Question: Hi Luise: I don’t have much of an idea how to interact with an angry person. I’ve never been taught how to do that, and yet the situation comes up from time to time. Do you have any suggestions about how to approach this problem? Tim
Answer: Dear Tim: I think this is a problem for most of us. When a person is angry, they are not very approachable, as you know. There are usually a lot of “you” statements and accusations, like “if you just hadn’t…if you only would… if you only knew…why did or didn’t you”, etc. If you take the bait, all bets are off, since reactive behavior in the “accusee” will only accelerate the issue. The first thing you have to do is get over the surprise that often accompanies such an attack and put your self in ”adult” mode. A person that is deliberately saying hurtful things is usually not in that frame of mind, and there has to be one adult present. If the accusations are not being made directly but come in the form of a letter, email or even a phone call, proceed only in a face to face encounter where you can factor in body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. If you need to, offer to continue only when you are past your surprise. (Sometimes that’s a calculated advantage on the other person’s part.) When you do interact, you need to be willing to listen and make room for the “accuser” to air his complaint. That’s if you care. We are assuming, here, that you do. Also, always insist that you proceed without an audience.
I find all of this exceedingly hard to do. I want to explain. When I do that, we then have two people being right. Not a good thing. So, listen carefully to understand where the other person is coming from. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to get it and let him know that you do. Don’t interrupt. Do you find the complaint valid? If you do, own up to whatever part you played in the problem. Sometimes by then there is less anger. If you disagree, and it is a primary relationship that you want to preserve, ask for equal time and to be heard with equal respect…with no interruptions. Agreement is never a requirement. Your explanation may shed some light on the whole thing. If the person doesn’t want to hear what you have to say, there is little you can do, and it ends with you listening, and apologizing, if appropriate. Never apologize to placate. Blessings, Luise