Holding One’s Tongue: How to Engage Anger with Calm and Positivity

An expression I have heard many a time is, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” While I agree that it’s wise to avoid venting aimlessly at someone, shared input does not have to be neutral or nice either. I don’t want to withhold valuable information because I am afraid of how it will be received.

Let’s look at an example: I often reach out to peers when I am looking for support and feedback, not only in the form of kind words, but also through honest and constructive insight and ideas. When ideas are shared in a way that demonstrates compassion and interest, I am more likely to take it in. On the other hand, when I receive feedback that is shared in a mean, sarcastic, or patronizing way, I may react to that and miss a wonderful opportunity for growth.

When anger comes into play, it’s easy to miss the message. If I can avoid feeling defensive or upset, I may be able to hear the message and respond in an appropriate way. If the other person’s anger degrades me or devalues my position, I am more likely to feel the anger, respond in kind, and miss the message.

So how do we do we best express ourselves in the heat of the moment? These situations are tough. Often times, backing out and returning to the conversation later may make it easier to be heard. Realize that when our heart rates increase, there comes a point where the chemicals flooding our bodies will overwhelm the thinking process. At such a point, we lose our ability to best express our wants and needs in an appropriate way.

If you are the recipient of the other person’s anger, and you elect to stay engaged in the conversation, be sure to really think about the message you want to convey. Take a few deep breaths to center yourself. Resist the urge to respond in anger. Your message is not yet lost. Remember that the words you are hearing and the display of anger are not your issue, but a struggle of the other person. Calmly let the person know you are having difficulty listening and may be missing the message. If you say this in a believable way, without a sarcastic or negative tone, the other person may calm down. This will probably confuse the angry person, who is likely expecting a counterattack of some sort.

It can help to agree with some point of the other person’s argument before sharing your own. When sharing your points, humble yourself. Ask if what you are trying to convey is coming out the right way, because maybe you are not doing your best. Take responsibility for your actions or statements. For most people, this candor is refreshing.

Before you start a difficult conversation, tell yourself that you will be able to successfully express your wants and needs in a positive and calm way to best be heard.  Stop sabotaging your efforts with statements like, “It won’t work,”  “I won’t be heard,” or “I can’t calm down.”  You can do this. Your calm and positive attitude has to lead the way.

© Copyright 2010 by Stuart A. Kaplowitz, MFT, therapist in Chino, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • ken


    November 22nd, 2010 at 12:35 PM

    if there’s one thing that I have learnt over the years it’s that shouting and asserting is not goin to get you too far.atleast not as far as a polite request would!

  • Arnold S.

    Arnold S.

    November 22nd, 2010 at 4:15 PM

    Its so true that words are like arrows,once shot,you can never take them back.SO think before you speak and think twice.Because hurting someone is very easy but winning them back is not!

  • AmyH


    November 23rd, 2010 at 5:42 AM

    I am pretty opinionated so this is not something that comes easily for me.



    November 23rd, 2010 at 5:50 AM

    It is tough to control your tongue when you are angry but doing something like counting backwards always helps…It has worked for me every time and has saved me from a lot of conflicts and confrontations…

  • Stuart A. Kaplowitz, MFT

    Stuart A. Kaplowitz, MFT

    November 24th, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    Some excellent points. Thank you! Amy, I can be pretty opinionated too — it’s all in how I deal with it though. Stuart

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