Some people just don’t care. Others go to great lengths to offer detailed explanations. Still others pretend that nothing serious has happened. Whatever the approach, it’s been a real head scratcher how to behave or what to say once you’ve angered someone.

It seems that the simplest solutions are the best ones. Let’s take a look at empathy from a slightly different viewpoint. A viewpoint which is definitely not yours.

Check out: What to Do When You’ve Made Someone Angry






  • retort – to reply to, usually in a sharp or retaliatory way; reply in kind to
  • soothe – to tranquilize or calm, as a person or the feelings; relieve, comfort, or refresh
  • discord – disagreement; difference of opinion
  • dismay – sudden or complete loss of courage
  • stun – to astonish; astound; amaze
  • dismissive – indicating lack of interest or approbation
  • dissipate – to scatter in various directions; disperse; dispel

Think about it

Answer the questions below.

  • Why did the author get angry during the dinner with his wife?
  • Why was Ken Hardy’s diagnosis surprising to the author?
  • Why are neither our thoughts nor actions important from another person’s perspective in situations similar to the ones described in the article?
  • Why does the author mean by “this downward spiral?”
  • What should we do if we make someone angry not to make them even more angry?


 Practice makes perfect

In the sentences below replace the phrases in bold with the expressions from the original text

  • I had a good excuse in the form of a client meeting that lasted longer than it was supposed to and I wasted no time getting to the dinner as fast as possible.
  • Eventually, we both felt unacknowledged, misunderstood, and angry.
  • Here’s another example: You send an email to a colleague telling him you think he could have been more active in a meeting.
  • In that moment, when we empathize with them and their criticism of our behavior, it almost feels like we’re acting against our values.


Use the words in brackets in correct sentences.

I was running late. My wife Eleanor and I ______ (agree) to meet at the restaurant at seven o’clock and it ______ (be) already half past. I ______ (have) a good excuse in the form of a client meeting that ______ (run over) and I ______ (waste) no time getting to the dinner as fast as possible.


When I arrived at the restaurant, I apologized and told her I ______ (not mean) to be late.


She answered: “You never mean to be late.” Uh oh, she was mad.


“Sorry,” I retorted, “but it was unavoidable.” I told her about the client meeting. Not only did my explanations not soothe her, they seemed to make things worse. That started to make me angry.

That dinner ______ (not turn out) to be our best.

Several weeks later, when I ______ (describe) the situation to a friend of mine, Ken Hardy, a professor of family therapy, he ______ (smile).

“You made a classic mistake,” he told me.

“Me? I made the mistake?” I was only half joking.

“Yes. And you just ______ (make) it again,” he said. “You ______ (be stuck) in your perspective: You didn’t mean to be late. But that’s not the point. The point is that you were late. The point — and what’s important in your communication — is how your lateness impacted Eleanor.”


Explore it more