A Simple Phrase for Disarming Anger

Mar 07, 2017

“Resemblances are the shadows of differences.”

John Shade in “Pole Fire”
by Vladimir Nabokov

A Simple Phrase for Disarming Anger

TISA Description of the Problem: There are almost as many fascinating ways for transforming anger as there are ways that anger arises. Sometimes clinicians can pull on naturalistic phrases, that help resolve angry moments in daily encounters, for I know of no clinician that has not had to deal with angry moments in his or her own life. Sometimes the language that we use to help transform these exchanges into something productive can be utilized in our clinical work as well. Eileen Nathan has one such response, which although it is simple enough, it most certainly has a pleasingly disarming feel to it, and it is also so short as to be easy to recall during an angry exchange.

Tip: Naturally in some tense exchanges with clients, I discover that the client is making a very good point, and, indeed, sometimes I have been wrong. In such moments the following statement often opens up a productive dialogue, while soothing ruffled feathers:

“You know, I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

TISA Follow-up: In my own experience, such a comment can be followed by any number of very useful lines of dialogue, including comments such as, “I’ve got to admit that I think I may have been wrong here, I apologize.” Few techniques work much more potently to assuage anger than a genuine apology. Another follow-up can be to ask, “Tell me a little more about that, it sounds like it makes a lot of sense.”

If you have an interest in learning much more about the art of using language to transform anger and awkward moments in interviewing, you may enjoy the chapter dedicated to this topic called, “The Art of Moving with Resistance” in my book, “Psychiatric Interviewing: the Art of Understanding: A Practical Guide for Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Counselors, Social Workers, Nurses, and Other Mental Health Professionals” (W. B. Saunders, 1998). In any case, the art of transforming anger is, in my opinion, one of the single most important skills that should be focused upon when teaching clinical interviewing, for successful transformation of such moments often opens the door to healing. It can turn a potentially “last” initial interview into the first session of a long and fruitful therapy. Thanks to Eileen for a very nice tip.

Tip provided by:

Eileen Nathan