Role Play 5: Responding to or Disarming Anger


In the previous role play, we learned how to express anger appropriately.  Now, we will focus on how to respond in situations where you are on the receiving end of an inappropriate expression of anger.



This role play is designed to enable you to understand a) what makes verbal abuse inappropriate & b) how to effectively deal with it by staying in control of your behavior. A person may use anger to “punish” someone, dispense “justice”, or to right a perceived wrong.  However, as adults we do not have a right to punish each other for misdeeds. Vengeance belongs to God & is administered through the state judiciary. Even if Person C has harmed Person D, D still does not have the right to verbally punish C. If D wants C to be punished, D must go through due process & the courts.

This role play teaches you how to confront a verbal abuser. Examples of verbal abuse include (but are not limited to): shouting, cursing, threatening gestures, and name calling (especially by a male to a female) and raising your voice in public to draw attention to another’s behavior (especially by a female to male). Whether or not a given behavior is abusive is a judgment made by the asserter and not the helper.


Skills, knowledge and abilities taught 

·         Knowledge of the appropriate (legal) and inappropriate uses of punishment.

·         The ability to identify verbal abuse.

·         Knowledge of the broken record technique and why it is used in this situation.

·         The ability to use the broken record technique with an offer of a reasonable contract.

·         The ability to maintain eye contact and stand firm in the face of the other's anger.

·         The ability to control one's tonality when using the broken record.

·         Knowledge of the appropriate use of pronouns (we/us) when responding to verbal abuse.

·         Knowledge of how to respond to multiple verbal abusers.



Asserter identifies a situation where (s)he would or could have violated another person’s rights (e.g., failing to return a car, thereby forcing a friend to miss a job interview). Don't choose a role play where you were justified--(you wrecked their car when taking their dying mom to the hospital). Choose instead a situation where you are clearly in the wrong. (You wrecked their car when you were out fooling around driving their car without permission.)



Asserter Role:   

Asserter is to offer a contract:

·         "I will ... (e.g., discuss it with you) . . . . if you will... (e.g., 'lower your voice,' or 'sit down,' etc.).

·         Do not use "When you . . ." ("When you" implies that you know the future and that the helper will in fact stop doing what (s)he is doing. Using the conditional (If) avoids this.)

·         The contract is used like a broken record in that it is repeated until the condition is met. (See Cotler, S. B., & Guerra, J. J. (1976). Assertion training. Champaign, Ill: Research Press. pp. 162-164). This technique is appropriate because it is the only reasonable response that respects your rights and provides no stimuli to which the helper can respond. It also puts the helper on an extinction schedule. The simplicity and repetitiveness of your message allows you to get through to the aggressor (if this is at all possible). 

   Note: Other responses, in addition to the contract, that are acceptable (but not suggested) are:

·         "You are … (Describes the abusive behavior.). . . "

·         "I am . . .    (Describes a feeling). . . "

·         "I want . . . (Describing the behavioral change you want from the abuser.) . . . "

Asserter is not to use "we" or "us" language. Not, "We are getting too upset". ("We" implies you are speaking for the angry person. You can’t speak for the other person.)


Asserter is to control all body language and use a firm, but non-expressive voice. (A statue with an expensive tape player installed.) Use a firm (low pitched, moderately loud, slow and monotone) voice. They should try and not speak over the helper. Keep your sentences simple, on point, and repetitive. In most cases the asserter stands (if seated) and does not back away (i.e. away from the helper). 


Note – When People Violate Your Personal Space:

If someone moves in very close (too close for comfort), they are violating your personal space and trying to exert control over you. When this happens, it’s appropriate for you to immediately and forcefully say, “Step back!” as a way to reassert your boundaries.


Note to the Men

If you have a female helper during this role play, she is instructed to push or pound on your chest/shoulders while she goes off on you verbally. We want you to go through this experience so that you learn how to restrain your impulse to “physically react” to that type of aggression. When she aggresses, you are to keep your hands held behind your back, take a step back and bend your knees. This will help you from being knocked down when she pushes you. During this time, a male trainer/student will also stand behind you as a support. It is also appropriate for you to say, “Step back!” firmly and loudly.


Helper Role:

Helper is to respond with inappropriate anger, (e.g., yelling at asserter in public, name calling, threatening gestures, etc.). In other words, the helper is to respond abusively. The helper is to occasionally stop and take a breath. (This is what happens in reality. The helper wants to see how he or she is affecting the asserter.)

