How to Handle Angry People

By Neill Gibson and Beth Banning

Do you ever wish more people would take those anger management and anger control classes? Do you get tired of dealing with angry people, or end up being angry yourself when you do?

You may be missing the upside of anger: how you can use their anger to help you to create the life you truly want. Keep reading and you’ll find the secrets for getting to the heart of anger and a simple process for staying peaceful in the eye of other people’s storms.

How do you deal with people who seem upset, irritated, or downright angry? Do you feel tense or afraid? Do you clam up and hope they’ll go away? Do you defend yourself, explain, or apologize? Do you want to run and hide, or do you just want to punch something?

Well, isn’t this natural? Dealing with anger is stressful, right?

Not necessarily.

Surfing the Waves of Anger

How much more fun would life be if you could stay relaxed and calm through all the waves of anger that come your way? Here are some simple ways you can reduce your stress level when you deal with angry people.

When you’re faced with an angry man or woman, the most important, and most challenging thing to remember is: Don’t take it personally. Other people’s anger is never about you.

We can just hear you now, “Don’t take it personally! How can I do anything but take it personally when someone screams at me, calls me names, or is blaming me and saying something is all my fault?”

We know this can be challenging, but you can start learning how to avoid taking things personally by understanding this: Everything people do or say comes from a desire to meet their needs or to support something they value.

Everything = Needs and Values.

For example, an angry person may need consideration or value responsibility.

And here’s another important thing to keep in mind: They are doing the best they can to express their needs and values.

What Would the Dalai Lama Do?

To illustrate this, let’s imagine an angry young man starting a conversation with the Dalai Lama by saying, “What do you know about suffering or hardships, you’re just a lazy old man with fifty people waiting on you hand and foot! You’re nothing but a fake.”

Now, try to imagine the Dalai Lama reacting like most people do, by matching anger with defensiveness and criticism. “Lazy old man?” he bristles, “You can’t possibly understand all the things I do that serve people all over the world, and you have the nerve to call me a lazy old man? Do you even have a job?”

It’s not hard to imagine where this conversation is headed!

Now I have a hard time believing the Dalai Lama would react this way, but why not? What does he know that most other people don’t?

I imagine the Dalai Lama understands how to avoid taking things personally. He understands that whatever the young man might say is all about the his pain and suffering. That he is angry because some of his needs are not being met and he hasn’t been able to find a way to live in harmony with his own values.

Remember that everything people do or say is done to meet their needs or in support of something they value and they are doing the best they can.

So the next time you start feeling tense and want to defend yourself or justify your position, STOP and remember that other people’s anger is about them.

Don't Take it Personally

Think about it. Do you want your happiness to depend on whether other people act the way you want them to act? Or do you want your happiness to come from your ability to respond to life in harmony with what you value?

Consider this option when you’re faced with an angry person: Just be curious. You can do this by remembering to ask yourself questions, like: “WOW, this person is really upset. I wonder what’s going on with them?”

Then imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask yourself: “If I said or did that, what might be going on with me? What might I need? What do I value that could be missing in this situation?” See if you can guess.

“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.” ~ Albert Einstein

Handling people’s anger by focusing your attention in these ways can free you from reacting defensively, opens the way to understanding, and helps you create the kinds of relationships you want in all areas of your life.

Choose How You Want to Be

So remember, stress isn’t your only choice in the face of anger. Knowing that everything people do or say is about their needs and values can help you avoid taking their anger personally. Remembering this will allow you to relax and explore what’s happening in ways that are in harmony with what you value, rather than being controlled by your circumstances.

One of the first steps to escaping the clutches of a conditioned response to anger involves developing skills for reducing stress when dealing with difficult people. If you would like some practical advice for managing stress and living the life that you really want, sign up for our free Weekly Action Tips eMail series.

Neill Gibson is coauthor of the PuddleDancer Press booklet What’s Making You Angry? He and Beth Banning are the founders of Focused Attention Incorporated. They work with people ready to have more freedom, effectiveness and joy in their relationships, in all areas of their life. They can help you discover how you can get more of what you want in life in ways that everyone enjoys. They invite you to sign up for their Free Weekly Email Tips Series.