Most of the time when I am confronted by another person’s emotions, I mirror back their behavior. If someone’s angry with me, I tend to respond in kind. If someone’s pleasant, I’ll react similarly. If we find ourselves in a frightening situation, we often become scared. And so on. This is called ‘complementary behavior.’ Another name is ‘feedback loop.’
But what if we ‘flip the script?’ What happens when we confront anger with empathy or kindness? A 2016 NPR episode of Invisibilia recounted how a group of friends who were dining together were suddenly confronted by someone threatening to rob them at gunpoint. One of the group invited the would-be thief to join them with a glass of wine. In time the thief put away his gun, asked for a group hug, apologized, and departed without incident.