Handle with Care: De-escalating Frustrated Anger
In July I posted “Recognize and Respond to the 6 Stages of Anger,” and identified the stages as:
There are some fundamental strategies that can be applied to all anger situations. But the ability to recognize the stage of anger that the person is in helps you decide where to start and what to emphasize as you do.
In EVERY case, you start with yourself. We are hard-wired to respond to anger in kind. Controlling an angry situation ALWAYS starts with yourself. Become aware of what pushes your buttons when faced with an angry person. The adrenaline associated with angry situations has predictable physiological effects, but how people respond to them varies a great deal. You may hear yourself talking louder, or faster. You may feel your jaw tighten. Your fists may clench. Your face may flush. You may breathe faster. The muscles in your shoulders and neck may stiffen. Notice what happens to yourself so you can learn to control it.
Monitor your own emotions. Tell yourself that you are in control. Consciously slow down your breathing and your talking. Uncross your arms! Learn to speak with a calm tone of voice. Unclench your fists, your jaw, whatever. Take one deep breath. If you are a pacer, stop. Stand still. Observe your responses to anger in order to control them. Remember, if you can’t control yourself, controlling the other person is completely hopeless.
So let’s begin with the lowest rung on the ladder: Frustrated Anger.
This kind of anger is associated with a disappointment…circumstances they’ve been unable to change, a plan they were not able to realize, or an unforeseen roadblock to their goals. This is the easiest kind of anger to deal with because it’s not directed at a person, but a situation. However, the wrong move on your part can escalate frustration to Ego-defensive Anger in a heartbeat.
The wrong moves:
Anything that diminishes the validity of their frustration and suggests they’re over-reacting.
“You’ll get over it.”
One-upmanship: “You think you’ve got it bad…”
Expressing amusement at their frustration (even if it seems trivial to you)
Any suggestion that they caused the situation that is frustrating them (even if they did)
“I told you that would happen.”
There are some people and situations that require you to be more assertive. For instance, when extreme frustration warps into rage and the person throws things or breaks things or hits and kicks things. You can combine empathy with an assertive expression of your need for them to calm down. “I know you are very frustrated, and I don’t blame you. I am too. But when you kicked the door you broke it, and I’m feeling afraid right now. I need for you to be more in control and tell me what I can do to help.” Note: Never use the phrase “calm down.” That is a demand, and is not the same as expressing your need for them to be “in control.” There is a huge difference in the way those two things are heard by an angry person.
What to do:
Start with empathy. “That must be very frustrating.” “I hate when that happens.” Even in situations that you intend to turn into a teaching moment,
empathy demonstrates that you are on their side.
[If appropriate for the situation] Offer practical help. “Is there something I can do to help?”
Remember: In isolation, as long as there are no more frustrating events, Frustrated Anger will diminish of its own accord as the person’s attention is drawn to other things. Frustrated Anger almost always requires a bad interaction with another person in order to escalate into Ego-defensive anger. Your object in such situations is primarily to “do no harm.” Empathy is the most effective path to that end.
Next week’s post: “Now it’s Personal: Ego-Defensive Anger”
Click here for a complete catalog of my blog posts with a brief description of their content.