Deal With People Who Have Anger Problems

Someone is agitated and up in your face, or is angry at you for the hundredth time and you want to know how to handle the situation. Yes, it is difficult to know exactly what to do in every type of anger-filled situation involving a family member, friend, co-worker, or stranger. Managing emergency situations and ongoing chronic situations involving people with anger issues require varied approaches and skills. It is possible to become well-equipped to manage these situations, and expand your understanding about anger. Doing so will prepare you for when the need arises.


Managing an Emergency

  1. Exercise self-control. Remaining calm is one of the first rules to follow when in an emergency situation. If someone is extremely angry, you need to treat the situation as if it is an emergency.[1]
    • Being calm will help you make on-the-spot decisions. This can be difficult, so remember to breathe. Your body will be telling you it’s an emergency, but you need to tell yourself you are going to be okay.
    • The person is angry, so you need to show him the opposite emotion: calm. If you match his anger with your anger, then negative emotions will escalate. Don’t allow him to antagonize you into a negative reaction.
    • Take a step back to get some space. Hold both hands up in a peaceful way in front of you to gesture that you do not want any trouble.
  2. Establish safety. Determine if the situation is safe. There is no reason why you should put yourself in harm’s way. Many lives have been changed forever due to mistakenly participating in volatile situations. Self-preservation is a primal instinct.[2] Pay attention to it.
    • At the first sign of a threat to your safety, leave the area as quickly as you can.
    • If you are forced to stay, or sense that you can handle the situation, you will need to shift into problem solving mode.
  3. Clarify triggers. Clarify what situation has triggered the person's outburst. Every situation is going to be different. Anger runs on a spectrum, from irritation to rage.[3] If you are more familiar with the angry person, then you may be more aware of what triggers this person’s outbursts. Clarifying what the person is angry about will allow you to make the next decision on how to handle the situation.
    • Listen to what the person has to say and do not interrupt him. Interrupting or talking over the person will only escalate the situation.
  4. Resolve the problem. It is time to take action to resolve the problem. You need to address four things: define what went wrong; generate alternatives for how it can be fixed; select an alternative; and implement your plan.[4] This is the type of discussion that can take place immediately, or you can make plans to discuss it at a later time.
    • Be clear and tell the person that you are not going to fight with him.
    • Assure the person that whatever the problem is, it can be resolved.
    • You may need to suggest that the person take a break or a walk. Or, you may want to do the same and come back later to discuss the problem. Cooler heads prevail. The goal is to create some distance from the negative emotions.
    • Apologize if and when appropriate. You will need to use your judgement as to when to say this. If you say it too soon, it may make the person angry.
  5. Get help. Enlist the support of others. If the situation escalates and you have tried unsuccessfully to calm the situation, then you will need to call for reinforcements. It takes courage and strength to admit that help is needed, but it is necessary.
    • Call the police to restore order or report a crime if one has occurred. It is their job to protect and serve. You need to be willing to ask for their help.
    • Family members or friends may be able to help resolve the matter at hand.
    • If you are dealing with this type of behavior in your home, then contact a domestic violence hotline in your area for advice and assistance.[5]
    • If this situation occurs in the workplace, contact your Human Resource Representative to discuss your options.

Managing for the Long Term

  1. Assess behaviors. Identify the person’s underlying emotion to help you choose which action to take. Anger, is a useful emotion. It is known as a “cover” or secondary emotion that can mask underlying emotions.[6] If we think about it, anger can be used to display all sorts of underlying emotions including but not limited to: hurt, frustration, and fear, with anxiety topping the list as a common driver to anger. You get to discover which is operating during a conflict.
    • Humans, from an early age, learn to cope with things that happen around them and to them. If they learn to respond in an angry way, then they will use that coping skill over and over. Children carry their coping skills into adulthood. Even though they may cause problems, some people will refuse to change.
    • Children who grew up in a chaotic home have few childhood coping skills except to become hyper-vigilant – always on guard, always externally focused on others, always on edge waiting to see what is going to happen next. [7]
  2. Mediate. Serve as your own mediator (a person who intervenes between two parties to bring about an agreement or reconciliation). Do your best to create a mediation-like environment. In the most successful mediation sessions all parties get their emotional needs met, the truth can be revealed, and the conflict can move toward resolution.[8] Make that your goal.
    • If you sense the person is getting out of control, then find a way to remove yourself from the situation. You may say things like, “I can see that we aren’t going to resolve this today so I’m going to leave now,” or “We can’t resolve this problem if we can’t talk calmly, so I’m going to take a break and we can discuss this later.”
    • You may be shocked by what is said to you; but maintaining an honest and empathetic stance will help you to understand. Ideally, you can set ground rules from the beginning that there will be no name calling.If the situation doesn't allow that, then you can say, "We don't have to resort to name calling to get this problem solved. Let's focus on the problem."[9]
    • Remember that you can take a break from the interaction to allow for a “cooling off period." This may help the person calm down and approach the situation in a more positive way.[10]
  3. Exercise caution. Approach each situation carefully. People exhibit varying degrees of anger. Some reactions can be mild, and some extreme. Don’t be the one to escalate the problem.
    • Anger can be an impulsive reaction to a stimuli rather than a well-thought out response. You will need to investigate what triggers an anger response in the person with whom you interact. In some cases, a person could be diagnosed with a condition such as Intermittent Explosive Disorder.[11]
    • There are times when people just want to vent about a situation and don’t need you to do anything other than listen and say, “I know what you mean.”
  4. Neutralize the anger. Approach an angry person with the goal of neutralizing his anger. Establish a reliable way to disarm and diffuse the situation. For example, say things like, “I know you’re angry about this and I’m sure we can work it out.” If you are caught in a situation with someone who is angry, then there is definitely a conflict that needs to be resolved. You are basically creating a negotiated solution to the conflict.[12]
    • If someone is having an anger outburst and you are not, then you will be the one in charge of maintaining control. You can say things like, “It sounds to me like we can solve whatever this problem is, peacefully.” Seek first to understand, then to be understood.[13]
    • Listen to the person who is angry by paying attention to what he says. Without interrupting him, say things such as, “I hear what you’re saying. Let me see if I’m on target here. You’re upset because ____.” Be an excellent listener. Everyone likes to be heard. Wait until the person is finished talking before you comment, and do not interrupt the person. This shows the person that you respect him and want to hear what he has to say.
  5. Maintain self-control. Respond in a way that shows that you have self-control. You may be the only one exercising self-control. It may be difficult to maintain your composure in difficult circumstances; but focusing on a positive outcome will carry you through.
    • Be flexible and remain composed even if he is emotionally “all over the place.” This will help you remain focused on identifying the underlying issues and guide the interaction toward a peaceful conclusion.
    • Get him to buy-in to the idea of resolving the matter. Say things like, “I know this is a difficult situation, but I’m confident we can work together to figure this out.” This sets up a positive outcome simply by letting the other person know that you are a willing and optimistic participant.
    • Always be positive when an agreement is reached. Tell the person you are happy an agreement was reached. Ask the person if he is happy about how things turned out and if there was anything that could have made it better.
  6. Consider consequences. Remember that you are human and so is the person who is mad. Keep in mind the bigger picture - the consequences of an unsuccessful outcome – and that may be just the thing you need to keep the conversation on a positive path.
    • For a person to grow and change he needs an environment that fosters genuine interactions (openness and self-disclosure), acceptance (being seen with unconditional positive regard) and empathy (being listened to and understood. This would be your role in the process of helping someone deal with his anger issues. [14]
    • Be realistic about the outcome. You may not be able to resolve every conflict. It doesn’t mean you have to stop trying. It's good to remain guardedly optimistic.
    • There will be times when you will have to assert yourself to get your point across, or to shut the conversation down. Remaining unruffled will be the key. For example, you may have to say, "I understand what you're saying, but I'm going to have to stop the conversation for now. What we're doing isn't working. Perhaps we can find a solution later."

