Effective Strategies for Defusing Anger

June 8, 2018 by  

Occasionally, you may be approached by a person who in such a state of anger or frustration, that it is first necessary to calm them down or defuse their anger to some degree before you decide how to effectively address their needs. Note that this is not always going to be possible and, at some point, it should be considered whether alternative interventions might need to be applied (e.g., contacting the police or a counseling service). Below is some general information regarding anger, with specific recommendations on how you might try reducing anger in others.

Key Issues to Consider:
Anger and aggression are often the product of frustration and a feeling of powerlessness. Efforts to resist physically or verbally are counterproductive and put the aggressor in an even more defensive position. In addition, never just tell them to “calm down” as this will only inflame their anger further.
Active Listening is the most important skill you can employ to defuse anger. There is no point in attempting to reason with a person in the midst of irrational anger, better to just listening carefully to what their problem is and then you can try to assist them with a solution.
Rather than trying to resist a person’s anger, it is better to redirect their verbal aggression into a non-threatening form of discussion that can bring about a cooperative, problem-solving approach.

Here are 6 Approaches for Defusing Anger:
 – Communicate Respect
 – Cooperate
-  Active Listening
-  Reframe the problem
 – Assertiveness
 – Disengage from the situation

1. Communicate Respect: Demonstrating respect is a primary means of de-escalating hostility. You can communicate respect by utilizing active listening skills and non-aggressive body language. When you respectfully listen and show the person that you have actually heard what is troubling them you will likely help them to realize that you actually have an interest in helping them to resolve the issue they are dealing with or the needs they are seeking. At the same time, you are also demonstrating an acknowledgement of the importance of their concern. It is also key to refrain from openly judging his/her behaviour. Better to remain non-judgmental and supportive.

2. Cooperate: By cooperating with the angry person, you are showing that you understand that they are upset and are willing to help them. Just be sure that you are not putting yourself or anyone else in harm’s way when you do this. It is also important to refrain from pointing out reasons why the person should not be angry. In addition, try not to disagree, instead, focus on communicating with empathy for the person’s feelings. In other words, your objective here is not to cure the anger but rather to simply avoid making the situation worse.

3. Active Listening: Employing Active Listening is your most powerful and effective tool for defusing anger. When attempting to defuse anger, you must shift the focus from getting your point across to understanding the needs of the angry person, and work with them toward achieving a common goal that will be beneficial. Everyone wants to be truly listened to and to feel understood. People often become angry or aggressive when they have not felt acknowledged or appreciated. Do not give in to the temptation to interrupt or correct the angry person as rational arguments may only provoke their hostility. Better to let them rant and when they are done, then you can make suggestions as to how they might like to proceed. When people are under stress associated with conflict or feelings of insecurity, the potential for misinterpretation is greatly increased, therefore it is extremely important to paraphrase or summarize what you heard, then clarify, and finally gather further information as necessary. When you do all of this you are validating the person’s experience. You do not necessarily have to agree with them, you just have to show them that have truly listened to them and now understand why they might be feeling the way they do. You can use ‘open-ended’ questions to get a clearer idea of how they do feel. Be cognizant of your reactions, and be curious rather than judgmental in your responses. If possible, try to match, then lower the person’s intensity. Be sure to pay attention to your nonverbal communication because if this does not reinforce and support your verbal communication, it will likely obliterate it and you will not achieve a win/win outcome. Standing at an angle (sideways), rather than directly opposing someone, can help keep a situation calm and non-adversarial. Remember not to talk too much, and whenever possible to use the person’s name, as that also shows respect.

4. Reframe the Problem: It is up to you to redirect the aggression into a non-threatening discussion of the person’s specific needs. When you are faced with hostility, it is only natural to want to push back. Reframing is a good way to change direction and move the problem forward as it reflects an understanding of the person’s issue but helps to change the emphasis to common ground and towards a more positive solution. When you provide a reframe of what the person clearly values, you are demonstrating an understanding of where they are coming from and they will then see you as honest and fair.

5. Assertiveness: Sometimes you will need to clearly assert yourself regarding your own needs in order to effectively manage the situation and actually be able to help the angry person. It is important to set clear, firm boundaries, and expectations for appropriate behaviour. You will need to be ‘hard’ on the issues, but ‘soft’ on the person. In order to do that you should use ‘I’ statements because ‘You’ statements tend to raise the level of tension as they often sound accusatory.                      For example, “I feel anxious when you pound on the desk…and it makes it hard for me to listen to you effectively.” Try very hard not to use the word “but” as it is very confrontational, substitute and, therefore, etc. as but is known as the ‘verbal eraser that tends to discount whatever preceded it in a statement. Assertive requests may not always be appropriate just make sure you are sending a message of cooperation, not a threatening one.

6. Disengaging from the Situation: If it becomes apparent that your personal safety is threatened, you will need to remove yourself from the situation when active listening and other methods are failing to reduce the threat. You should also disengage when you are feeling angry, as you will not be effective in that state of mind. Explain the need for a break or ‘time-out,’ and also offer a commitment for you (or someone else) to return to the matter shortly. You might offer food or a beverage, if available and appropriate. You may wish to request the assistance from a supervisor, co-worker, or police if things are really going off the rails. I would be a good idea to debrief your experience with someone you trust.

If Someone Shows Signs of Losing Control
Get help before trouble starts.     Use a prearranged warning signal to alert others.   Stay calm. This will help keep the person calm.  Talk slowly and calmly.   Use a firm, confident tone. Don’t threaten, but inform them of the consequences of inappropriate behaviour.    Try to leave yourself an escape route. Seek safety at your first opportunity.   Later you can take time to debrief the situation with colleagues and supervisors.

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