Stress Management Tip Sheet – Diffusing Anger in Others

By George Anderson, MSW, BCD
Introduction

Anger and aggression are often the product of frustration and a feeling of powerlessness. Listening is the most important skill in defusing anger. Do not attempt to reason with a person in the midst of irrational anger. Listening with your heart means trying to determine how the other person is feeling as they are speaking. This is empathetic listening.

Phrases for active listening:

  • Can you tell me more?
  • When did this happen?
  • Let me see if I understand what you just said.
  • It sounds like you are very angry right now.
  • What would you like to see happen?
  • I see it this way. How do you see it?
  • How do you think this issue can be resolved?
  • Do many people feel the way you do?
  • I am glad you feel comfortable talking to me about this.

Assume that they have (in their mind) a legitimate reason for being upset and listen for what it is. Nod, occasionally, to indicate that you are listening. And, while you are listening, remember:

  • Efforts to resist verbally are counterproductive, and put the aggressor in an even more defensive position.
  • Try to appear neutral in your posture and facial expressions.

Experts tell us that as much as 55 percent of the meaning of any message comes from visual indicators – posture, gestures, body positioning, etc. We also know that as much as 75 percent of that 55 percent comes from our face. Make a conscious effort to relax your face, unclench your jaw and lift your eyebrows. Think, “open, pleasant, neutral, relaxed.  Speak in a moderate tone.

Try to Change the Focus

When people are angry and upset, one of the first things we want to do is change their emotional state. We can do this by interrupting their pattern and refocusing their attention. Ways to do this:

  • Say their name. When you need to speak, start by saying the person’s name. When a person hears their name they will stop and change what they are focused on, if only for a moment.
  • Say, “hang on a second.” These words, said with extreme calm and relaxation, again stop the person for a moment and change what they have their attention fixed on.

When people are angry and upset, they are operating predominantly out of the right, emotional side of their brain.  To get them over to the logical, rational left side of their brain, if at all possible say something like this:

Example: “You’re saying; one, you didn’t get the report in time.  Two, it didn’t have all the information you needed. And three, it was not in the right format, is that correct?” To comprehend what you are saying, the person has to flip over to their left-brain in order to follow the sequence.

Look for Solutions
  • If you are not sure how you can help, ask. If you are in a position to provide help, again list the steps you will take in a numerical fashion.
  • Either way, use the words, “I want to help!” Let the other person know, in no uncertain terms, that you care about what they are going through and are willing to assist in correcting the problem.

George Anderson, CEO of Anderson & Anderson Anger Management is based in Brentwood, CA.  He can be reached at (310) 207-3591.

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To find a social worker in your area, please click here.

George Anderson is a Board Certified Diplomate in Psychotherapy, A Fellow in the American Orthopsychiatric Association and, the first global provider of Anger Management training, workbooks, videos, DVDs and interactive CDs. He is the author of “Gaining Control of Ourselves”, “Controlling Ourselves”, “Parenting in A Troubled World”, “The California Domestic Violence Intervention Curriculum, and “Depression, Awareness, Recognition and Intervention”. Mr. Anderson received Post Graduate training in Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy from the Harvard University School of Medicine (1971) and previously taught in the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, Pepperdine University, and Simmons College School of Social Work. Currently, he is the major provider of language and culture specific curricula in Anger Management and Domestic Violence Intervention. His workbooks are published in English, Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish and Russian.

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