Tailor your approach to what works best with your asserter. You may NOT physically assault the asserter!


Note to Female Helpers:

The intent of you pushing/pounding on the male asserter’s chest/shoulders is not to physically harm them. During this time you are emphasizing your anger/frustration in an inappropriate way. The men need to learn how to be assertive in situations like this without reacting physically. A physical response to aggression would only further escalate the situation.



Observer Roles:

   Observer one:   Gives feedback on use of the broken record with a contract.

   Observer two:   Gives feedback on control of body language.

   Observer three: Gives feedback on volume, pitch, and expressiveness.


Variations on the role play 

1. Responding to 2 or more helpers who are being verbally abusive:  Respond to one person at a time. Don’t let helpers control what you attend to or respond to. Control which person you look at & respond to--usually the person making the most noise at the time. Use the broken record "I will discuss it with you one at a time."

2. Responding to a helper who does not stay in one place:  If the helper moves around continue to look at where he or she last stood still until they stand still again.

3. Responding to a person of the opposite sex or a family turning on one of its members: 

The main idea is to not let them (helpers) control your behavior.



·         You have damaged someone's car and they are yelling and cursing at you.

·         You have forgotten a date and your girlfriend finds you in a public place with another girl. Your girlfriend then creates a scene.

·         You have lost your friend’s keys and he is in an awful fix.

·         I lost an important belonging of my sister’s.

·         I borrowed something of my friend’s without asking.

·         I changed church denominations & said negative things about the denomination I left & people are reacting angrily.

·         I wrecked my truck and my parents yelled at me.

·         My roommate got angry because I didn’t do my chores.

·         A friend yells at me in the middle of a store because I am rushing her.

·         My brother yells at me because of something untruthful I said about his girlfriend.

·         A co-worker yells because I am not doing my job or that I got him or her in trouble.

·         A male yelling at me (a female) in a demeaning way because I broke his IPod.

·         With doctor: put on hold, administered incorrect medications

·         With Dad: did not call as I agreed to when I was late coming home; went over cell phone limit

·         With patient: did not receive prompt care in an emergency.

·         Forgetting to pick up my friend from the airport and she waited for hours

·         Crashed my roommate’s computer and lost her homework

·         Ate someone else’s food or something that someone meant for a different meal

·         Made plans without asking

·         Arrived late to something important (but I didn’t realize how important it was)

·         You don’t show up for work and your boss yells at you.

·         You forget to pick up your brother and he misses an interview.

·         You take out too much cash from your parents’ account.

·         Wife yelling at me for ignoring her all evening.

·         Girlfriend caught cheating

·         I hung out all night with a guy friend while I had a boyfriend.

·         Running into my roommates mirror on her car and breaking it.

·         Talking to my RD’s supervisor before talking to him.

·         I broke my roommates iron and she got upset.

·         My roommate told me something in confidence and I told someone else. She found out I told.

·         When we come home from college I tend to tell my little sister what to do. I’m not as thoughtful as I pretend to be and she calls me out on it.

·         When I was class president I forgot to get people to decorate a hallway and I yelled at the student council representative saying they didn’t tell me. She got upset in return.

·         Borrowed a friend’s cell phone, dropped it, and it broke.

·         Watching a friend’s dog and it died do to my carelessness.

·         I locked the deadbolt on the door and my roommate got locked out.

·         I threw away a phone number that a friend needed for an interview.

·         I forgot a lunch date with my roommate and was with a boy instead.

·         I carelessly got lost in Fort Wayne and was 3 hours late getting home. Even though I was distraught and relieved to be home, my dad yelled at me for an hour.

·         Coming home late and friends had to wait on me to go to a show.

·         Borrowing my roommates DVD and loosing it.

·         Failing to replace something I broke, leading to someone getting hurt.

·         As a babysitter, failing to call for directions for a babysitting job; which lead the parents to be late to their meeting.

·         Failing to call work and let them know I was going to be late, which lead to the manager having to cover my shift until I got there, preventing him from going home to his family.



                        Verbal                                                                         Nonverbal

·         Avoid “When”

·         Use “I will …if you will”

·         Use of “You are, I am, I want”

·         Use of broken record

·         Avoid “us” or “we”





·         Statuesque

·         Doesn’t back away

·         Avoids apologetic gestures

·         Avoids smiling


·         Firm

·         Slow rate

·         Monotone

·         Moderate loudness


Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger



Bring a paper listing at least 3 situations where someone would be justifiably angry at you.














Updated by wlp 08/2010