Dealing with Angry People for Positive Results

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Do you work in a profession where you are dealing with potentially angry people as service users? If so, you will be aware of the many challenges that face you in your communication with others.  Many people find it hard to cope with their feelings of anger, or they do not have the facilities to express their anger appropriately.

You can become angry when you feel you're being attacked, when you become frustrated, when you feel you've been lied to or when you feel you are being unfairly treated. We all experience anger – it's a very normal, human emotion. It can even be useful sometimes. For example, feeling angry about something (such as violations of human rights, or cruelty) can: (a) point out situations, people or things that are harming us, (b) push us to make changes, or (c) give us an energy boost to help us defend ourselves in dangerous situations.

Anger becomes a problem when it harms the individual or those around him or her. This can happen when anger is expressed through unhelpful or destructive behaviour, or anger is having a negative impact on mental and physical health.

One risk for anyone working with angry people is that the anger may be shown towards those who are working with them. People who work with potentially angry and disgruntled members of the public will need to be patient, calm and assertive. They may also need to make others aware that they will not put up with verbal or physical abuse, and have processes in place to protect them if they are threatened.

When dealing with anger, there are numerous ways in which you can defuse that anger. First, it can be very helpful to listen. Actively listen without any interruption or argument. Let the individuals have their say, and listen carefully, using your communication skills to show that you are listening. Remember, in emotional arousal, feelings may become black and white. Reflect back to them what you have understood them to have said. If, without sarcasm, you reflect back that they said, that will show that you have taken in what he or she has been saying.

You will need to remain calm yourself.  If you inadvertently match the body language, vocal tone, breathing patterns and energy of the angry person, you are reinforcing their behaviour. By listening and taking the person seriously and yet not ramping up the bad feelings expressed, you will be on your way to calming things down. 

Sometimes, a situation that seems very important at the time can later appear to be less important. Therefore, taking some time to consider a situation rather than immediately find a solution can help things enormously.

If your work or lifestyle brings you into contact with people who are angry on a regular basis, you may consider learning about Anger Management. The Academy for Distance Learning provides such a course among its many offerings.

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