How to Communicate in Situations that make us feel angry or anxious.

In both our personal and professional lives there are times when what other people say or do can make us feel angry or anxious. We may have to deal with a manager at work who is unprofessional and controlling; we may experience someone at work that we are tasked with providing support to who is rejecting and even hostile of our efforts; we may have to deal with an ex-partner who is overly intrusive in our lives, or a current partner who is accusing or blaming us of various things.

There are two key strategies that we can employ. Firstly, we can try and mentalise what is happening for the other person, why they are behaving the way they are. In placing the focus on the other person this makes us feel less angry and anxious because we are placing ourselves in the role of an investigator, wanting to find out what is underpinning the other person’s behaviour. This means that we are less likely to take things personally and are more likely to focus our attention upon how the other person is feeling and behaving rather than focussing on our own emotions. In figuring out what is going on for the other person we may then automatically become less angry or anxious because we come to the realisation that often other things are fuelling another person’s behaviour and we develop a capacity to empathise with them rather than becoming angry ourselves.

Secondly, we can learn non-confrontational communication. This involves learning the kinds of questions we can ask others as a way of reducing any tension within any given situation. In asking non-confrontational questions, the person that we are questioning then may start to feel that we truly are interested in understanding what is happening for them, and they may experience being heard, perhaps for the first time in their lives. This in turn can make the other person less aggressive and more open to us and any suggestions we make. A good idea is to write down a few exploratory questions that we can use with people and to practise saying these questions out loud to ourselves before then saying them to another person. The following is a short list of some non-confrontational questions that we can use in our daily lives:

  • You said that X, I am wondering if you can explain what you meant by this ?
  • Can you tell me what the issue is as you see it ?
  • I wonder if you can tell me more about X ?
  • Can you tell me what concerns you most ?
  • I noticed that when you were talking about X you were looking very angry, can you perhaps tell me more about X ?
  • Are you saying that …. Can you explain further ?
  • Sounds like you are feeling frustrated/angry/betrayed/annoyed ?
  • I am wondering if you can tell me what this feels like for you ?
  • I am wondering how I might help you to achieve X ?
  • I am wondering what you think needs to be done to make things better ?

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