How to Defuse Other People’s Anger


All of us have been on the receiving end of someone else's anger. Through those miserable experiences, we have all learned one important thing: joining them in their anger and firing back verbal assaults didn't solve the problem. In fact, it might have made it worse.

If we want to effectively deal with the problem in such a way that resolves the issue and maintains the relationship, there are certain key strategies and behaviors which you can employ.

Listen First

Assume that they have a legitimate reason for their upset feelings and listen for what it is. Nod occasionally to indicate that you are listening. Make yourself appear open to hearing about their frustration. Do not come across as impatient or condescending. While you are listening, remember to:

  • Maintain a neutral face
  • Maintain a neutral voice

Feed Back What You Hear

While you are listening, the opportunity will present itself for you to restate and paraphrase their feelings.

Change What the Person is Focused On

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. Mention them by name or calmly tell them to “hang on a second.” This can stop the person and allow him or her to change their focus.

Make Empathetic Statements

The best statement you can make at this point is, "Let me make sure I understand you. You're saying …" And then repeat what you heard them say. A person will stop to listen if they know that what you are going to say is what they just said. Eliminate aggressive statements like “If you’ll just let me talk …” These can make the other person edgier.

Number Items

When people are angry and upset, they are operating predominantly out of the right, emotional side of their brain. In order to get them over to the logical, rational left side of their brain, give them a left-brain function. 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?"

You Don't Need to Make Them Right but Don't Make Them Wrong

At the height of their anger, there is absolutely no way that we can talk them out of their feelings. Instead say things like, "I understand your feelings," or "I'm sure if I was in your place I would feel the same way."

Get Solution Oriented

If you are not sure how you can help, ask. If you are in a position to provide help, list the steps you will take in a numerical fashion. Let the other person know that you care about what they are going through and are willing to help them.

It's also important to remember that if someone's anger seems to be threatening or getting out of control, the most prudent decision we can make may be to leave. Appropriate comments would include things like "I can see that you are extremely upset. I do want to help, but not in this way."

Anger is a normal healthy emotion. Sometimes, people can allow their anger to cloud their judgment and negatively impact their behaviors. Remember: when the other person is angry and upset and you are calm, then you are in control of the situation.

By Linda Larsen, C.S.P.

Learn More, Contact Linda Today

Linda Larsen, C.S.P., helps individuals think strategically, communicate effectively and celebrate success. She is an international keynote speaker, trial consultant and author of the book, “True Power,” and the best-selling audio program, “12 Secrets to High Self-Esteem.” She can be reached at lindalarsen.com or 941.927.4700.