Comment: Angry people tend to attract angry responses, likely from other angry people. If you are to live otherwise, you will need to know how to respond to other’s who are angry.
MacQuarrie Email Program #30 — Dealing With Other Angry People
In Email #01, I indicated your anger will tell you there is a difficulty, but it will not tell you if the issue is within you (powerlessness — something inappropriate within your own beliefs), or in others (conflict — something inappropriate with those around you). The primary intention of the Blowing Out method has been to release the Energy and explore the Message — to empty the Pot, and reduce the likelihood of the Pot filling again.
Hopefully, by this point in time, you have developed considerable skill in managing your own anger. However, as you undoubtedly realize, you are not alone in having difficulty with anger. So what do you do when you encounter someone else who is angry?
Previously, you might have escalated with them, with a less than desirable outcome. Your task for this email is to explore what you can do differently in such circumstances.
You probably know already that it will not do much good to suggest that they check out Angry? Change Your Life in 90 Days. Actually, the best way to recommend this program is to demonstrate to others that, compared with a few months ago, you are now much more able to manage your anger — actions speak louder than words.
So, how to deal with someone else’s anger (explore these suggestions to see if you agree):
- first, monitor yourself, especially your voice tone, muscle tension, and body language. You want to be able to engage (or not) by choice, not by your own reactivity.
- minimize escalation
- minimize eye contact, neither too little (often interpreted as weakness) nor too much (often confrontational) — be aware there are major variations within cultures. For example, sometimes lack of eye contact is a sign of respect.
- assume a relaxed posture, and especially avoid pointing.
- speak with moderate tone, and especially no profanity.
- listen, listen, listen. Appreciate suggestions; be thankful for contributions.
- if you will listen to them, they may be willing to listen to you.
- invite time-outs to problem-solve; make an appointment to resume.
- when safe, discharge your own energy so as not to contaminate your next event.
When complete, the following is a way to explore what happened (especially useful here, also in many other circumstances):
- as usual, act out the situation — when you utilize your body, you are much more likely to access your other-than-conscious mind, and obtain richer data.
- first, step into your own shoes (#1) to explore the event
- second, act out the event from the perspective of the other (#2)
- then, watch the action from the side (#3), as well as standing on a chair as you move around the event (elevated 3rd). You will gain different information from different positions.
- finally, if you were dissatisfied with the original outcome, consider what else you could have done, similar to the exploration of Email #20 What Gets You Angry?
Dealing with ‘difficult people’ is actually a very complex process, partly because conflict is both normal and essential to the development of relationship, be it a group of two people or of twenty-two. When groups are forming, people are unfamiliar with each other — conflict occurs as people honestly sort their needs, and come to agreements as to how to act. Honesty is needed; niceness is often not effective in resolution. Everyone is doing their best to cope, some less effectively than others!
Those people who could be called ‘difficult’ are simply those with less skill (and perhaps have grown up in less than ideal circumstances). Most of the time, such people are demonstrating limited skill when the group itself is immature in its development. As a general rule, I assume that conflict represents immaturity of a group until it becomes very obvious that the individual is truly interruptive to the functioning of a group.
From my perspective, difficulties need to be corrected when they interfere with long-term relationship and/or the performance of tasks. Such correction however requires considerable time, often up to ten hours (or more) for resolution — a lot of work. My standards are these:
- if I am the facilitator of a time-limited group, I will identify interruptive behaviors (simply name them so others are aware), tolerate them, or stop them as feasible.
- if a long-term group (marriage, friendship, or work group), I will resolve, challenge, or stop inappropriate behaviors. I will also work hard to identify the ghosts and hidden agendas that often underlie conflict.
Something more needs to happen with truly difficult people — those who continue to be interruptive (major immaturity) and/or those who violate others (toxic). Some thoughts:
- although much has been made of the concept of empathy in modern therapeutic circles, my experience (and that of my mentors) has been that empathy is very limited in its use.
- empathy is useful for the development of safety and relationship, especially that of trust. However, it does not encourage growth, and is often conducive to continuing immaturity.
- challenge (frustration) is much more promoting of growth.
- early in my career as a therapist, one of my mentors pointed out the need for what he called killer instinct, best summarized by a definition from the 18th century: A gentlemen is one who does not hurt the feelings of another, unintentionally!
- If I need to stop someone, I do so calmly and deliberately — it is a stance of clarity, not of anger! And I stop them.
- it is important to recognize that people who violate others are limited in resources, and therefore are likely to escalate when challenged, possibly to dangerous levels.
- another mentor pointed out that toxic forces are responsive neither to reason nor to empathy. Thus, the risk of escalation — be careful.
Coming next: Closure