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If
we want to effectively deal with other people’s anger in a way that
resolves the issue and maintains the relationship, there are certain
key strategies and behaviours which we need to employ. The
best (’emotionally intelligent’) approach involves
a combination of communication and problem-solving strategies. This
de-escalation process
also
involves certain stages which need to be followed sequentially.

Safety
First. If
you’re confronted with someone with out-of-control anger, first
take steps to protect yourself from any potential violence (leave, go
to a safe place, wait until your spouse is sober, etc.). Often, a
“time-out period” reduces the hostility level. If you stay in a
volatile situation, it may spiral into violence, so the most rational
thing to do, if possible, is to just walk away.

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That’s
not to say you should never confront someone just because it will
bring on a conflict situation. You have to know how you’re going to
handle that conflict, though. Size up the person you’re confronting
and be ready to protect yourself, especially if it’s a stranger.

Defuse.
To help de-escalate the situation, experiment with the following
three steps:

Look
for the unmet
need.
Ask
the angry person, “What is it you are angry with me about?” and
listen for the unmet expectation or need. (Anger always involves a
frustrated need or expectation). The
initial step in defusing the anger is therefore to clarify that you
have understood what has brought it on. One of the best ways to do
this is to paraphrase the situation back to the angry person, minus
the anger. Thus, a parent might say to an angry teen: “Let me make
sure I understand you. You’re saying you’re
upset because I asked you to choose between the class trip to
Rajasthan and the rural camp?” This kind of feedback clarifies the
core reason for the anger, putting aside the clutter such as fumes
about “You always…” and “You never…”, and “I wish I
were…”. With these out of the way, the
problem becomes more life-sized.

Empathy
is the key word in this process. Genuinely strive to look at the
situation through the angry person’s eyes. Suspend all judgment.
Take care you do not come across as impatient or condescending. Here
are some effective de-fusers:

–”I
can understand your frustration…” –”I can certainly
see why that would upset you…” –”I know how annoying
that can be…” –”I know what you mean; that has
happened to me, and it can be very upsetting.”

Apart
from empathy, you can also use sympathy:

–”I’m
sorry you’ve had a problem…” –”I’m sorry this
has inconvenienced you…” –”I’m sorry to hear about
that…”

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