By Daniel Robin
"God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot
change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to hide the bodies of the people
that piss me off." - Anon.
The previous article discussed that what matters most in communication is what
we get across to the other person. If we take full responsibility for the results we
get, it puts us more in a position of power and more "at choice" when things
dont go the way we planned. This article will focus on non-adversarial ways of
handling anger and discuss how to stay clear of angers "hook."
How do you respond when someone is really angry? What does your response
depend on? Do you automatically get triggered into thinking their anger is about you, that
you're "wrong" and they're out to "win" at your expense? Most people
respond by either matching anger with anger and defensiveness of their own, by pushing it
away, avoiding it, or by letting it fester inside. Instead of taking on guilt for
suppressing it or allowing it to consume us and take command of our behavior, a healthier
choice is to facilitate its discharge. This usually involves addressing the issue that
underlies the anger in a non-blaming way.
Fix Problems, Not Blame
We have the power to take charge of angers energy and make it serve
a constructive purpose. How often do we give away that power with statements like
"They made me angry, so its their fault I attacked them!" or "Well,
they got angry at me so I told them where to go!" Forms of anger range from low-grade
frustration or exasperation to wrath or rage. Anger indicates that something is off, and
theres a good reason why it came up -- even if that reason doesn't make sense.
Sometime people just need to vent, to express how awful it is, and that
often leads to feeling better. Other times, venting does little more than clear out what
was in the way of solving a problem. It might be best to discharge that surface layer of
feeling separately, before bringing your "I" message to the person or group that
contributed to your angry feelings. Otherwise, you might end up attacking them (or they
might end up feeling attacked). See if you can identify the behavior that angers you, find
out what its about for both of you, and make a request or offer to help change the
situation for the future. The goal is to let the anger teach you something.
Use the scenario of driving with another person who isn't doing very well.
The question "Why did you make that wrong turn?" is hardly going to assist the
driver in getting back on track. A better question is "What can I do to help us get
back on track?" but certainly not "How many times have I told you that the
sidewalk is no place for a car?"
Going Deep by Going Wide
For most people, anger is not the core issue; it is a symptom of some
degree of fear, loss of control, injustice, or significant hurt. The positive purpose of
anger is to defend a boundary or provide enough energy to assert a right. The interesting
thing about anger is that it is blind.
Physiologically, we tend to narrow our focus, our peripheral vision
temporarily decreases, and we see only what or who has angered us. So, if youre the
one who is "hooked" ... notice your body, take a moment, STOP, breathe, step
back, and watch how your peripheral vision starts to return as you begin to consider the
deeper, underlying issue. Then, most importantly, find a healthy way to express it. By
itself, anger just provides extra energy and motivation to accomplish something. It can be
channeled or expressed in ways that help create what you want, or it can be a destructive
force. By observing and accepting how you now ride anger waves, you get to systematically
regain choice, shifting from being reactive for unknown reasons to responding as you
choose. Consumer protection warning: do not attempt to be clear and calm when you're
actually angry. Find a way to vent first (but take no prisoners), then review the
situation from a safe distance. Debrief with yourself or a friend by asking yourself
"What happened right before I got angry ...?"
Over time, you'll find that you still get angry, but that you get un-angry
much more quickly. What may have caused you to fume for days will become an intense moment
or two, and you regain your center without missing a beat.
If youre on the receiving end of someone else's anger, do your best
to hear and acknowledge that they are upset about something (don't judge it as
"inappropriate" or "way overboard" -- that will only get you more of
the same); then, rather than acting defensively, practice focusing on what is within the
anger that both parties can do something about to resolve the apparent difficulty.
This usually involves focusing on the future, not the past (since the past is, as they
Understand that your expression of anger is simultaneously a therapeutic
release of feelings and a way of communicating how the situation affects or
affected you. The key is to find a way to express authentically without escalating,
blaming, shaming, or attacking.
Does Anger Make You My Adversary?
Just the question gets me all worked up! Anger itself is just an intense
emotional state. It does not mean that we disagree, that someone is at fault, or that
were adversaries. Wouldnt it be useful to find out where we both stand,
rather than being lost in interpretation? The martial art of Aikido teaches that moving with
someones force is far more powerful and effective than to take out the big guns by
presumption. The law of non-resistance and energy conservation is quite useful here. Bend.
Move with the force to fully understand it. See it from their point of view. It
might just get handled through your willingness to deeply listen.
Most people are aware of whats at the root of their anger. Just ask
them. "What's at the source of your anger? Was it something I did or didn't do? What
can we do about it for the future?" Broadening your shared view to expand their
peripheral vision helps alleviate the blindness of intense emotions.
Next article provides productive ways to give feedback when you are angry
to make sure you get your message across.
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