Consider the following story as it relates to this week’s topic.
A coworker and I were handling a project for a few weeks. Our big presentation was this morning and it didn’t go the way we wanted. We made a few mistakes, and because of it, our boss came down on us. Afterward, I was ready to discuss and correct our mistakes, however, my coworker lost her temper and said some pretty aggressive things to me. I was really surprised after her rant but was clueless about how to handle it.
We all get angry sometimes. Anger is a normal and common emotion that occurs for many reasons. Maybe things haven’t been going your way recently. Or, like many Americans, staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and being unable to get out and live a normal life has led you to feel more frustrated and angrier than usual. Regardless, we’re sure that you have your ways of dealing with that anger.
While you might be familiar with how to handle your anger, it can be a different story when facing someone else’s. When I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to do a practicum at the prestigious Bellevue Hospital working with psychiatric patients. I was terrified of working there and politely declined the offer. In response, the esteemed psychologist director of the training program became angry and asked me, rhetorically I suspect, “How dare you think that you’re more than just a speck of dust in the universe?”
Well, that was a zinger that left me speechless. After I picked myself up from the floor (figuratively!) and had some time to reflect, I recognized that his angry reaction was probably due to how he felt about my “rejecting” his generous offer. Eventually, I was convinced that I could handle working at Bellevue and, as they say, the rest is history. I learned lessons there that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Staying calm in the face of his outburst was the smartest thing I could’ve done, despite quaking in my boots!
Whether you’re dealing with an angry child, spouse, friend, coworker, employer, or even a potential boss (in my case), the following information may help you handle the situation.
A Five-Step Approach
The first thing we can do to fully understand how to deal with someone else’s anger is to recognize that people express their emotions differently. Some yell, some grow quiet, and others just lash out. This means your approach to anger will inevitably vary depending on the person. With that said, the following tips from Ryan Martin, Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin are a good starting point:
- Determine if the anger makes sense in the situation – Sometimes, the anger someone feels is reasonable. If you rear-end a vehicle, then it’s understandable for the other driver to be angry. However, the second part of the equation is how the person expresses their anger. So, while angry feelings are understandable and even reasonable and justified, expressing them aggressively or yelling and insulting typically isn’t.
- Remain calm – If you respond to someone’s anger by yelling or swearing, you might escalate the situation. Instead, try to deal with them in a collected manner by speaking in a calm, low voice. And we’re all about faking it in these situations. You don’t have to feel calm to behave calmly.
- Don’t judge their character – It’s important to avoid saying things like, “Why are you always angry?” or “Don’t you ever get tired of yelling?” Attacking an angry person’s character is counterproductive. Instead, try to stay in the moment by asking them to talk with you more calmly so that you can both think and deal with the problem at hand.
- Back up and stay safe – There may come a time when you’ll realize that the person you’re trying to reason with is just too angry. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to back away or take a break. You can resume discussions once they’re calm. As you can imagine, some angry people have the potential to lash out in a way that could cause irreparable damage. If you feel your safety is at stake, get out of there ASAP.
Dealing with Angry Kids
Anger has no age limit. It can be a difficult emotion for children to deal with and an even more confusing situation for parents to handle. If your child is having trouble expressing his/her/their emotions, then the following can help:
- Let them know that it’s normal to feel angry – Angry feelings are one way that our brains let us know that we don’t like something that’s going on.
- Try to understand how they feel – It’s easy for parents to immediately react negatively to a child who’s behaving irrationally due to anger. However, the first step to dealing with this is to address the emotion behind the behavior.
- Listen to them – Your first idea might be to walk your child through a lecture or lesson about anger. Another approach is by listening to them and reflecting on their behavior together. This can help him/her/they feel better and show that you care. Listen without judging, criticizing, or telling them that they “shouldn’t” feel angry. Just accept it for the moment.
- Take a moment to breathe – If how your child expressed their anger angered you or set you off, then please take a moment to calm down and gather your wits before addressing their behavior.
- Know that you’re in this together – Reassure your child that you’re on their side. If they see this, they’ll feel more comfortable with telling you what the problem is.
Let Us Help
Expressing or dealing with emotions can be hard, but our licensed psychologists and therapists can help. We’ll listen to what you have to say to find the best ways to move forward. Contact us in Tampa today for more information about what we can do for you.