immediate action.
Step 3: Validate their anger.
Sub-steps: a. Assume their anger is valid. b. Calm them down.
Step 4: Forgiveness.
Sub-steps: a. understand what forgiveness is. b. Don’t take their anger personally.
Step 5: Empathize with and attempt to understand the other person’s anger.
Sub-steps: a. Seek first to understand. b. Address 7 general issues.
Step 6: Decide how to respond.
Sub-steps: a. If you did something. b. The issue is in their head.
Here are the links to a series of 3 posts I published in Febuary and March of 2017 which address how to intervene when another person is angry with you. These three posts and the suggestions I made in them are as relevant and valid today as they were in 2017.