Defusing Anger

 

Julian Klugman

Former CRS Mediator, San Francisco Office


[Full Interview]

I've been in some very violent situations, where you get angry, your heart starts beating, and your natural impulse is to lash out. That's where training comes in. Or, if I'm really angry or if the violence is really scaring me, I take a deep breath and I psychologically step back a foot. I wait until my heart stops pounding which takes about sixty seconds before I respond at all. You can be angry, but it's got to be controlled. Listen to what the person's saying, don't respond to the anger. Don't be condescending, don't be a smart-aleck, don't act like you're really afraid. Don't be a psychiatrist, but do take the person off the hook and depersonalize it. And this is where the interracial thing becomes important. There are differences between people and between groups and how they deal with anger. Do you know the book that the white professor at the University of Illinois did about the differences in confrontation between black and white? It's an excellent book; you ought to read it. You've got a great difference in perception sometimes of what's happening. I saw it in Palm Springs once. Here's this nice, sweet, young white teacher and a black woman parent came out with a lot of anger, which really wasn't directed at this woman. The white woman started crying and the superintendent wrote a complaint letter to the Attorney General of the U.S. about the mediator.

Question:

How does the mediator deal with that problem?

Answer:

Well, you're a role model, you ease up the flow. You might suggest a bathroom break.

Question:

Then you take the black person aside and say the reason she's reacting this way is because...

Answer:

No. I would not presume to tell this woman she does not have a right to be angry. This young white teacher; you tell her it's not personal. She was head of the cheerleaders and there were no black cheerleaders. There was no prejudice involved, of course, but the Palm Springs high school did not have any black cheerleaders. So they wanted some black cheerleaders and she had her own little kingdom of cheerleaders. There are a number of techniques. You break the flow, you talk calmly, you go onto another issue. You assert control in the situation.

Question:

Going back to the anger management, when things get really hot in a mediation, how do you cool them down?

Answer:

Sometimes you can make a joke. Everybody likes it when you laugh at yourself and make fun of yourself, so you can defuse a situation through humor. One former CRS director used to draw cartoons. Very good ones. I'll show you, I've got a whole series of them. He would sit there and he was like a professional cartoonist, although he was a lawyer.

Question:

Break the flow. Any other ideas?

Answer:

About how you handle it? Ultimately you could adjourn the meeting, if you had to, or you could have a recess. And then you talk to the person.