"Anger is like picking up a hot coal with the intent of throwing at someone else. You are always the one who gets burned.". Buddha

Anger and violence are endemic in our society today. It is estimated that the rate of violent crimes and assaults is four times higher than it was in the 1960's. What would account for this four fold increase? The counter argument is that murder rates have steadily been dropping over the last 10 years. Don't kid yourself, this has nothing to do with a decrease in violent crime. It has everything to do with the increased ability of health care professionals to utilize modern technology to save many who would have died only a decade ago.

As somone who works in the correctional system, I see anger and violence at work every day. It is the stock and trade of those members of society who have chosen the path of the predator, however all of us are affected by it at one time or another. We need to understand what anger and violence do to us on the cellular level if we hope to be able to influence them on a personal one. It's important to understand that in most cases violence is not about necessity. Most of the time people are not engaging in violence to protect themselves or their families, procure food etc. People engage in violence because of the issues and emotions that come to the surface when there is a loss of face or some perceived slight. Sometimes it appears to surface from nowhere, but in most cases there are a lot of indicators and signs that it's imminent.

Situational Awareness and profiling can reduce a great deal of risk when dealing with angry or potentially violent individuals. It is vitally important to always have a "Plan B", Always leave a way out of the situation for you and the angry person. You'd better also have the means to defend yourself if everything goes sideways. It's important to remember that not all angry or potentially violent people are going to de-escalate. Remember those rising violent crime rates? Train yourself from the beginning to take an appropriate (non-threatening) interview stance. This is simply standing at a 45 degree angle to the other individual with one leg forward and the other back. The hands are up near the face palms outward. It is a non-aggressive posture (85% of communiction is non-verbal) and allows you a great deal of mobility should you need to retreat or defend yourself.

You also must understand the way the human brain is hardwired when it comes to anger and violence. For the purpose of our discussion we'll say that we have three brains. Our outer Neocortex (Human), the Limbic System (Animal), and the Brainstem (Lizard). Each of these segments are resposible for different parts of our reasoning and functioning. The Neocortex is our grey matter. The part of our brain responsible for reasoning and higher functioning. Our Limbic system is somewhat more primative and may override the Neocortex when it believes that we are in danger. The Neocortex and the Limbic system are hardwired together and can communicate. The Brainstem on the other hand talks to no one. It is the part of our brain responsible for our more base urges, the part that shouts Run/Kill/Fight when we are extremely angry or in the grip of the Adrenaline Response. Trying to reason with the Lizard Brain is futile and potentially dangerous. So how do we deal with angry people? There are some very good and very bad ways to go with. I think it's important to look at a few of both because at some point in time, we've all used the bad ones and convinced ourselves that it was the right way to go.

Telling them to chill the %#!@ out is not the way to go. Telling an angry and potentially violent person to calm down is futile. Their heart rate is accelerated, in many cases they are in Adrenal Stress Response and auditory exclusion (they can't hear you) has kicked in. Likely this approach will only further enrage them and can place you in a dangerous position.
Apologize when you are wrong. Don't let pride get in the way of good sense. Sometimes this is all that is needed to drop an angry person's heart rate to a level where their neocortex has regained control and you can work the problem out without the risk of violence.

Cooperate. This doesn't mean that you agree with them. Show empathy for their feelings and understanding of their perceptions of the event. Don't disagree with an angry person openly. Your goal here is to bring them back down to a level where you can calmly discuss the issues.
Be respectful. Use non-aggressive body language and voice tone to communicate with angry people. Remember that 85% of communication is non-verbal. Acknowledge their concerns; it doesn't mean that you agree with them. Avoid using judgemental language or voice tone. Nothing gets peoples back up more quickly than judgemental statements.

Listen. Being an effective listener can go a long way to de-fusing an angry person. Many times people just want to be heard. They are not looking for you to provide a solution to their problem (unless you are the problem) and simply want some understanding and validation. Don't interupt or try to correct an angry person, what you consider being rational may just provoke them further. Instead use reflective listening techniques and open ended questions to get more information and help them process the situation.
Reframe the context. This is a great method to establish some common ground. It allows both parties to be on the same side of the issue without necessarily agreeing on the outcome.

Be assertive. It's ok to set clear boundaries for expectations and behavior. Always assess/evaluate the situation for signs that things are not going according to plan. *In a high threat environment assertiveness may be the wrong approach. In this case cooperation would take precedence.
Disengage. It's important to know when nothing positive is going to come from a situation and to remove yourself before things go sideways. Always have a way out. Request assistance when needed. Always debrief with someone you trust.
So now you've got a few tools you can start to employ when dealing with angry people. If you are anything like me, you'd prefer not to have to deal with the angry individual. Most of us would prefer to handle the situation before the screaming, yelling and threatening start. When you see that someone is going to lose it there are a few things we can do to de-fuse the anger bomb before it is armed.

Be proactive. If you know someone is getting angry and worked up. Deal with it early, before it becomes a problematic situation.
Stay calm. The more in control of your thoughts and emotions you are, the more likely you will be to de-escalate the individuals anger.
Speak slowly and firmly. Being self confident and non-confrontational can go a long way towards keeping situations from getting out of control.
Never make threats. It's ok to let them know that there are consequences for inappropriate behavior. Don't get caught up in the escalation game. This inevitably leads to violence.

Always have an escape route. Here's where all of those Personal Safety skills come in so handy. Good Situational Awareness, Target Hardening and a solid Personal Safety Plan really stack the odds in your favor.
Seek safety. As I've said many times in the past. Run towards safety, not away from danger. Prior planning and training makes this goal much easier to accomplish. Don't assume you can wing it when the incident occurs. It could be a very big miscalculation on your part.

Kerry Sauve

Author's Bio: 

I am a veteran Peace Officer with over 18 years experience working in a maximum security prison as an Intelligence Officer. I am also the Director of StreetSense Safety and Security Inc. We provide Personal Safety and Self Defense training and education for the public and corporate clients.