I am fortunate to have experienced anger only a few times in my life where that anger was directed at me. However this also means that I have less experience in responding well to anger when it does come my way.
Here I would like to give a specific process for how I might best respond to an angry confrontation in a respectful and non-defensive manner.
I have not actually made use of this process yet, so I don’t really know how it performs. I would love to hear from you if you are willing to share your own experiences in responding to confrontations or have your own process.
Situation 1: An opening salvo of angry or tactfully frustrated SMS messages or an email is received.
Try upgrade to high-bandwidth rich communication immediately: Call (without negotiating scheduling). Be prepared to leave voicemail with the first few talking points.
Situation 2: An opening salvo of angry or tactfully frustrated voice-to-voice or face-to-face statements is made by an other.
(If asked in-person why I’m looking away to open this checklist, which could be interpreted as disrespectful: “This is an important and delicate situation, so I want to be sure I respond in the best way I know. Please allow me a moment to orient myself.”)
(If teased or mocked for using a checklist: “Emotionally charged situations are not natural for me. I have found checklists to be helpful in navigating them.”)
Begin rich communication
Acknowledge feelings: “I see you’re upset.”
Tentatively engage: “Do you want to talk about it now?”
No? “Okay. We’ll talk later.”
Listen, without interrupting, withholding immediate response.
Observe the other’s concrete observations and generalizations. Especially those not in the opening salvo.
Observe repeated generalizations, which are likely to be more impactful to or more strongly held by the other.
Replay conversation back, focusing on the other’s concrete assertions and acknowledging generalizations, regardless of agreement.
Verify that details were conveyed and understood, regardless of agreement.
Consider. Form an initial interpretation silently.
Beware of Confabulation: When folks are angry (or otherwise experiencing very strong emotions) it is not uncommon for assertions or accusations they make to be after-the-fact confabulated generalizations to explain their initial emotional reactions. Focus on concrete details they cite - which are more reliable - rather than on generalizations.
Contribute my own concrete observations, focusing on any that are related to the other’s generalizations.
If the other has made generalizations that I disagree with, explain my own alternate interpretations/generalizations based on the additional concrete observations that I (and now we) have at our disposal. Never directly contradict the other’s generalizations.
If it is determined that a transgression (i.e. an action inconsistent with values or norms) did in fact occur, apologize. Reacknowledge how it made the other feel.
Brainstorm how to move forward in the current situation.
Brainstorm how to reduce the likelihood of a similar undesirable situation in the future.
That’s all folks. Maybe this checklist or the philosophy underlying it will be of assistance to you in responding to a confrontation.