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Sooner or later (most likely sooner) as a lawyer you will encounter an angry person. A supervisor, colleague, subordinate, client (even a judge or agency official) � any, probably all, will at some time express anger around (or directed at) you. What can you do? For starters, let’s review a few basic anger management techniques. These techniques are generic and thus must be adapted to your particular situation. But awareness of these tools is the first step in gaining control over potentially unpleasant and destructive angry encounters. Begin with a few basic observations about anger: • Everyone gets angry at times. Even Ghandi did on occasion. All humans are subject to emotional outbursts. Such outbursts are not necessarily bad, nor necessarily (or primarily) directed at you. • No one stays angry forever. It is difficult to maintain any emotional state for lengthy periods, no less such an intense emotion as anger. There may be some people with a low threshold for experiencing anger, or with particularly vibrant methods of expressing it, but sooner or later everyone calms down. • Anger management is about results in the specific situation, not some form of psychoanalysis. The goal of anger management is thus not to explore the rationale for a person’s anger, although this technique can sometimes aid in the anger management process. Rather, anger management seeks to calm down the angry person and return him or her to the normal process of social interaction. With these observations in mind, the first anger management techniques to master concern your own behavior and attitude. An encounter with an angry person can make you feel stressed, and perhaps create a great deal of anger of your own. Indeed, in some cases, angry people go out of their way to cause you upset, either in sympathy for them or to create a lightning rod for their anger. You can avoid the “anger breeds anger” response in a number of ways: • Learn and practice relaxation techniques. The simplest method is to take one or more deep breaths when you start to feel stress. The extra oxygen will clear your mind. The break in speaking as you breathe deeply and slowly will help prevent you from making thoughtless responses and provide you with an immediate sense that you have done something to gain control over what may seem to be a chaotic situation. This simple, immediate technique can give you confidence to face the remaining tasks. There are, of course, many other relaxation techniques. Use what works for you. • Pay attention to your body. Part of this relates to relaxation. When you feel your jaw tightening, your shoulders hunching, and your stomach tightening, you are having a stress reaction. These reactions should remind you of the immediate need to take steps to help you relax (such as slow, deep breathing). In addition, your body language may have a great influence on an encounter with an angry person. Crossed arms, pointing fingers, “in your face” proximity � these and many others can signal defensiveness (likely to trigger an overpowering reaction from some angry people) or hostility (which may be perceived as a challenge by some). Assume a neutral, respectful posture, as you might in circumstances where someone is speaking, and you want to make sure you understand what they are saying. • Just as with your body language, pay attention to your actual words, and your tone of voice. Slow down. Think before you speak. Do not mimic the tone, tempo or character of expression of the angry person. Model calmness, and you may hope that the angry person will become calmer. The basic techniques for interaction with an angry person essentially focus on giving the angry person an opportunity to “get the problem off their chest.” Thereafter, you can move to a more constructive plain (concerning potential solutions, if any, to the real problem that may be at the core of the emotional outburst). • Expect the angry person to spend some time simply venting. At this point, the person’s judgment may be at a particularly low level, and irrational, stupid, false and sometimes quite hurtful things may be said. You are not required to agree with any of this kind of display. But you must give the person an opportunity to vent before you can move to a more rational, constructive level. Thus, you may want to say something like: “I’m not sure I agree with everything you’re saying, but I want to hear more about the problem so that we can work on developing solutions.” The particular wording does not matter � the essential technique is to get the angry person to “talk out” some of the anger, without making judgments or otherwise blocking the venting process by prematurely suggesting that the angry person may be mistaken in some of his or her views. • Allow the angry person to gain some sense of control of the situation, by asking them to propose some solutions to the problem. Again, these solutions may cross a range, from highly impractical (even silly) to relatively reasonable. Do not judge the solutions; just listen, and encourage more talking. Again, you do not have to agree with any of what the angry person suggests, so you may want to say something like: “Right now, I’m just listening to your suggestions, and trying to think of how we might do some of what you’re talking about.” Again, the wording is not key. Rather, it is key to remember that the angry person may feel that something unfair has happened, and that they are not in control of the situation. By allowing them to vent, and to make suggestions for solutions (even if the solutions cannot be implemented), you encourage the angry person to become more calm and rational. • Do not apologize for the problem, unless it really is your fault. An apology will not stop an angry person from continuing to vent (and, with some angry people, may actually escalate their emotional responses). Further, an apology suggests a “quick fix” that may be entirely elusive. That is, your internal rationalization � “I have apologized, so why isn’t this person done giving me grief?” � may cloud your own judgment, and prevent you from continuing the communication that is key to anger management. • The very last thing you want to discuss in an angry encounter is the final resolution to the problem. In many situations, the best conclusion to an angry encounter is not a final resolution, but rather a resolution to gather more information, and continue the dialogue. Such a flexible conclusion reflects the fact that the encounter has, in fact, been angry, and not entirely rational. Further, a final resolution that is not acceptable to the angry person may simply re-start the anger cycle. In many instances, moreover, the potential resolution of a problem will truly require further information, input and approval from some person not party to the discussion. The techniques outlined above are far from a complete statement of how to handle every angry person you may encounter. This is a “starter set” of tools, which can help you to form a plan, in any particular situation, as to how you will approach the angry person at issue. No doubt, over time, you will learn what works best for you, and what works best with the particular problem people who affect you in your professional life. Steven Bennett is a partner in the New York City offices of Jones Day and a member of the firm’s Training Committee. His publications include: The Path to Partnership: A Guide For Junior Associates (Praeger 2004).

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