Today a friend told us about encountering a moose in the Glacier National Forest. Those around the table shared survival tips.
“You are supposed to make yourself as big as possible!” One person said.
In reality, the family just tiptoed away, trying not to startle the amazingly awe-inducing animal.
Sometimes, you run into a very angry person that might remind you of a raging bull moose. What can you do to defuse the situation and help all parties move forward to peace?
1. Physical space. When we are agitated, our adrenal system is on high alert. Touch, for the most part, is not calming. Keeping physical distance will allow you to keep from blocking any exits (so they don’t feel cornered), stay out of harm’s way and keep eye contact. When someone is in a rage, their emotions can block their vision. By keeping eye contact, you help them stay present instead of being lost in the sea of emotion.
2. Maintain a calm, confident presence. Skittish people increase others’ agitation. Your calming presence with carefully chosen words in a slower, calming cadence will lower the blood pressure of those around you and slow the rush of adrenaline.
3. Show people what they can do instead of what they can’t. Often, we want to just stop the situation. Imagine you are facing that moose. Would it work better to stand in front of them, waving your arms so they don’t go someplace, or would it work better to create wide open space to indicate where they can go without agitation? Often, when people are angry, it is because they have hit the proverbial wall. When you help them find a way around the wall, they will come back to normal quickly.
4. DO NOT become defensive. There is a time to talk things out, but that is after everyone’s blood pressure has returned to normal. In the moment, back away emotionally and choose to wait until calmer heads prevail to work through the situation.
5. DO NOT excuse their anger. A friend recently told me that one form of emotional bullying is to take all the blame on yourself. In other words, you don’t let others own their stuff. The person who is angry has stuff. Figure out what your part is, and own it, but don’t excuse someone else’s behavior in order to defuse the situation. This will not empower them to fix the problem, but it will encourage future fits.
When someone comes at us, our natural tendency is to puff ourselves up and become aggressive back. It might be counter intuitive to follow these steps, but they will bring a better outcome. After all, our end goal is to love people like Jesus does – and when people were out of control, He stayed in control and found the best resolution for all concerned.