How to calm down someone who’s getting upset

I once got a job based largely on my ability to calm people down when they were upset. I didn’t even realize I had such superpowers – it came naturally to me. But since then people have asked me how to do it, and I’ve analyzed what it is I do. It’s really pretty simple!

How to calm down someone who’s getting upset

The calming voice

The first rule in dealing with someone who’s getting angry or frightened is to keep your voice low in pitch. Higher pitches signal excitement, and will only fuel the person’s growing emotions. Keeping at a low volume is good, too. Sometimes you can calm people down just by talking at a normal volume.

There are some words that work better than others, too. Someone whose emotions are escalating out of control wants to know that someone is hearing their concerns and will help them. Your first mission, then, is to let them know you’re listening – whether or not you can/will help. Avoid words like “can’t” and “but” and “no” because people tend to tune out after hearing those.

Showing understanding

When you’re dealing with someone who’s getting angry or frustrated, instead of “I can’t help you until I talk to so-and-so” try “I understand. As soon as so-and-so gets back, I’ll do X, Y and Z to fix this for you” or “I’m going to make sure so-and-so sees this as soon as she walks in, and then I’ll call you as soon as possible to let you know what we can do.” Or if you can’t or won’t help the person (maybe the demand he’s making is totally unreasonable), try a phrase like, “I understand what you’re saying. The thing is, so-and-so also has to be considered, and her needs are different from yours.” Telling someone they’re being unreasonable rarely gets through, because naturally they think they’re right. By telling them why their request is not reasonable, you have at least a chance of getting your point across.”

Dealing with panic

If you’re dealing with someone who’s panicking, your mission is slightly different. They don’t care if you understand their concerns (“Yes, I realize there’s a mob of fire-breathing dragons headed right for us, and I share your concern” doesn’t cut it), they want to know what action is going to be taken to fix the problem (“I’m going to call the superhero paratrooper brigade on my magic ring – they’ll be here in ten seconds”). If you keep your voice calm, low and steady, the odds are they’ll believe the solution you’re proposing even if you’re totally bluffing (the one about superhero paratroopers might be a hard sell, but then again if the crisis is fire-breathing dragon mobs…). People who are “good in a crisis” are the ones who know how to stay calm and give out instructions like, “You call 911. I’ll see if there’s a doctor in that store over there.”

When people are panicked, they really want instructions to follow. You’re not being bossy to tell them what to do, and they’re too scared to argue with you – even if they’re the authority figure and you’re the underling. I’ve been in two situations involving workplace injuries in which my superiors panicked and I calmly told them what we needed to do, and in neither case did they later say I was out of line.

These tricks are ones I’ve honed in the workplace, but they apply in communications between family and friends, too. Most of us have learned responses we rattle off without thinking to people we know well, and many of those responses aren’t helpful. That’s why you can find yourself having the same fights over and over. By changing your communication style, you can break through barriers and reach a new level of understanding.

Comments

  1. XxRikoxChanxX says

    The easiest way to calm a person who is getting angry is to calm down yourself. i think that if retain a calm composure, the one getting anger will see how ridiculas they are acting and calm down.

    • Megan says

      i am always calm i am a calm person and he is always calm till someones call me a name or even him a name and what should i do if he is angry

  2. Megan says

    hello this isnt a comment this is a question
    if i had a really close friend who a boy and there is really nothing to do to calm him down but he would end up going after the person he angry at how can i stop that from happing

    • SnappyLiving says

      If he’s a teenager, that may be difficult. When we’re teenagers, we’re naturally not as reasonable as we will (hopefully) be as adults. Since he gets angry on your behalf, you could tell him that it doesn’t make you feel any better for him to risk getting himself into trouble over it. That you would feel much worse if he got into trouble than you would over the name calling. Also, that if he got into trouble and couldn’t see you anymore, you’d be alone with the name-calling, and that would hurt you. He may think he’s defending you and being a good guy when he does this, so you have to show him that there’s a better way to be there for you. Hope this helps!

  3. Lisa says

    My spouse has low frustration tolerance from ADHD. When driving he often frustratingly /desperately/angrily comments on other people’s driving mistakes or how they almost hit us. I try to ignore it but it drives me crazy being a pretty calm person myself. I try to tell him I hear you, you remain calm and just keep going. He does not like me saying this. For some odd reason he thinks I’m blaming him when it was the other person’s fault. I’m not blaming anyone. I just want him to focus on driving himself and to stop yelling/commenting desperately about others while driving. It’s not a good example for the children and I know for a fact my oldest prefers me to drive for this reason. Please, any tips would help here.

    • SnappyLiving says

      That’s a tough one. When people assume you’re accusing them of something you’re not, it’s something going on in their mind, not an actual miscommunication. Have you ever tried agreeing with him, but in an extremely calm tone? Like, “Yes, that car came way too close”, but in a very calm and relaxed tone. It’s possible that by doing this, it would be clear you agree with his assessment, but not his level of outrage, and then he’ll feel acknowledged and be able to move on.

      I have to warn you, sometimes it’s really hard to break habits of miscommunication with people we live with. If you can get a third party he trusts – another family member, or a family friend – to tell him that getting that upset while driving is dangerous, that might be even more helpful.

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