Body Language to De-escalate Angry People

It is often said that the words we use are the most important thing. This is not that case when we are involved in a conversation with an angry person. A basic guide is that over 50% of communication in emotional situations is visual, body language.

So how should you stand, what should you say and how can you show a person that you interested in what they have to say while they are yelling at you? Know that these quick tips will work in most situations;

  1. Always stand tall with your head up, shoulders back, and hands by your side. This shows that you are ready to listen and also indicates that you are not going to be submissive.
  2. While the person is yelling at you, say nothing. Do not use verbal minimal encourages (umms and ahhs), large slow nods indicate that you are listening.
  3. Listen to what they are saying. When they have finished their 'vent', paraphrase back to them what they said related to the facts of what they are yelling about. (i.e., you are here to talk about .....).
  4. Reduce your eye contact to half of what you would usually do, 30% instead of 60%.
  5. The person will come at you again, repeat the process. Keep your hand movements to a minimum.
  6. If you can, hold something in your hand such as a notebook or pen. This will help relax your facial muscles and give you the feeling of support. (Try it now, stand up with your hands by your side without anything in your hands and then pick something up. Note how you feel more relaxed yet confident).
  7. If you can, invite the person to sit down. This will reduce their anger as they wont have a strong foundation on which to rage.
  8. Go through their issue without taking any notes, this is called free recall. Ask them to go through it again and tell them that this time you will be taking notes. Going through it twice reduces the tension, clarifies the situation, and allows them to tell their story at least twice to reduce built up tension.
  9. If you can, get them to make notes also. When we write words by forming letters we go to our logic brain rather than remain in our emotional brain. Use the word important throughout the conversation, because it is important to them.
  10. Mirror their body language when they are calm. If their arms are folded tightly across their chest, sit with your hands in front of you in an open pose. They will soon drop their arms as they calm and then mirror their pose - if their left hand is forward, your right hand is forward - hence the term 'mirror'.