How to Disarm an Angry Person
Without warning a torrent of rage is suddenly pouring down on your head.
Someone is in front of you berating you and spoiling for a fight. You would like to ignore them, but this person is important in your life.
Maybe it’s your boss because you messed up. Or, your spouse who is fed up with what you did or didn’t do. Or, your dad accusing you of embarrassing him with your failures. Or, your coach blaming you for losing the game.
What’s your strategy? Try this:
Step One: “A soft answer turneth away wrath” (see Proverbs 15:1)
When anyone feels threatened, their subconscious brain dispenses hormones to flood every gland, organ and muscle to cause a re-action. All this happens before their conscious brain has a chance to reply sensibly with considered action. Neuroscience calls this “amygdala hijack.”
In simple terms, when we do not think ~ we RE-ACT: when we think ~ we ACT.
When we re-act, our fight or flight response kicks-in. Our blood pressure rises as our heart pumps harder in anticipation of the fight or to enable us to run away. If our instinct is to fight, our subconscious mind recalls every trick and insult it has stored away just for this kind of a occasion: “How dare you talk to me like that! Wait till you hear what I have to say about you!”
But such response never placates a hostile situation because when everyone’s not thinking, no-one is thinking!
Instead, wait for a pause in the chastisement. I promise it will come. Don't respond at all until it does. Then, choose some soft questions to lighten the moment. Something that acknowledges the other person’s emotions; something to make it clear you’re not going to fight ~ or run away. Something unexpected!
Always remember, when you are the object of someone’s thought-less re-action(s), bringing calm to the situation is more about what you do not say than what you do say. You can deflect antagonism by replacing contentious comebacks with:
“Thanks for telling me how you feel”
“I truly had no idea you felt that way”
“Can we talk it through?”
But what if your antagonist won’t let it go? When faced with a difficult set of circumstances, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character Sherlock Holmes used his ‘Thought Palace’. When similarly faced with difficult situations we too have a thought palace! What?
Just imagine you are in your very special place; somewhere that makes you feel peaceful inside; somewhere away from distraction. A place you can contemplate any problem, any obstacle, which could be a Caribbean beach or a country riverside walk, even a public library. Anywhere that allows you to find quiet peace of mind. Breath slow and deep whilst maintaining eye contact with your antagonist. A slight tilt of the head suggests non-aggression, too.
This may take a little practice, but it can truly calm down even the most intense situation. The point is, if someone is spoiling for a fight and you won’t fight back, they have zero satisfaction to continue and their re-action will pass-by more quickly because you have not fuelled their negative emotions.
What if they won’t let it go?
Step Two: “A broken spirit drieth the bones” (see Proverbs 17:22)
So, the shouting has subsided, but they are still in your face. So, how do you sap the remains of their anger and get them back to talking with you, not at you?
The answer is to make yourself less significant than them, which sounds counter-intuitive.
For example, the difference between a Diplomat and a Politician is diplomacy! If you’ve ever watched televised British Parliament or the Americaln Senate in action, there is a marked absence of diplomacy as one poitician attacks another. I guess this behaviour is supposed to convince voters they picked the right party? Weird!
Diplomacy works more often than it does not. Seeking first to understand before stating your position quietly and without emotion acknowledges the other person’s right to ‘feel’ the way they feel, without demeaning yourself or making you feel at fault when you are not.
Say something like:
“Have I done/said something to upset you?”
“I really need to understand your position”
“I apologise for not always being at the top of my game, and I do want to get better”
Step two helps deflate the situation further, but if they are still not willing to talk things through, you’ll need more than the absence of anger. You’ll need some sort of affinity.
Step Three: “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man” (see Proverbs 27:19)
Founded upon the people who raise us, everyone's primary personality is established by our 5th birthday. Research reveals 4-in-10 of the tested population tend to square up when threatened and 6-in-10 back-off! Whilst, either response may be appropriate in a life-threatening situation neither is conducive to a mutually beneficial outcome most of the time! It may sound trite but sincerely smiling at step three more often than not encourages our antagonist to do the same (mirroring).
Of course, it can be hard to offer that first smile. There has to be some mutually beneficial outcome you can visualise to encourage the other person to imagine it, too. Remember, even the most difficult person has redeeming qualities. So, seek out those qualities, focus on them and forget all the other stuff.
As soon as you awaken good-thinking about this person, they will begin to co-respond. This is a natural human response and especially true when you display good-feelings through your words and your body language.
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
When you maintain your dignity, especially when another is losing theirs, you dramatically lessen the time required to heal the situation for a mutually beneficial outcome. When you step forward with genuine resolution in your heart, the other person must co-respond. It’s as simple as that!
So, the next time someone wants to pick a fight, don’t be a ‘Politician’, be a ‘Diplomat’. Maintain your self-respect returning flowers, not fists. Remain genuinely concerned about the other persons concern(s). Focus on what you like about this person. Use gentle questioning (see above) and sincerely smile.
Rehearse this with a few trusted friends. Ask them what they think. Then email firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us how it worked for you.