I have been blogging about the acronym ACE for dealing with anger. Specifically, we have been discussing the CHOICES that are essential to make after we have ASSESSED (“A”) an angry situation. Most of the time, you will be attempting to deal with your own anger. But what if you are the target of anger? When that occurs, it is especially important to think about your choices.
What to CHOOSE if you are the target of anger
Certainly, you must choose to be extremely careful if you do not know the person who has targeted anger at you.
It will be important to have an exit plan in place and continually assess the situation until you become comfortable that you are safe to proceed with any other choices.
Are you in imminent danger?
If you have assessed that the angry person is unreasonable, argumentative, attacking or in any way dangerous, the list of choices are:
- If exit is not an option, be conciliatory
- Respond with respectful statements of acceptance and appreciation, even agreeing in order to de-escalate the tension
- Mentally make a plan for retreating
- Do whatever you can to avoid a confrontation
- If a confrontation becomes inevitable, do whatever you have to do to survive
If you assess that you are not in danger, then the list of choices expands. You may choose to:
- Listen respectfully, acknowledge what points make sense, agree with whatever seems reasonable (I understand you are furious with me for not calling sooner. This was not fair to you).
- Apologize for any part of the person’s anger that you decide is reasonable (I am sorry I was so thoughtless; you have every right to be angry with me).
- Assertively set limits. If someone is overstepping bounds, calmly and firmly confront their process by using whatever authority you have to enforce rules around respect (I understand you are very angry with me; however, you may not speak to me in a disrespectful way).
- If you know the person fairly well and have some sense of his or her level of trust in you, then you can use Confrontational Logic, which means that you can speak with a passion that matches the level of emotions the angry person is using while you use logic to confront his or her approach. (You know me better than that! How can you think I would do something like this on purpose?). You can challenge distortions using sarcasm if necessary (What, do you think I purposely wanted to mess up your whole day and make you furious with me?)
- Affirm his or her right to confront and appreciate his or her willingness to share feelings and needs (I appreciate that you are telling me how upset you are. I would not have known if you didn’t tell me).
- Encourage and invite a process involving problem exploration by stating your desire to discuss this in more detail. Also, state what you are willing to do to consider ways to prevent this from occurring in the future (I would like to explore this in more detail as soon as we both feel ready to consider whatever we can do to prevent this from happening again).
The goal is safety: preventing an amygdala hijacking
When someone is angry with you, understanding the choices available to you could ensure a successful and emotionally healthy resolution and outcome. These CHOICES occur before the “E” in ACE (to EXECUTE the choice).
If the assessment of the situation is accurate and the choices are appropriate, then it is highly likely that this angry individual will not escalate into a full-blown amygdala hijacking. Thus, we can prevent an irrational or violent event. If we can achieve that, we will have success in dealing with anger.
What if you are both angry?
But what if you are simultaneously angry with each other?
What do you do if that is the case? How do we keep this complex and confrontational moment from escalating?
I’ll be giving you some ideas in my next post.
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Some information taken from Understanding Anger, 2004, Diane Wagenhals.