When you most want to smash someone in the face or run out of the room, remember this irony. Cooling off someone else's anger can be a way to actually bring that person closer. Warning: Don't add fuel to the fire by suggesting that they calm down. Hint: "The opposite of anger is not calmness, it's empathy," notes Mehmet Oz. So when someone's angry at you, that empathy must start with you.
Here are five actionable tips that have helped me, when I've used them, which is not often enough. None will work all the time, and some will work better for your personality style than others.
One: Lighten Up
When others begin to act "hot," we instinctively tend to either
A. Escalate: Become like them and get loud, more hostile, or exhibit other mimicking reactions.
B. Withdraw: Adopt a drawn expression or poker face, and shut up until you can escape the situation.
Either approach gets us out of balance. Both are self-protective but self-sabotaging reactions. They are akin to saying, "I don't like your behavior -- therefore I am going to give you more power." Instead, slow everything down: your voice level and rate, and the amount and frequency of your body motions. Maintain an understated warmth. Be aware that you are feeling a hot reaction to the other person. Instead of dwelling on your growing feelings (which we women are most prone to do), move to a de-escalating action and leave room for everyone, especially the person in the wrong, to save face and self-correct.
Two: Take the "Three As to Get Past Anger" Approach
• Acknowledge that you heard the person, with a pause (buys time for both to cool off), nod, or verbal acknowledgment that does not immediately take sides: ("I understand you have a concern" rather than "You shouldn't have") or involve blaming or "bad labeling" language ("Let's discuss what would work best for us both now" rather than "That was a dumb") that pours hot coals on the heat of escalation and hardens the person into their righteous position.
• Ask for more information. That way, the other person feels heard. Plus you both have the opportunity to cool off, so you can find some common ground, based on their underlying concern or need.
In your mind, "warm up" to the part of the person you can respect. Focus on it mentally and refer to it verbally: "You are so dedicated" or "knowledgeable" or whatever their self-image is that leads them toward rationalizing their behavior.
• Add your own. Say, perhaps, "May I tell you my perspective?" This sets the other person up in a position of power, to give you permission to state your view, as you have already given them.
Three: Presume Innocence
Nobody wants to be told they are wrong. Whenever you have reason to believe someone is wrong, lying or simply not making sense, you will not build rapport by pointing that out to the other person. Allow them to save face and keep asking questions until you lose imagination or control. Say, for example, "How does that relate to (state the apparently conflicting information)?" You might find you were wrong, and thus you "save face." Or, by continued non-threatening questions, you can "softly corner" the other person into saving face and self-correcting, protects their pride and your future relationship.
Four: Look to Others' Positive Intent, Especially When They Appear to Have None
Our instincts are to look for the ways we are right and others are... less right. In arguing, as the momentum builds, we mentally focus on the smart, thoughtful, and "right" things we are doing, while obsessing about the dumb, thoughtless, and otherwise wrong things the other person is doing. This tendency leads us to take a superior or righteous position, get more rigid, and listen less as the argument continues.
Difficult as you might find it, try staying mindful of your worst side and their best side as you find yourself falling into an escalating argument. You will probably be more generous and patient with them, and increase the chances that they will see areas where you might be right after all.
Five: Dump Their Problems Back in Their Lap
If someone is verbally dumping on you, do not interrupt, counter, or counter-attack in midstream, or you will only prolong and intensify their comments. When they have finished, ask, "Is there anything else you want to add?" Then say, "What would make this situation better?" or "How can we fix this situation in a way you believe will work for us both?"
In effect, you are asking them to propose a solution to the issue they have raised. If they continue to complain or attack, acknowledge you heard them each time and, like a broken record, repeat yourself in increasingly brief language variations: "What will make it better?"
Do not attempt to solve problems others raise, even if they ask for advice. They might make you wrong. It is only human for any of us to spend more time proving our approach works best than using a method suggested by someone else, even someone we love or like.
Hints to keep you on the peacekeeper path:
"He who angers you conquers you" -- Elizabeth Kenny
"Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." -- Buddha
"Don't let somebody else determine your behavior." -- Me