You are the target of someone’s anger: Part 3 of 3

This is the third and final post in my 3 part series discussing six steps you can take when someone directs their anger at you.

This is the scenario I have been using:

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.

In my first post, I discussed Steps 1 and 2 which focused on insuring your safety in the interaction

In my last post, I covered Steps 3 and 4 which focused on lowering the energy level of the interaction.

Steps 5 and 6 involve choosing a response.

Here is the overview:

Step 1:  Prepare to engage.                                                                                     Sub-steps:  a. Calm yourself   b. Take a physical step back

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.

Step 5 involves empathizing with and attempting to understand the other person’s anger. As you know that the message of anger involves the perception of threat, you need to know what those perceptions are so that you can tailor your response so as to move the interaction in the direction of a win-win resolution, if possible.

Sub-step (a) is taken from Steven Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People  and suggests that you seek first to understand and then to be understood.  Your goal here is to gain some knowledge of what it is in you, or the situation, that has resulted in his seeing you as a threat.

Focusing your attention on the other person first gives you the opportunity to learn about him so that you can later develop a response which may let you get both your and his needs met.

Sub-step (b) involves addressing  7 general issues and will help focus your attention on the information you need.

Here are the 7 general issues that I originally addressed in my book Beyond Anger Mastery: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

  1. What is the nature of the threat the other person perceives?
  2. 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?
  3. Are they just venting and you just happened to be in the way?
  4. Is the threat, or the implied threat, that they perceive in the present and something you may be able to resolve?
  5. Is the threat they perceive, or the implied threat, in the present but totally unrelated to you?
  6. 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)?
  7. 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?

With the information you get from addressing these 7 general areas, you can move onto Step 6 in which you choose a response.

In choosing how you will respond, there are two basic issues which are summarized by the two Sub-steps. Either you did something (Sub-step (a)) or the issue is in their head (Sub-step (b)).

When it is clear that you have done something about which this person is angry, the best you can do is to accept responsibility for your actions, sincerely apologize, address their concerns as well as you can, and ask what you can do to “make it right”. You do not need to make excuses or justify your behavior (although you can offer an explanation if you choose) and you want to be assertive and seek a win-win resolution if possible.

If the threat is a figment of their imagination, you are only marginally involved or if you are a “target” and the anger has little to do with you, the best you can do is ask for clarification (I’m not really sure what I might have done. Can you tell me what you are angry about?) and attempt to address their concerns.

If, as can happen with Professional Women appropriately expressing anger in a work setting, the anger is a cover for the other person’s feeling of vulnerability, the best course of action is to take a “Project manager’s” approach to the interaction. I have a whole chapter on Professional Women and Anger in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

What you do not want to do is argue with the other person as getting into an argument, even if you are “right”, will most likely just escalate their anger and elicit an attempt to defend and justify their perceptions.

Remember that your goal is to reduce the energy level of the interaction so that you can seek a win-win resolution if possible, or a compromise, rather than to prove that you are right.

If appropriate, apologize for any misunderstandings. Note that you are not apologizing here for anything you’ve done just for any misunderstanding.

If nothing works and they are still angry at you, you may have to offer to get back with them at a later date and walk away.

Has this series of three posts been helpful to you?  Is there any topic you would like addressed further?

As always, I welcome your comments.


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