How to cope with an angry outburst

Have you ever been faced with a difficult customer or colleague who is giving you a hard time, or even being abusive?

There are a few strategies that can help you keep your cool and maintain a professional approach.

1. Create a thought stop wall – don’t take it personally!

As you start to feel the anger well up inside you create an imaginary wall to defend yourself against the incoming attack. Use new scripts in your head like “I am in control”, “I won’t let this upset me”, “I will not take this personally” instead of “I hate this”, “This is making me so angry I will throw a punch”. It’s so important to try and detach yourself and not take another person’s anger personally. Don’t get sucked into their anger causing you to get angry too. Being calm is the best way to help another person calm down too.

2. Listen; focus on empathy and offer support

When someone is angry they feel they have a good reason for being so. Try and help them to vent but look deeper to find out what is wrong and get a sense of their feelings. Say things like “I can hear you are upset and I’d like to try and help”. Yes, they may sound unreasonable but when someone is VERY angry they may be out of line and not focussed on appropriate ways to communicate. Allow them a bit of space to vent as it can help them calm down. Sometimes saying “I am sorry to see you are so upset about this” can also help bring the anger level down.

A great way to manage a difficult situation and show empathy is to ask questions. Show interest and find out what went wrong and why this person feels so angry.

3. Stick to rules and professional behaviours

Your organisation probably has rules and agreed behaviours for handling difficult situations. Maybe you have values like “respect”, “listen” or “caring”… and if you don’t it may be time to set them up. They are great guiding principles for keeping you on track with difficult people and clashes. Try and use task related questions and move forwards in resolving the problem.

4. Make notes – now or later

Sometimes keeping a clear head and making notes will help you and the organisation process this more clearly later. If you are on the phone a great way to manage anger is to make notes of words people say while they speak, as it changes our focus from reacting to recording. If it is face-to-face and you can’t take notes, remember key things said and make notes later. It helps to process the difficult situation and the mere act of taking notes provides a different focus.

5. Debrief with your colleagues

A quick debrief with a manager or co-worker helps you come back to normal more quickly, and puts the event into perspective. This doesn’t mean tell everyone around you. Choose the person that is wise, calm and knowledgeable and will help you process what happened and maybe help analyse the procedures in place to deal with these situations and see what might be needed to improve things in the future.

6. Create a parallel event

For each tough event create an alternative event that makes you happy. It may be a walk around the block, a phone call to a friend, or a booking for a show or night out. It may be as simple as looking through photos of loved ones, or reading a lovely email that made you feel good.

The most important thing to remember is not to take the anger home. Remember you need to do what you can to manage any situation professionally, at the same time ensuring you are not carrying anger with you to your next situation.

Eve Ash has produced a wide range of DVDs and books to help people understand and manage difficult situations. These are available at


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