How To Handle an Angry Person
It happens to everyone.
A loved one, a friend, or even a complete stranger gets mad at you. They’re yelling, their eyes are bulging, their heart’s racing, they’re on the attack, and you are the target.
You want nothing more than to calm them down, so you can discuss it, but how do you calm an angry person?
Luckily, there are people who have spent years developing techniques that work. Think of the FBI hostage negotiators who need to talk down angry people in order to save lives. They’ve spent years perfecting the art of how to deal with angry people.
Use these techniques next time you need to de-escalate an angry person:
1. Stay CalmAnger is contagious. Your natural reaction when someone starts yelling at you is to get angry, too, and start yelling back at them.
Don’t do it.
Separate yourself and slow your breathing. Ignore their anger and drama. Pause and think before saying anything.
Screaming matches never solve a problem – they only escalate it and make the other person become angrier and more defensive.
Problems are never solved when emotions are running amok. How many times have you done stupid, illogical things just because you were angry?
2. Choose Your Words Carefully
Telling an angry person to “Calm Down!” has never worked. The other person often interprets that as a command or a loss of freedom.
Their goal is to be heard and understood, so statements like “Calm Down!” are fuel for their fire. Instead, empathize with them. Repeat their words back to them and include how they’re feeling.
If someone says, “You never take the trash out!”, respond with something like, “You must feel overwhelmed when it seems like you’re the only one taking the trash out around here”. They’ll probably respond with something like, “Yeah!”. It will likely take their anger down a notch.
Every word you say at this point should:
- Show them that you’re on their side
- Let them know their concerns are valid, and that they matter
- Make them feel understood
4. Take Responsibility
If there is any element of accountability on your part, take responsibility for it. Becoming defensive and listing all the excuses why you did what you did that made them angry will not do anything to solve the problem or lower their anger level.
Instead of coming up with excuses for why you’re right and they’re wrong, say something like, “I realize now that when I did that, it made you feel….”.
Don’t justify your actions. If you really need to justify, save it for later when you’re both calm and having a rational discussion. During an argument is not the time.
5. Offer to Help
Usually, someone gets angry because they want something they didn’t get. Appease them by offering to help.
Use statements like:
- How can I help?
- What can I do better next time?
- What do you need from me?
6. Don’t Make Them Wrong
This goes back to their need to be understood. If someone says, “I’m always right and you never listen to me!”, don’t say, “No you’re not!” (and then come up with 20 examples to prove your point!).
Instead, ask and validate.
Ask them to tell you more. Remember, they want to be heard. Ask, “Tell me more about that”, or “Do you always feel this way?”. Give them the opportunity to get it all out of their system without you denying what they’re saying or making them wrong.
Then validate their feelings with empathy. “Wow. I had no idea. That must make you feel like you’ve been taken advantage of, huh?”. Then let them talk some more.
The next time someone attacks you – online or offline – remain the epitome of calmness. Listen – really listen – without defending yourself, making excuses, or making them seem wrong.
Let them get it all out and lower their anger levels. After you’ve successfully gotten them to calm down, offer to help find a solution together.
Watch the angry people in this video. Using the techniques you just learned, how would you respond to these people? What would you say or do? What are the bystanders doing wrong?