How to Communicate and Negotiate with Hostile/Angry Persons
Techniques designed to de-escalate difficult but necessary conversations.
Posted May 17, 2021 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
- Hostile and angry behaviors are designed to push you away.
- Many individuals make common errors responding to hostile/angry individuals, making them even angrier.
- Common pitfalls in dealing with hostile people include avoiding them, mirroring them, or becoming defensive.
Everyone has to communicate with hostile or angry people sometimes in their life. Many feel ill-equipped and have had bad experiences in previous attempts. Typically, that is because they make common errors while trying to communicate effectively under these circumstances. In this post, we will first look at common errors to avoid and then discuss effective methods to use when dealing with individuals in a hostile or angry state.
Error #1: Avoidance
Many individuals fear communicating or confronting hostile or angry individuals because they are afraid to inflame them further. Avoiding conversations is completely ineffective. It is simply a method of procrastination. Problems rarely go away on their own. In addition, most individuals in a hostile or angry state get angrier if they feel that you are keeping something from them. The sense that you are keeping something from them, or finding out later that you withheld information from them will enrage them more.
Error #2: Mirroring
This involves synchronizing your emotional expression to match that of the other person. They are heightened, so you become heightened. Mirroring another’s emotion is a natural phenomenon and is functional in some situations, but not here. It just makes them more hostile or angrier. They use it to justify their own lashing out behavior. In the example below, Carrie is trying to discuss plans for their parents with her hostile sister, Suzie.
Carrie: Suzie, let’s discuss plans for mom and dad’s anniversary.
Suzie: Do whatever you want. You are the favorite.
Carrie: I thought that you and I would do something together for them.
Suzie: Oh yeah. You just want me to do your heavy lifting. Go flick off.
Carrie: You go flick off you spoiled little baby.
Suzie: You want me to plan a party with you when you treat me like this?
In the above example, unable to accomplish planning for her parents’ anniversary, Carrie ends up mirroring her sister’s hostility thereby ending the conversation, being blamed, and failing to plan for the event.
Error #3: Defensiveness
Trying to explain to an angry person that they are unjustified for being angry usually makes them angrier. Your defense of yourself is experienced as invalidating by them. They hear it as you telling them that their anger is either crazy, stupid or wrong. This does not make them more cooperative.
Hostile/Angry People Are in Pain
This is what drives their expression of anger. People in pain get angry so that they push away the source of the pain, and often end up pushing everyone away indiscriminately because they hurt so much. When strong emotion is being expressed by another person, you must address this emotion before you can have a constructive conversation.
Tool #1: Form Before Content
All communication has two qualities. The content is what you are talking about and the form is how you say it. Use of this tool involves establishing healthy form before honoring content. Hostile or angry form is unhealthy and content should not be discussed in this tone.
Tool #2: Validation
In order to address the hostility, it must be brought to discussion. One of the best ways to do this is to validate it. This involves acknowledging the emotion and expressing the interest in discussing it. Carrie might have achieved a different outcome if she used validation.
Carrie: Suzie, I see that you are upset with me. Can we discuss this?
Suzie: Mind your own business.
Carrie: I must be hurting you. If you tell me how I will stop.
Suzie: Then stop sucking up to mom and dad.
Carrie: I would like to help you have the relationship with mom and dad that you would like if I can.
Suzie: You would do that?
Carrie: Whatever I can. Let’s start with the celebration.
Tool #3: Don’t Take It Personally
Hostile and angry behaviors are designed to push you away. They are noxious by design and can be abusive in some circumstances. You need to protect yourself while you interact with individuals expressing these feelings. If the expressions are a physical threat, you must remove yourself from the situation physically.
If the hostility is limited to harsh verbal expression, you can protect yourself by remembering that hostile expressions reflect on the person making those comments, not on you. It represents their pain and the fact that they don’t know how to express that pain in more constructive ways. It is not an objective assessment of who you are as a person.
Most people do not like to talk to hostile and angry people. They tend to sever these relationships. Others take it upon themselves to set hostile individuals straight and mirror their hostility. Neither of these mechanisms are effective when communicating or negotiating with hostile and angry individuals. But sometimes you have to work with these people. Following the guidelines in this blog will help you be more effective in dealing with these individuals. It will not make them less hostile. Only they can effect this change.