Expanding Your Understanding

  1. Get educated. Take steps to increase your knowledge about anger. The first step in understanding any human behavior is to learn about it. It will give you a strong base of ideas and strategies from which to pull when you are dealing with someone with anger issues.
    • Access educational material on-line from reputable sources like the American Psychological Association[15] and the American Psychiatric Association. [16]
    • Subscribe to newsletters from groups that cover subject matter related to anger and other areas of interest.
  2. Express good intentions. Show the other person that you have good intentions by remaining consistent in what you say and do. Many people go through life with a feeling of mistrust toward others. People who guard their emotions are usually those who have been hurt repeatedly in life. It’s not easy to forget when someone violates your trust, but holding onto doubt will likely cause you to suffer.[17]
    • It takes time and effort to build trust. Repeated positive interactions are the goal. Simply asking how someone is doing, or remembering that he has a tough assignment coming up at work or school lets him know you care enough to remember.
    • Think of ways you can show the person that your actions are inspired by goodness. Be kind. Do things like making the person his favorite meal, or tell the person you appreciate the things he does for you.
    • It takes courage to be vulnerable. Remember a person with anger issues may struggle with this notion. You can show your vulnerability by sharing your own struggles to help the other person feel more at ease.
  3. Expand your emotional vocabulary. The ability to express emotions varies from person to person. Frustration and anger grow when you can’t find the words to express the emotions you are feeling.
    • Once you expand your vocabulary you can help others do the same.
    • Suggest and encourage the person to take classes in non-violent communication. The goal of these classes is to learn to express your feelings and needs with greater clarity and compassion.[18]
    • Gather lists that itemize numerous emotions to help identify the emotions a person is feeling. You can refer to that list to help determine if you or another person's emotional needs are satisfied, and when they are not. [19]
    • Strong emotions like anger are designed to help you respond to and cope with stress in your environment, but can become bad for us if not handled with care.[20]
    • Research has shown that if people have twenty words for anger (irritation, fury, rage, hostility), then they will perceive twenty different states and will better regulate their emotional states as a result.[21]
  4. Demonstrate trustworthy behaviors. Keep your word, tell the truth, be transparent, and give without strings attached. Use these simple wisdoms to show that you are the type of person who can be trusted. [22] Helping others overcome emotional upheaval can be difficult, but in the end you will find greater happiness.[23]
    • Successfully managing situations with difficult and angry people, builds skills that can be used at home, at work and in public. You will be well-equipped to handle each situation with confidence.


  • Refrain from saying, "Just get over it," or "Just let it go," to someone who is angry. If it was that easy, they would have already gotten over it or let it go.
  • If the person is provocative, then instead of striking back in a rude way then say something like "I'm sorry that was my mistake" or "I will try not to do it again".
  • No one deserves to be treated poorly.
  • Always maintain a level of respect for the person’s struggle.
  • Avoid situations that trigger the person’s anger.
  • Sometimes it is too difficult for a person to change; and it’s never too late for you to remove yourself from a situation.
  • You always have the option to call the authorities for help.


  • Exercise extreme caution when using humor too soon to diffuse a situation. It can backfire on you and cause a person to get more upset.
  • You may need to walk away from the person or the relationship if a pattern of abuse occurs.
  • If you or anyone else you know is in an abusive relationship you must take all necessary precautions to protect all involved.

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Sources and Citations