Dealing with someone who’s angry can be challenging, but there are ways to defuse their anger and ease a tense situation.
It’s natural to feel angry sometimes. Many of us have developed strategies for working through anger when it creeps up. We know what may irk us and what works best to calm ourselves down.
But when we find ourselves face-to-face with someone else’s anger, how to act becomes less clear. What are we supposed to do?
Understanding how to deal with an angry person can help you defuse the situation and protect yourself from potential aggression or volatility.
Anger comes in many forms.
While various terms are used to describe the types of anger experiences, most types fall under one of three categories:
- Outward (or external) anger. This is expressed outwardly at a person or thing, such as raising your voice or throwing something.
- Inward (or internal) anger. You express toward yourself, and you may engage in self-isolation, negative self-talk, or even self-harming behaviors.
- Passive (or passive-aggressive) anger. This refers to the indirect ways we express anger, such as making catty remarks or using sarcasm.
Some specific types of anger can include:
- deliberate anger
- behavioral anger
- addictive or habitual anger
- moral, judgmental, or righteous anger
- fear-based anger
- frustration-based anger
- volatile or sudden anger
- chronic anger
- manipulative anger
- pain-based anger
- self-abusive anger
- psychological anger
- other people
- a person’s environment
- psychological or physical distress
- intrapersonal demands environment
- unknown causes
There are several ways you can tell that someone is experiencing anger or aggression. They may express their feelings physically or show it in how they act — or react.
Physical signs of anger include:
- clenched jaw
- clenched fists
- frowning or scowling
- raised voice
- trembling or shaking
Particular behaviors can also signal anger, such as:
- shouting or yelling
- being “snappy” or quick to react
- giving curt or “short” responses
- displaying physical aggression
- having sudden outbursts
- holding a grudge
- using insults
- expressing annoyance or irritability
- making accusations
- sulking or moping
- showing intolerance
- turning to violence
- hurting themselves or others
When you’re dealing with someone angry, it can be difficult to know how to react in a way that won’t escalate the situation and make it worse.
Here are some strategies you can try.
A word of caution
These strategies may not work for everyone. If the person becomes violent or has been violent in the past, trying to diffuse a tense situation might make it worse.
If things are escalating and you’re afraid for your physical safety, there are ways to safely navigate that situation and keep yourself safe in the process.
You can find some helpful tips by checking out these Psych Central pages:
- How to Deal with Domestic Violence
- How to Leave an Abusive Relationship and Not Go Back
- How to Deal with Abuse
For more tips on safety plans and safer browsing, consider visiting the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.
Respond rather than react
When someone else’s behavior is heightened, it can be easy to jump to the defensive. We may quickly — and perhaps harshly — react rather than take a moment to consider our response.
While it can be hard, listening, remaining calm, and keeping your replies measured can help you get through what can be a stressful situation.
Try to avoid becoming angry or agitated during the interaction. Instead, try to respond with empathy and care.
This will show the person that you hear what they’re saying, understand their point of view, and reaffirm that their feelings are valid.
Don’t take it personally
While you may feel like you’re receiving the brunt of someone’s outburst, it’s may not even be about you.
Anger can be triggered by a current situation or rooted in something else.
The person’s anger may result from something another person said earlier, a stressful presentation at work, or simply having a rough day.
A 2012 study suggests that people are less upset by a situation when they know that they’re not the cause of someone else’s anger. This can help you remain calm and avoid becoming agitated to more easily handle the other person’s behavior.
A distraction can sometimes be exactly what’s needed to stop someone in their angry tracks.
Distracting someone expressing anger or upset may interrupt their tirade and give their feelings a chance to pause. This allows them to step outside of their anger and potentially reflect on their behavior.
Providing a way for the person to shift focus can allow them to shift their focus to dealing with their anger rather than resting in it.
When using distraction, try to be mindful of interrupting the person or invalidating their feelings. This strategy is a way to help them reset and refocus and is not meant to make them feel as though their anger doesn’t matter or isn’t justified.
Look for solutions
When someone’s angry, you may feel the need to find a way to resolve what’s causing them so much agitation. One way to help is by offering up solutions.
Not sure how to best solve what’s upsetting them? Don’t be afraid to ask!
Gently stop the person and ask how you can help them feel less angry. Once you know what they need, you can work with them to develop positive and proactive solutions.
This can also help ease their anger and create calm by shifting their attention from negative feelings to positive action.
Whether you’re a person who feels deeply or it takes a lot to rattle you, setting boundaries can be crucial to maintaining mental and emotional balance. Before you’re faced with managing someone else’s feelings, try to establish your limits.
You can do this by deciding what behaviors are too much to handle and understanding how to recognize the signs of aggression or danger.
While only about 10% of anger experiences lead to aggression, it’s crucial to remain safe.
Knowing your boundaries and sticking to them will help you know when it’s time to remove yourself from a potentially harmful situation.
If, or when, you feel threatened in any way, it may be time to leave.
What not to say when someone’s angry
Certain things are sometimes better left unsaid. Consider avoiding the following when faced with someone who’s angry:
- Using accusatory statements. Try not to lay blame on the person or use “you” statements (such as “you’re being difficult” or “this is your fault”). This can make them feel defensive, which can fuel their anger. Instead, try to use “I” statements to show them how their anger affects you (such as “I want to help you” or “I feel scared”).
- Ignoring or invalidating feelings. Anger is a natural emotion. By acknowledging how the person feels, you’re validating their feelings and showing them that you understand. Ignoring their feelings may only agitate them further.
- Getting angry or defensive. Responding in anger might simply make them more upset and leave you feeling angry. Instead, try to manage your emotions and remain calm. If you find yourself becoming agitated, consider excusing yourself from the situation and take a moment to yourself.
Everyone experiences anger. But while experiencing our anger is one thing, it can be quite different to cope with someone else’s.
When dealing with an angry person, it can be easy to let ourselves get agitated and respond with anger or an upset tone. But remaining calm, looking for solutions, and setting boundaries can help manage the other person’s anger — rather than fuel it.
If you find yourself facing a person whose anger won’t subside or who is becoming volatile, it may be time to remove yourself from the situation. Though most expressions of anger don’t turn into aggression, your safety is important.
Protect yourself and walk away if you feel unsafe in any way.