We’ve all had someone up in our faces at one point or another. Being upfront and center of someone displaying those strong emotions can get super uncomfortable super fast.
While “calm down” is often the default response, it usually (and unfortunately) escalates the situation rather than de-escalates it. So knowing how to calm an angry person can be helpful when you find yourself in the most unfortunate position.
It’s important to remember, though, that no anger is the same. And that means one approach may work with a person or situation but not with another. However, being in tune with the moment can help you deal with someone who’s triggered without turning into the Hulk yourself.
The following list of five wisdoms is from experts at Mindvalley, who, through experience, have mastered how to calm an angry person.
1. Ignore Their Words
This advice might be counterintuitive from what you’ve been taught. However, according to lawyer-turned-peacemaker Doug Noll, if you allow yourself to absorb the person’s angry words, you’ll be angry yourself.
That’s because emotions are contagious — and that’s science-backed. In fact, in the 1990s, researchers identified “mirror neurons” located in the prefrontal cortex. These neurons are responsible for how and why humans imitate and feel empathy for each other.
“If we’re not trained when we’re witnessing people [who are angry and upset], we can be anxious and alexithymic also,” says Doug in an interview on Selling With Love (formerly known as Superhumans at Work, a Mindvalley Podcast). (Alexithymia, he explains, is when a person has difficulty identifying and expressing emotions.)
For example, if your spouse is angry and starts yelling at you, there’s a high chance your reaction is to yell back. As a response, they raise their voice, to which you raise yours. And it continues until — boom! goes the volcano.
Doug’s advice: “Ignore their words.” He explains, “If it just becomes white noise that you no longer hear, you’re much, much less likely to be triggered, which means you can stay calm.”
So to know how to calm an angry person down requires you to be the yin to their yang.
2. Read the Underlying Emotions
Oftentimes, it’s easy to tell when someone is angry. Yelling, cursing, sarcasm, as well as the middle finger, flying objects, or a high-five to the face are all expressions of this strong emotion.
However, some people aren’t as expressive. For example, they could cross their arms or roll their eyes to show their anger.
That’s why it’s important to understand the essence of effective communication: only 7% of all communication is verbal; the rest is tonality and body language.
So the secret to learning how to deal with anger, according to Doug, is to be able to “read” the feelings underneath it. Those include:
- Anxiety or fear,
- Shame or embarrassment,
- Abandonment or unloved,
- Feeling disrespected or unjustly treated, and
- Feeling unappreciated or not listened to.
For humans, interpersonal communication can be innate, like the ability to read each other’s emotional experiences without words. Unfortunately, “the myth of rationality has so divorced us from our emotional nature that we have never really been taught how to read emotions.”
Doug’s advice: It’s really about emotional agility — the ability to accept your thoughts and feelings as they are and use them to guide you. And so to “read” the angry person, Doug suggests being silent, looking at them in a non-reactive way (because you’re ignoring the words), and waiting for the emotions to come to your consciousness.
3. Reflect Back On the Emotions With a “You” Statement
If a person is mad, say to them, “Man, you’re really angry. You’re really pissed off. You don’t feel supported. You don’t feel appreciated.”
Telling someone how they feel may seem patronizing or rude. However, neuroscience shows it’s an effective way to de-escalate strong emotions like anger.
It’s called affect labeling. And as Doug explains, “When we label someone’s emotions, the first thing that happens is that the amygdala quiets down along with other emotion centers of the brain.”
Doug’s advice: Start with a “you” statement, followed by a simple declaration of emotion. Like, “You feel completely betrayed and it’s really distressing. And it’s making you anxious and concerned because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
What’s more, when you’re looking at how to calm an angry person over text, affect labeling can help.
Listen to the full podcast episode here:
4. Help Them Shift Perspectives
Managing conflicts can be a minefield. However, it helps to look at things from different points of view.
“Reframing is an extremely powerful technique,” says Srikumar Rao, founder of The Rao Institute and trainer of Mindvalley’s The Quest for Personal Mastery. He adds that it helps people expand their perception to a healthier and more constructive viewpoint.
In fact, one study looked at the role of perspective-taking in anger arousal. Their results found that those who reframe their views have lower anger levels than those who tend not to shift their perspectives.
“When you use [reframing], the problem dissolves,” says Rao.
Srikumar’s advice: You can help reframe any confrontational situation. One way involves imagining how things could be worse, like if their food delivery is late, something worse would be that the delivery person got into an accident. Or help them find the blessings in a situation, like how Rao did with his daughter in this video:
5. Turn Confrontation Into Care-Frontation
Whether it’s with family, friends, co-workers, or even strangers are your local grocery store, when you have to deal with confrontation, consider shifting to care-frontation. (This technique is especially helpful when you’re learning how to calm an angry, bipolar person.)
It’s a term coined by Lisa Nichols, motivational speaker and trainer of Mindvalley’s Speak and Inspire Quest. And what it means is “the intention of completing the conversation with the relationship still intact.”
Simply put, the main intention is not to have a difficult conversation but to ensure you and the other person are solid, on the same page, and in a tighter bond than before. It takes you both out of the “pointing fingers” mentality and, instead, focuses on building rapport.
Lisa’s advice: In her Quest, Lisa shares three steps to care-frontation:
- Honor and acknowledge the person by using statements like “What I appreciate about you is…” or “What I admire about you is…”
- Make a genuine request. This can look like: “I need your support in…” or “Can we make a new agreement to…”
- Be consistent in your approach to assertive communication.
Be the Calm, Not the Storm
Knowing how to calm an angry person is not so much about fixing the situation. Rather, it’s about reflecting their emotional experience back to them so they can fix their own circumstances.
There are plenty of tools and techniques you can use and at Mindvalley, there are experts you can learn them from. For starters, you can get guidance from…
- Lisa Nichols in the Speak and Inspire Quest. She takes you through a series of carefully-designed principles and equips you with the techniques to awaken the powerful communicator in you.
- Srikumar Rao in The Quest for Personal Mastery. He’ll teach you how to face stressful situations head-on and overcome obstacles through powerful reframing techniques.
The great thing is, you can sign up for a Mindvalley account and sample a few classes for free. Additionally, all Members have the access to be front and center to view experts speaking to Vishen on The Mindvalley Podcast and other live interviews.
What’s more, Mindvalley is known for its community, so if you need an accountability group to keep you going, there’s a tribe of like-minded people waiting for you.