Defusing anger can be a challenge as it often shows up unexpectedly and sometimes with terrifying intensity.
I had a situation where a mandated client turned up for his first appointment at my office clearly ready to explode. He stomped into the reception area with rigid body language, leaning forward with narrowed gaze and fists at the ready. Almost from the moment he walked in the door he was speaking so loudly, rapidly and forcefully that it was clear that he had an axe to grind. As I had scheduled the appointment, I became his target.
From the moment he appeared, all my senses were on high alert for danger. It was tense and uncomfortable and had the potential to turn violent.
But it didn’t.
Here’s what helped in defusing anger in this situation.
- I reminded myself that this wasn’t a personal attack and intentionally chose to move towards understanding his response rather than trying to assert my power in the situation.
- Even though I was feeling scared inside, I did not react to the intensity of his angry outburst. My voice and movements were lowered and slowed to eliminate any sense that I was a threat, and kept my facial expressions neutral, if not empathetic.
- I focussed on what he was saying, resisting the urge to explain, justify or direct. While the anger intensity was high, I knew he wouldn’t be able to hear me. Instead, I reflected back his words and showed him that I was hearing not just his difficult circumstances but also how he was feeling about them. I expressed my desire to know more about his experience.
- As soon as I had the opportunity, I invited him out of the reception area to have a coffee with me in my office. When he accepted my offer, I settled him in my office and went out to make coffee while he sat on his own. This gave us both a moment to calm down before we continued our interaction out of the public eye.
- On my return, I gently reflected again what I had heard from him about his situation and asked him if he knew why he had been sent to my office. By this stage he was calmer and much more receptive to what I had to say.
- Whenever the intensity reignited, I went back to reflecting what I was hearing and acknowledging the situation and the concerns he raised.
- I acknowledged that this may not be the best time for the client and we negotiated a better date and time for this appointment. When the man left, I noticed that he still was carrying some physical expressions of anger but the intensity was significantly reduced.
By the way, he showed up for his rescheduled appointment…
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