How to talk to angry people

Do you know how to talk to an angry person?

Receptionists have to know to talk to angry people waiting in busy A&E departments
Receptionists have to know to talk to angry people waiting in busy A&E departments

Have you ever come across a group of angry people, or an angry person, and not known how to talk to them? Perhaps you’ve had to deliver bad news to your team about cutbacks, redundancies, or a reduction in salary, particularly recently?

Are you a nurse or other professional who’s had to cope with the angry family of a patient? Or a rowdy group of drunks fooling around in the A&E department? I dare say we’ve all come face to face with at least one angry person in our lifetime.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a few angry people men crowding my personal space, fists clenched, close up and spitting with rage. Some had me back up against a wall or cowering in fear, and one turned to physical abuse.

But let me tell you something now, I won’t ever allow this kind of behaviour again, and I hope you won’t either. It’s never acceptable – ever!

Recent tales of anger and aggression

Angry young man
Angry young man

A group of angry young thugs attacked my nephew on his way home from a night out. They surrounded him, swearing at him for ‘looking at them’ and ‘saying something nasty.’

My nephew was tipsy, but he tried reasoning with them. However, he’d barely spoken when one of the thugs headbutted him and he stumbled and fell to the ground. The rest joined in, kicking him in the face, head and upper body.

Fortunately, a car stopped, the thugs ran off and the driver called both the police and ambulance. My nephew was badly bruised and sustained a cracked cheek bone and a broken nose.

My friend was in a store recently and she inadvertently queue-jumped. She hadn’t realised that the group behind her were adhering to the 2 metre rule. She just saw a space and strolled into it.

A group of angry young ladies verbally abused and threatened her, despite her sincere apologies. My friend left her full trolley, and the store.

My nephew and my friend later wondered if there was anything they could have said or done differently. The thugs appeared to be on a mission, and nothing Tommy said would have stopped them.

On the other hand, Louise might have been able to calm the situation as it was broad daylight and she was surrounded by people. However, had I been her say last week, when I felt desperately low in mood and anxious, I might have panicked and done what she did. Today, I would have handled it differently.

Reasons to be angry

Rightly or wrongly, people are angry and protesting
Rightly or wrongly, people are angry and protesting — Image by Pexels

While the above tales may be extreme, it appears that people are becoming more angry, and about many things. Americans are living in a big ‘anger incubator.’ Americans are angry about the death of George Floyd. They’re angry about police violence and the country’s legacy of racism.

Around the world there’s anger provoked by the coronavirus pandemic: anger at public officials because they’ve shut down parts of society. Or anger because they aren’t doing enough to curb the virus.

People are angry about having to to wear masks, or angry toward people who refuse to wear a mask. Others are angry with anyone who doesn’t see things their way.

In London, everyone from tenants, residents, shop-keepers, businesses and black cabbies in London are angry. They’re angry and taking to the streets because of Sadiq Khan’s ridiculous road closures and under used cycle lanes.

We’re surrounded by anger – we get angry at t.v. or the news, and if it’s not that, it’s social media. If it’s not politics it’s soaring crime levels.

But anger is normal, right?

Anger is normal but rage is not
Anger is normal but rage is not

Anger is a normal but very powerful human emotion that can range from slight irritation to strong rage. There’s good reason for anger too. It lets us know that there’s a barrier in the way of something that’s undoubtedly important to us. It’s this barrier that evokes an emotion in us, which leads to our anger.

You see, anger doesn’t act alone. It’s always driven by another emotion like fear, anxiety, jealousy, disgust, frustration or other strong feelings. And often, rather than show any of these emotions, for whatever reason, we become angry.

Think about the man who you’ve just told is about to lose the job he desperately needs. Rather than express sadness or disappointment in front of you, his male boss, he might show anger. Behind his angry shield, he’s feeling threatened — not by you, but by the loss of his job, his salary or his status.

As women, because we often get “Oh, don’t turn on the waterworks,” we don’t. We get defensive, and angry (mainly at that comment).

So how do we talk to an angry person

Angry people are often stressed
Angry people are often stressed

We all know how easy it is to become upset or flustered when we’re confronted by an angry person and we don’t know what to say or do. If we don’t know how to respond, we can easily make the situation worse. However, when we respond calmly and with empathy, we stay in control, and can diffuse the situation effectively and courteously.

