Dealing with anger in others 2

Dealing With Anger in Others: 3 Steps to take when someone else is mad

What should I do when someone else is mad? Is this my fault? Should I try to fix this?

Have you ever wondered about these things? Dealing with anger in others is never easy. Fortunately, there are practical steps you can take. In this post, we’ll walk you through three positive steps you can take when someone else is mad.

My Story of Dealing With Anger in Others

The thought of upsetting someone used to make me cringe. If someone became angry, I assumed it was my fault. Fortunately, today I know better. Yet, I also realize that I am not the only one who has struggled with the fear of upsetting others.

But what if there is no need to fear after all?  

Dealing with anger in others can actually serve as an opportunity to deepen the relationship! If you feel excitement welling within you, then read on. This post provides a simple formula for working through everyday drama. You’ll learn tools for dealing with anger that leads to a deeper level of intimacy. These tools are easily applied, and I enjoy using them. Since I like this process so much, I wanted to share it with you. Today, feelings are no longer a danger to be avoided but an adventure to be explored. I believe this can be true for you as well.

Laying the Groundwork

The first step to dealing with anger in others is understanding that many intense feelings are not about you. In college, one of my favorite professors would say, “When someone’s reaction is more intense than the situation calls for, it says more about what is going on inside of them than it does about you.” Everyone has a history, and no one is completely baggage free. There are two primary reasons people get upset:

  1. We are offensive.
  2. There is something much deeper going on inside of them that got stirred up.

Sometimes, innocent actions uncover old wounds. If a friend was abandoned by Mom or Dad as a child, then not immediately return a phone call or not being available to hang-out, might dredge up old feelings of abandonment. Sometimes hurts are buried deep.—so deep others don’t know they are there.

Dealing with anger in others 3

Instead of jumping to self-blame, when someone else is mad, here is a better solution.

Three Steps for Dealing with Anger In Others

Step #1: Pause for self-examination.

When someone else is mad, the first thing to do is to pause for self-examination.

Ask yourself, “Did I do something offensive, rude, or mean?” If the answer is “Yes,” then apologize quickly. Seek to make amends and move on. Everyone makes mistakes, and triggering someone’s anger does not make you a bad person. Instead, mistakes make you human.

If the answer is “No,” then move on to the next step.

Step #2: Get curious.

“All behavior is communication.” This quote also comes from Dr. Barry Lord. Everything a person says and does provides a glimpse into their inner world. When a person’s reaction is greater than the situation calls for, it signals that something deeper is happening inside them. These triggering events can serve as an opportunity for deepening the relationship.

Coaches, mentors, parents, and spouses can take advantage of these feelings by asking good questions.

You might ask:

  • I’m curious, what is it that’s causing you to have such a strong reaction right now?
  • What is it that you’re feeling?
Dealing with anger in others

I define intimacy as into-me-see. Intimacy is the ability to peer into someone’s inner world. When someone else is made, it opens up an opportunity to learn more about them. So change your perspective. What if dealing with anger others is really an opportunity to connect?

Step Three: Offer Your best guess

If the person doesn’t know–and there is a chance that he won’t–then it’s time to take a guess. You might ask:

  • “I’m wondering if you’re feeling ______________ (sad, mad, frustrated, lonely, etc.) because________________.”

Remember, this is your friend, so it’s likely that you know him or her well enough to be correct. At the very least, your guess will help clarify the feelings.

Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” By seeking to understand, we help others move past intense feelings and deepen the relationship in the process.

Next Steps

What if this doesn’t work?

Remember, dealing with anger in others is not your job. Your loved one’s anger is their anger. Allow this person to own it and don’t make it mean you did something wrong.

You can always walk away, allow that person to cool down and return to the conversation latert.

Sometimes, when we are dealing with anger in others or with anger in ourselves, taking a break to breathe is the best thing to do. Unless the problem is a life-threatening emergency, there is no reason it must be solved now.

A Quick But Important Anger Reminder

Oh, and one last thing. If you are connected to someone with intense anger issues, it’s time to get professional support. Physical violence, ongoing put-downs, and threats all signs that deeper issues are present. They also call for different tools that start with you keeping yourself safe. However, for those who are anxious about upsetting others during the normal, day to day interactions,  I encourage you to test-drive this process. 

Continue the Conversation

Let’s keep the conversation going. Here are a few questions for reflection and discussion.

