Dealing With Other People's Anger
by Dean Van Leuven
Most often the anger directed at us is due to the other person having different expectations than ours. They are operating under the assumption that we will act toward them in a certain way; but when we don't, their anger is triggered. They may hold very different beliefs, be totally unaware of our point of view or motivation, or they simply may be very different from us in many ways.
In dealing with another person's anger, it's important to be aware of the fact that the other person wants something to come out of their relationship with you. The key is to understand their expectations, and to help them understand yours.
Such mutual understanding is brought about by meaningful communication. Rather than expecting the other person to feel the same way as you do about the situation that's made them angry, make a real effort to find out how they really feel. In order to get a real understanding of what's driving their anger — so that you can ultimately diffuse it — you'll need to hone your listening and communication skills.
HOW LISTENING AND COMMUNICATING CAN DIFFUSE ANGER
Train yourself to be a good listener by learning how to "listen deeply." To do this, you must put your own thoughts and beliefs aside, and really focus on what the other person is saying.
Unfortunately, most conversations can be characterized as "my stuff/your stuff." They can be likened to a strange "game" of tennis — played with two separate balls. You serve your ball to me. I let it pass and serve my ball back to you. You let it pass and serve your ball back to me. The game continues in this way — with neither player receiving the other person's ball. In such an instance, it obviously isn't a game at all. And in a conversation with the same characteristics, it's not really a conversation at all. You want to tell your story and I want to tell mine. We never hear the other person's story because we are too busy telling our own. How many conversations have you had lately that went this way?
We can diffuse another person's anger simply by putting an end to the "my stuff/your stuff" game and truly listening to that person. Interestingly, very often when you give an angry person the courtesy of politely listening to what they have to say, without interrupting them or retaliating in anger, their anger is reduced.
As you're listening, focus on the feelings being expressed by the other person, rather than the strict meaning of their words. The feelings are the most important part of any message. When a child tells us, "Billie hit me," we tend to focus on the hit instead of how the child feels. If you can respond in a way that lets the child know you understand how he feels, this will tend to calm him down. For example, "It sounds like you feel hurt and angry." Learn to deal with an angry person's feelings in this way. Their feelings are usually far more important than the event itself.
Most people find it very difficult to directly express their feelings. When someone hurls an angry remark at you, learn to put yourself in his or her shoes. Becoming aware of what the other person is experiencing emotionally requires that you set your own feelings aside. Look to see if you have triggered their anger in any way. Look to see how you might be causing the disturbed feelings.
Are there particular methods of communicating with someone that will diffuse their anger? Try this: Summarize what you think the angry person has said, without injecting anger into your statement. Repeat both the ideas and the feelings that you believe they have expressed. Hearing their own sentiments expressed back to them in a calm way tends to pacify an angry person. Getting their passion acknowledged and their needs met diffuses their anger and helps them to move from their own emotional center into their thinking center. You may need to repeat your "calmed down version" of what you think they were trying to express, but if you can learn to be patient with an angry person and employ this method, you will validate them and eliminate their anger.
Open up to the person who is angry with you. Establish a bridge. Communicate kindness and this will likely change the way they relate to you. It will be difficult for them to maintain their anger at someone who is being pleasant and kind.
When you communicate with someone who may be holding onto a lot of anger, the best way to deal with him or her is to show a genuine interest in them as a person and in the way that they view life. You'll likely find that when you communicate in this way, their defenses will drop and their hearts will open. Your authentic concern for them is a powerful diffuser of anger.
FEELING COMPASSION FOR THE ANGRY PERSON
Most people naturally love and want love returned. It is part of our nature to love others. Ask yourself these questions: How can I react toward others to prevent pushing their anger buttons? How should I react toward others to avoid having their anger push my anger buttons? Once you have identified these "hot buttons" you can adjust your behavior so that it will not incite or intensify the anger of others.
If you feel compassion, then another person's anger will no longer cause you to become angry. Compassion is possible only when you have an understanding of what that person might be going through. Once you learn to be more aware and caring about the other person's feelings, you will start developing responses that are not anger producing.
You can choose to see everyone as either loving or fearful. We offer help to the fearful, not anger. For example: You are remodeling your office. A consultant is brought in to supervise the work. He is rude and abrasive. Do you feel angry with him? Suppose you knew he was suffering from a deteriorating illness? Be aware that the other person's anger is usually not incited by something you said to him. It usually originates from some underlying problem that he has in his life that has nothing to do with you. Learn to see that the angry person is the cause of his own anger, and that the fault does not lie with you.
Anger is a message that can be read as a cry for help: "Pay attention to me. I don't like what you are doing. Restore my pride. Give me justice. You are in my way. I am afraid." Think of a person who is angry as a person who is in need of help.
To most of us, anger seems personal. If someone gets angry with us, we feel they deserve retaliation. That kind of thinking only serves to escalate the anger and perpetuates all sorts of problems. This is one of the reasons nations go to war with each other. When you learn to become compassionate and to fully convince yourself that you can withstand the angry jibes other people send your way, you create choices for yourself. You can choose to turn away from the angry person or stay with them and enjoy their positive attributes. You may even enjoy showing them how they can be less angry just by your own example. With compassion as your guide, you will not only be less likely to receive other people's anger, you will be creating a more loving environment.
Respond with love and compassion, rather than punishment and retaliation, and an angry person will be disarmed. Trade the need to be right for a loving relationship. It is a trade you — and everyone around you — will benefit from.
Do you have a friend who...
• believes people are constantly trying to put them down?
• believes they should have things exactly how they want them?
• believes that if people do something wrong, they must be punished?
• believes you take no notice of them unless they act irritated or angry?
• believes people are selfish, self-centered, and unhelpful?
• believes people are hostile and angry?
Life isn't much fun with this belief system. Have compassion for your friend. Model behavior that will encourage friends like this to change their anger-based beliefs. Maintaining a friendship with people whose beliefs consistently lead to anger may be very difficult for you. If they don't show signs of wanting to change, you may find your life happier without them in it.
Principles to Keep in Mind When Dealing With the Anger of Others:
• Other people's anger is usually not about you.
• Only your own thoughts and attitudes can upset you, not the anger of others.
• Other people are worrying about their problems, not yours.
• Forgiving and apologizing eliminate anger.
Guidelines for Dealing with the Anger of Others:
• Listen to what the angry person is saying, and perceive the feeling underneath their words.
• Summarize the angry person's feelings back to them, so that they know you understand what they're going through.
• Understand the angry person's reality, and show them compassion.
• Choose to perceive other people as loving or fearful, not as attacking.
• Acknowledge that forgiving and apologizing eliminate anger.
• Model anger-free behavior.
Be how you want others to be. They will respond in kind. The rewards you receive will be many times worth the effort.
This article was excerpted from:
Life Without Anger: Your Guide to Peaceful Living
by Dean Van Leuven.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, DeVorss & Company. ©2003. www.devorss.com
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About the Author
Dean Van Leuven is an international speaker who regularly conducts seminars, lectures and workshops in learning to live without anger and related quality of life issues. This book is based on the materials that he presents at those events.