Ki Moments Blog

Support for life\‘s \“key\” moments.

February 21, 2012

Defusing Anger: Using Non-Verbal Communication Constructively

Defusing Anger: Using Non-Verbal Communication Constructively

When you're really angry, what do you want?

  • Satisfaction?
  • Support?
  • Understanding?
  • An ally?
  • Agreement?
  • Self-control?

When I'm really upset, I want all of the above, but I think my highest priority is to get back to a composed, centered self that can operate effectively, efficiently and purposefully. And I'm grateful for someone who will help me get there.

In a recent workshop with a highly-respected engineering firm, the HR director asked if I had any suggestions about defusing employees who come to her "hot under the collar." This is what I suggested along with a few additional thoughts.

Using Non-Verbal Communication Constructively

"The quality of your presence is primary. Words are secondary." ~ Tom Crum

Using non-verbal communication constructively and with awareness makes all the difference. You calm the environment and help bring about a positive outcome.

  • Center yourself. As soon as you notice you're holding your breath, breathe and center. Communicate confidence, calm, and curiosity.respect
  • Jump into Discovery. Be interested and fascinated. If the person is upset with you, know that the anger is a response to an emotional process going on inside him/her. It is not about you. Help the employee come back to a more centered state. Be a coach.
  • Turn your body. Don't take on the angry energy. Stand slightly to the side and watch it go by.
  • Continue to breathe and extend ki. Keep your posture upright. Lengthen your spine. Don't contract.
  • Listen. Use eye contact. Stay present. Assume an attitude of respect. Keep mental or written notes so that, when the time comes, you can let your partner know you heard what s/he said.
  • Use silence. You don't have to fill the space. Silence can be used to center yourself and the environment. Become comfortable with these ki moments.
  • If you are concerned even in the slightest about your physical well-being, keep the door open and stand near it. Invite someone else into the room.

verbal-communicationVerbal Communication

  • Ask the person if they'd like to sit down and talk.
  • Say you're sorry if it feels true. You can be sorry without apologizing. For example: "I'm sorry this is happening to you." Or "I'm very sorry to hear this."
  • Acknowledge what you are hearing or seeing. "You seem upset." or "I can feel you're frustration, and I'm sorry about what happened." "What can we do?" or "What would you like me to do?" Asking for an opinion doesn't mean you will agree. Asking the angry person to offer an opinion will help him/her to calm down.
  • Ask additional questions to learn more about the situation that caused the anger and to let them keep talking. As they talk, show interest, and stay centered and strong.

There Are No Guaranteed Anger Defusers


You never know when someone will be triggered by something, regardless of how centered and well-intentioned you are. And, if you continue to re-center and stay curious, you will have a positive impact.

Additional Support

  • I wrote a blog post about a year ago about defusing our own anger. Most, if not all, of the tips in that story apply as well.
  • Watch this 1:17-minute video from The Charted Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Europe's largest HR and professional development body, about "Defusing Anger" (with a British accent!)

For most, agreement isn't as important as someone who will listen and try to understand the source of the emotional outburst and see the better self that lies behind it. Be that person by using your power to connect.

Your Turn

Have you had to manage or defuse anger recently? What helped?


Let’s discuss this post in the comments

Note: you don’t need to “log in” or “sign up” to comment. Simply enter your comment, then under the “sign up with Disqus” field enter your name. Then enter your email address and click the checkbox (that will appear) with the label “I’d rather comment as a guest.”