Rural Roots April 28, 2001
It is a challenge to respond effectively when someone else is angry, without making things worse. Telling an angry person to calm down only increases their anger. They are usually not listening, but are in a defense-attack reaction.
Jeannette Kasper's book, Anger Is Not An Emotion, points out ways to help people to calm themselves down, by how you react to them.
The first step is to acknowledge they are right about whichever issue they are angry about. Despite what you may think, from their point of view, they believe they are right, and are already expecting you to challenge them. Agree with something they said. Recognize they see their position as being right, and that you understand that.
This doesn't mean you see things the same way. But you accept where they are, at the time. And, if they happen to be wrong, they will only acknowledge it when they themselves realize it, not if you tell them. This often happens once they drop their defensive actions.
Kasper points out there are always three conversations going on at any time, the conversations between the two of you, and your conversation with yourself. Instead of listening to someone, we often listen to our own thoughts and ideas, and then wonder why others don't feel we were listening!
Kasper shares simple but effective rules for communicating.
First, turn off your inner voice and listen to the other person, not yourself. Second, do not give advice or solutions, even if you think you are being asked for them.
Instead, share ideas, with which the person may work out their own solutions.
Most often, when people ask for advice, they really just need to talk. Encourage them to talk about issues they raise with you. Empathize with them, but it has to be true empathy, not just phony words designed to shut them up.
Put yourself in their shoes, feel their pain, and then acknowledge your limited awareness of what their pain may be like. "You must be feeling." is not empathy. It is like a prescription tranquilizer, and it doesn't often work.
Anger Is Not An Emotion, available from 1-877-238-6865 for $24.95 plus GST and shipping, contains numerous gems of wisdom on how to react to angry people in a way that is helpful both to you and to them.