  • How good are you at dealing with anger in others?
  • What do you do when someone else is mad?
  • Have you used any of the strategies mentioned in this post? If so, how did they work?
  • What will you do differently next time someone you know gets mad?
  • Are there any pressing thoughts you would add to this post?
  • Based on these ideas, are there any actions you need to take right now?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about dealing with anger in others. It’s your turn to keep the conversation going in the comment below.

Jed Jurchenko

Jed Jurchenko is the husband to an incredible wife, daddy to four amazing girls, and a foster dad to one more. He's served as a children's pastor, marriage and family therapist, psychology professor, award-winning writing coach, and life coach. Jed is the author of 23 books on relationships, parenting, writing, and doing life well. In his free time, you'll find Jed reading, preparing for an upcoming marathon, barbecuing, paddle boarding, and enjoying life with his incredible family. Find out more about Jed's books, coaching, and courses at www.ithrive320.com.

7 thoughts on “Dealing With Anger in Others: 3 Steps to take when someone else is mad”

  1. Lots of great thoughts and solid strategies here, Jed, and this post has many more rattling around in my own head. I’ll share some that I hope some readers may find of additional benefit:

    1.) I can think of another reason that people become angry; that is, a third party has lied. By way of example, I’ll use an extreme first. Let’s say that a mutual acquaintance of ours goes to you and tells this lie: “I overheard Erik saying he’d make the moves on your wife if he could.” You’d probably get angry, and rightly so. But this indicates neither a problem with my having actually offended you, nor a tie to (necessarily) to any past baggage in you. Unfortunately, other baggage-laden people can step into relationships and stir things up. In fact, this very thing has happened to me more times than I can count. My M.O. whenever someone comes to me to tell me “so-and-so said [fill in unsavory thing here]” is to say, “That’s terrible. I’m going to give them a call and set up a time that the three of us can sit down and talk about this.” Whoever balks at the notion of that meeting — is generally the problem.

    2.) Not everyone who gets angry with us is a friend or even a close acquaintance. There are many angry, agenda-driven people out there; and the more public we become (e.g., as writers, bloggers, influencers), the higher the chance is that people will exhibit anger about something we said (or that they think we are saying). Your initial points still apply: either we should assess and apologize where we may have been insensitive, etc., or it reflects a problem inside of the angry person. But in these cases, devoting time and energy to try to resolve WHY they are angry is not feasible (or many times, even possible). Here is where we need to just stop at step one, be as kind as possible — and then move on in good conscience.

    3.) Steps 2 and 3 imply (and require) that we have our own anger issues under control. Unfortunately, rather than being level-headed and kind, we ourselves give in to anger when anger is expressed toward us. I’ve found that something like this helps: “We’re both mad right now and I don’t think we’ll have a productive conversation over this. Let’s cool down and then talk about it.” This doesn’t always fly, especially with personality types who feel the need to “solve it now”; but if it becomes standard practice, people adjust — and benefit. I would add that if we ourselves are calm but the other person is still riled, trying to calmly probe into why they are angry may not always work (and guessing at it could even exacerbate the problem). In those cases, again, suggesting some time off from it and then applying those questions LATER is often just the thing (e.g., “Could you help me better understand what caused you to feel such intense anger about things yesterday?”)

    1. Erik, excellent edition! I love these. Number two has been especially true in my life lately. Your right, when we don’t know the person, engaging may not be feasible or worthy of the time. Your strategy of being as kind as possible and moving on is excellent. Point number three is really good too. Taking time to calm our self down before addressing any issues is a must. I like the application of saving the questions for later. The cool thing is that not only will I be using these strategies myself, I’ll be passing them on to others too! Thanks again for the thoughtful and very helpful feedback.

      1. I say this a lot with regard to our interactions, Jed; but it’s still true so I’ll say it again — this is a good example of what excites me about the “social” in “social media.” Great information is shared. New thoughts are formed, and previous thoughts take on new meaning or rise to the surface in new ways. And feedback is given all around. If approached this way, social media is an ever-fresh source of growth, challenge, change and new relationships that would not have been possible without it.

  2. Jed, these are great tips. When I’ve used them successfully they help turn the heat down. I also like Erik’s added suggestions–especially #3 — sometimes the anger’s just too much of a barrier to talking things through, and taking time to cool down helps a lot.

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