Dealing With an Angry Person

The following is an excerpt from “How to Deal With Difficult People and Difficult Situations” available in the Shop:

Here are the kinds of things the angry person says:

You just don’t get it, do you?

What’s wrong with you? Why are you doing it that way?

Have you always been this stupid?

I can’t believe you’re being so selfish!!

I have done so much for you, but now you won’t do anything for me.

How do you handle people who say such provocative things? They want you to bow your head in humility, and do what they want. This is the worst thing you can do. Don’t ever appease them. Don’t walk on eggshells, either. This communicates fear, and the difficult person likes to control through fear, intimidation, and whatever else he can arouse in you. This will “empower” the difficult person, something you definitely don’t want to do.

Don’t fight with them either. A lot of difficult people want to fight. Even if nobody wins, it makes them feel like they at least have enough power over you to arouse angry emotions. The end result is you’re emotionally drained, and they feel smug and in control.

Instead, be yourself. Be calm. Don’t be defensive, but don’t be a doormat either. Speak factually and rationally. Deal with borderlines and authoritarians as little as possible, but when you must deal with them, don’t get pulled into their world of defensiveness, hostility, and exaggerations.

“You always make a mess of things!”

Instead of defensively replying: “What do you mean I always make a mess of things?!” simply use reason and logic. To the difficult person, these signify strength. Always put the onus of proof back on them.

“I’m not sure what you mean.” Then it’s win/win. Either you have shut them up, or they have to start building a case for how you supposedly always make a mess of things.

“You’re selfish!”

Instead of defensively replying, “How dare you accuse me of that?” say: “I don’t understand. What’s wrong with taking care of myself, so long as I leave you alone to do the same?”

This will probably shut the difficult person up right away. If he now thinks you’re a moral monster, then good—you want people like this to think you’re a moral monster.

With the angry person be calm and cool, but don’t ever be conciliatory. This is crucial. If you show weakness, then they’ve got you. At the same time, if you become rude or insulting like they are, they also have got you—because they have succeeded at dragging you to their level. Always, always seek to shift the onus of responsibility back to them. Difficult people despise personal responsibility. Once they see you’re not going to budge on the issue, they’ll start to steer clear of you.

For much more, check out Dr. Hurd’s booklets in the “Plain English” series in The Shop.

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