From time to time most of us encounter angry people. Some are out of control. Others are trying hard not to be verbally or physically abusive, but inside they are steaming over what they consider to be an injustice. It may be a neighbor who believes you have treated him/her unfairly. It may be a fellow worker who perceives that what you have done is wrong. It may be a mother-in-law or a brother-in-law, a father or a son, or a stranger.

Seven steps to dealing with an angry person:

  1. Listen. You get something of the person's story and the heart of why he/she is angry. The best thing you can do for an angry person is to listen to his/her story. Having heard it, ask him/her to repeat it. Having heard it a second time, ask additional questions to clarify the situation. Listen at least three times before you give a response.

  2. Listen. He/she begins to see that you are taking him/her seriously, that you really want to understand what happened, and you are not condemning his/her anger.

  3. Listen. At this point the individual usually begins to calm down, as he/she senses that you are trying to understand him/her. If you respond to someone's anger before you have thoroughly heard his/her story, you will not defuse the anger - you will compound it.

  4. Seek to understand the angry person's plight. Put yourself in his/her shoes and try to view the world through his/her eyes. Ask yourself, Would I be angry in the same situation? Keep in mind that the angry person may not have all the facts, or is overlooking his/her own responsibility. Whether one's interpretation of the situation is correct is not the issue at this point.

  5. Express your understanding. Don't jump in and set the person straight on the facts, or defend your own actions. Put yourself in the angry person's situation. If I were in your shoes and saw the situation as you see it, I would also be angry. This puts the angry person at ease. It tells them they are not weird for feeling angry. You have now removed the adversarial nature of the conversation.

  6. Share additional information that may shed light on the subject. Often the person who is angry does not have all the facts or is misinterpreting the facts. You do the person a great service when you share your perception of what happened. But if this is shared too early in the process, you will not be heard - and will find yourself in a heated argument with the angry person.

  7. Admit your part. If you realize you have genuinely wronged him/her intentionally or unintentionally, then it is time for you to admit the wrong and ask for forgiveness.

From The Other Side of Love by Gary Chapman, copyright (c) 1999. Used by permission of Moody Press, Chicago, Ill., 1-800-678-6928.

Gary Chapman, Ph.D., directs marriage seminars throughout the country and hosts the nationally syndicated radio broadcast A Growing Marriage. He is the author of The Five Love Languages, The Five Love Languages of Children, Hope for the Separated, and Five Signs of a Loving Family, among others. He and his wife, Karolyn, have two adult children.