Let’s take a look at a few simple ways to reduce the anger and maintain a sense of calm. While the angry person is raging and waving their hands around, or blustering, red in the face and finger-pointing:

  • Take a few slow and deep breaths. Effective breathing techniques will slow your heart rate down and have a calming effect on you.
  • Try to maintain a relaxed but confident posture — hold your head up but let your shoulders drop down from your ears, unclench those fists and relax your jaw. Crossing your arms, heavy sighing or tutting and rolling your eyes is a surefire way to add fuel to someone’s fire.
  • Try to remain or at least appear calm but for crying out loud, don’t say “calm down!” to the angry person who’s about to blow a gasket. If you didn’t already know this — it’s like a red rag to a bull.
  • Listen actively, and show that you’re listening by giving appropriate eye contact, just don’t stare or glare. Try to understand what’s driving their anger i.e. they feel hurt, judged by you or others in some way, they might feel let down, disappointed, disrespected or afraid.
  • Once you’ve listened to them, do not say “I understand but,” or “okay, but.” We’ve all been on the tail end of that response. A simple change of the word ‘but’ to ‘and’ can often make a difference, and that’s another post.

An example might be

Receptionist at busy GP surgery

The lady with two screaming toddlers who fumes at the receptionist in the doctor’s surgery. “I’ve been waiting for almost an hour, I’ve been up all night with these two and I need to be seen now.”

The receptionist smiles and says “I understand, but everyone else has been………”

“No you don’t bloody understand……….” fumes the lady. You don’t know that hubby screamed at her to keep the kids quiet so she’s upset and and tearful. It can soon escalate into something like “….. you patronising old jobsworth.”

  • Responding to someone’s needs calmly can be the key to gaining cooperation from the emotionally agitated person. In tough situations, the issue at hand isn’t usually the actual issue. How you handle the issue becomes the actual issue.
  • Show empathy, kindness and compassion, and an apology can go a long way too. You might say “I’m really sorry you’ve had to wait for so long and I appreciate how frustrating it must be. I’ll go and see if there’s anything I can do.” Then go and do just that.

Acknowledge their anger

Upset and stressed— Image by Unsplash
  • Acknowledge their anger. If someone expresses anger and you fail to react to it they’ll feel like they aren’t getting through to you. Think about how you would feel in a similar situation. Imagine you’ve been charged £15.00 by the bank for going overdrawn by 59 pence. You explain to the bank teller that you were only overdrawn for a few hours because your salary went in at midnight.

The bank teller might say, “I can see you’re annoyed and I’d like you to know that getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.” Or “I think I understand what’s happened here, but please correct me if I’ve got it wrong.”

You’d feel listened to and understood, and you’d calm down. You know it’s not the teller’s fault and that at least they’ve offered to help fix the issue.

So we’ve covered how to breath and relax, remaining calm and listening. Then apologising and using your effective communication skills like empathy and kindness to help calm the angry person. Understand what’s driving their anger and acknowledge that, responding calmly and taking any necessary action to fix the issue.

When we’re able to diffuse someone’s anger, it can help us to deal with others who perhaps lack the emotional intelligence to manage their emotions. Let’s explore this further and continue with more strategies to diffuse anger in the follow-up post.

Over to you

When was the last time you had an angry person shouting at you? What did it make you feel like? Or were you angry and someone dealt with your complaint inappropriately? How could they have handled it differently? I’d love for you to share your experiences or just comment, or ask any questions.

Caz

Author: mentalhealth360.uk

Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

28 thoughts on “How to talk to angry people”

  1. Oh how I do get angry at myself! I shout in my head all the time. When I sit quiet and try to see the emotion behind it, it’s a lot of sadness. It’s harder to deal with that than with my anger, that can be directed outwards with one small incident.
    To show compassion and kindness diffuses the anger really quickly, it’s amazing, it vanishes like snow on a bright, spring day.

    1. Oh Kacha, I know my lovely. I can “be in my head” and angry then hubby walks and, interrupts and I snap at him. The poor man doesn’t know what he’s done lol. He hasn’t actually done anything!

      Aaaww, I love love that – vanish like snow 🙂 x

  2. Sometimes , being firm and strong but kind and compassionate or understanding is great and awesome …
    In other times , silence and non-reaction is better like just walking away because some people do not change if you treat them kindly .Not replying and being indifferent to some is better …You can not change people to the better if they do not have the will to improve …
    You control how you respond but you can not please everyone…

    1. Of course, you’re right 🙂 And yes, sometimes, it’s best to walk away. We can’t control how other people think and feel, all we can do is change the way we respond or change ourselves.

      And nope, we certainly can’t please all the people all the time.

