Angry People: How to Cope with Them (and Smile)
We know from my previous article that extreme anger and rage are threats not only to our relationships and careers, but also to our health.
Human beings are purposeful; when we do something we normally have a goal in mind (although the goal may be subconscious). Anger achieves a goal: it creates distance. It would be irrational for a habitually angry person to complain of loneliness. Fury is also used to intimidate and threaten. Unfortunately, it often works; therefore the angry person is more likely to use it the next time he or she wants to win a dispute.
Do you think that cops are likely to come into contact with angry citizens? I bet you are right, it probably happens frequently. Bear in mind, this is behavior that has worked for them in the past, and they probably are not aware that there are more functional ways to handle a difference of opinion. Actually, they may not care. Nonetheless, your behavior will model the proper way to resolve an issue.
The first thing that I would suggest, if there is just one angry individual, is agree with him or her. This is a little manipulative so I feel somewhat guilty suggesting it. The good news is…it works. When you agree with the outraged person, find something with which you can truthfully agree. If he says, "You are a no good ____, for arresting me when I have done nothing except sell a little crack. Everyone does it. Why don't you go arrest a murderer?" What can you agree with? You can truthfully say, "Yes, this is certainly a dreadful situation for you." or "I can see that you are very distraught." You can also say, "If you will point out a murderer to me I will certainly arrest him." It is very difficult to argue with someone who is agreeing (to some degree) with one. Stay cool, speak slowly and turn the volume down from your normal speaking voice.
Here are some other techniques that will help you when you engage a furious citizen:
Frequently, if you can convince the person to move from one physical location to another it will produce a change in behavior. You might say, "Would you mind moving to that chair, I think we will be able hear each other better." Be mindful that physical factors increase the likelihood of violence: lack of sleep, physical exhaustion, use of drugs, or alcohol, brain trauma, heat, hunger, cold, physical disability, chronic pain (N.C. Division of Social Services).
As you know, the enraged person may become violent, especially if he has been violent in the past. It is helpful if you can get the citizen's record. If he has previously committed violent acts the probability of violence increases. Simple, logical, true… The more information you have, the better you will be prepared. Keep safe.
I wish you luck out there in the streets. Remember, we are here as your back up whenever you need us.
PoliceOne columnist Dr. Dorothy McCoy has been in private practice as a clinical counselor for 10 years. She is a diplomate with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and a law enforcement consultant. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (in North and South Carolina).
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