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10/24/97 Understand others’ anger, then seek ‘to be understood’


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Learning to deal effectively with angry people is a “life-altering and life-enhancing” skill, an authority on discipline told Southern Baptist preschool and children’s workers during a national seminar Oct. 21.
Church staff and volunteer workers are apt to encounter angry parents, teachers and children in the course of their work, Madelyn Swift, president of Stairway Education Programs, Grapevine, Texas, said during the seminar at the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board. Some reflexive responses, offered with good intentions, can serve to make angry people even angrier, she observed.
Among barriers to understanding when dealing with angry and distressed people are:
— diminishing or discounting through statements such as, “You are making a mountain out of a molehill.”
— moralizing or lecturing with thoughts that may include “Life is not fair” or “You have to take the bad with the good. No one promised you a rose garden.”
— giving advice, solutions or directions when the angry person is not ready to receive instant solutions.
— asking questions which may appear to be motivated by accusation, such as “Has this ever happened before?”
— appearing to defend one person against the other person in an attempt to understand both sides of a situation.
Helping people shift perspective can be accomplished by giving the person complete attention, stopping other activity and making eye contact.
“Avoid explosive responses,” Swift advised. “Anger begets anger. Listen with your eyes and your mind.”
Listeners can demonstrate understanding with noncommittal and nonjudgmental responses, such as “I see.”
Swift suggested helping identify the problem by separating “nuggets of gold” from the garbage when a problem is surrounded by verbiage and by leading the person to think through and solve the problem.
“Go into their minds and say what they said. Take a moment to demonstrate that you understand by speaking their words better than they did or giving life to their thoughts better than they have.
“I don’t know anyone who deals with angry persons in this way naturally,” Swift admitted. “But without this skill, I am handicapped in working with people rather than against people. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
More than 500 workers with preschoolers and children attended the seminar sponsored by the board’s church growth group.