How to Deal With Angry People: David Haynes

Illustration by Neal Fox

Police officers deal with lots of angry people. Someone’s kid refuses to go to school. They call the cops. The drive-through got the order wrong again. Same thing. We handle more situations like this than we do chasing down criminals. I was on the street one day when a dispatcher called me with an assignment. There was a woman who owns a small dress shop. She had an upstairs neighbor whose dog crapped in front of her store every day. While the dog’s owner cleaned up afterwards, he didn’t do a good enough job for this lady. So she called 911. The officer who responded told her that it was illegal to not clean up after your dog, but it wasn’t the Police Department’s duty to ensure it was done to her satisfaction. By the time I arrived on the scene, she wasn’t angry with her neighbor; she was angry at us for not helping her. I could have told her the officer was right and it was silly for her to be ticked off. But that would have just made things worse. So what to do with people like this? Let them rant. When they take a breath, repeat back what they said in your own words. Any counselor will tell you that repetitively explaining anger dispels it. You don’t have to fix anything. You don’t have to make any promises you don’t intend to keep. The important thing is the angry person thinks, “Finally, I found someone who will listen.” It isn’t easy. Police officers, especially, are by training and temperament inclined to immediately seize control of whatever situation we are in. That, more than any other weapon, is our protection. Allowing someone to rant and rave in your presence means giving them at least the illusion of control. It takes a lot of patience and fortitude. I recommend for practice that the guys should try it on their wives. — As told to Devin Leonard 

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