  3. Work is providing a lot of angry customers lately, they don’t understand or appreciate the policies and procedures that we have no choice but to follow.

    Of course complaints are not a new concept in customer service (particularly in the hospitality industry) so I am pretty used to it by now, it doesn’t affect me as much as before because I recognise now that a lot of them are not angry at me, I just happen to be there.

    The best way I’ve tackled this is to acknowledge that they are upset and ask what will help to make them feel better. It’s the best diffusing tactic to have someone feel at best understood and at worst listened to 😊

    1. Hi Jess, I can imagine. We’re all find it frustrating when we’re out shopping or going to restaurants, with all the one way signs etc.

      Not sure I could do your job right now, cos I think lots of people are becoming angrier with all the restrictions, and are just ‘snapping’.

      You’re right, acknowledging it and asking what will help makes it so much easier for the customer and, in turn, you.

  4. Oh I totally agree!! People do seem angrier in today’s world!!

    I deal with loss – so I get a REALLY wide range of how people react…

    Some react well, others do not.

    I literally just had one on Saturday who came to us on Friday – gave ALL my girls a hard time…

    On Saturday – I am really good with calming someone or relating somehow… I am really good with emotions (except anger lol) but this one wasn’t angry… she was umm just mean?

    You would be nice and try to help or relate… and she would literally discount anything you said and you were stupid 😮

    But ok… is loss… loss is never easy and is hard for some to take – I’m still pretty good with it… so I think? I am usually always accommodating and sweet – also kind and helpful…

    Also with her I thought of my mother – my mother is always sweet and kind- a huge sweetheart… I’ve never known anyone as amazing as her ❤️…

    But the loss of my dad – and having Alzheimer’s we didn’t know about at that very moment – she forgot everything – we thought was just the trauma of the moment – not Alzheimer’s – we weren’t even thinking that… yet 😮😑 that came later after everything calmed down …

    But my point is – the woman is about my mothers age, just suffered a loss of her husband … so it’s overwhelming… I get it – a lot coming at you with a loss like that.

    But on Friday when first came in… her son came i with her… he sat there and did not say one word or do anything and she ended up being so mean to my girls that he not only left the room – but also left the building and waited for her outside 😮 that was weird but whatever

    Saturday all day long she keep calling me about something – I would tell her the answer flat out… here is what you have. Well, then she called cemetery did same to them- they call me…

    Then she calls back and says but you said this… I said very sternly … no I did not say that, I specifically told you this! And then she began to back down?? 😮

    She called back like 15 minutes later to apologize to me for the entire day and then became sweet as pie

    What just happened? Lol

    But yeah… we get so many charged emotions – every single stage of death comes at us lol

    But whatever – I’m pretty chill… and if people wanna waste their energy on anger and being mean… whatever.

    I use caution to who I keep in my life and what I surround myself with

    But yes people in general are so angry

    Also I completely believe social media has a huge hand in that!! I can not express that enough!!

    As well as current events.

    People will be whoever they are.

    I once had a woman at a place I worked – a client… who was horrible to me because I was a mother and had a job – would tell me not a good mom because I worked, how did I not feel bad? She made me cry all the time… the other ladies liked me and started sticking up for me and also my boss stepped in with that also. She was really mean

    There is a song right now I really like …

    Taylor Swift – Be the man ❤️✌️ lol

    Anyway sorry I always write novels lol – I do that when I think I have something to add lol ✌️😘

    1. While I feel for the lady you mentioned, rudeness is not acceptable, ever. And she must have been horrible for her son to have walked out! Glad to hear she called to apologise, though it doesn’t always make up for it.

      I love it, you always have great things to add and I really appreciate your input my lovely 🙂 ❤️

  5. It’s so true!!! I have angry people around who feel entitled to be lashing out as they pleased. And it’s hard when they begin to twist your words…. sometimes I just need to walk off and cut communication until they calm down.

    1. Hmmm, not acceptable. And boy, I hate it when people twist your words — I know one or two of those! And it’s so frustrating cos you end up arguing about them twisting your words, rather than the initial topic 😕

      1. This year is the year that I had to really stand up for myself and force these people to adjust their behaviour around me if they want to be part of my life….

    1. Yes, it can feel like that at times and I have lashed out — once. Although it was in self-defence, I didn’t feel good about myself that I let it get to the point where I was ‘raging like a rabid dog! I have now done some learning and I won’t get to that point – ever again, I hope!

      1. Learning let you get control on your senses.Even i was high tempered person but now i have learned to moderate my senses! And it seriously feels better than before…

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