Anger Management

by Roisin Murray and Wallace Murray

Common questions

  1. What’s wrong with getting angry anyway?
  2. You can’t really manage anger, can you?
  3. Isn’t it better out than in?
  4. How can I avoid ‘losing it’?
  5. Is managing anger simply suppressing it?
  6. Are anger and aggression the same thing?
  7. How can I avoid confrontation?
  8. Won’t standing up for myself make it worse?
  9. Why do other people get angry over nothing?
  10. Why do things get out of hand so quickly?
  11. Why bother tackling it if the work’s being done?
  12. What if it’s a customer?
  13. What if it’s the Boss?

 

1. What’s wrong with getting angry anyway?

Nothing – it’s perfectly natural, and a powerful source of energy. You can use it to fire yourself up to achieve the impossible – or at least achieve a stretching goal, overcome injustice or right a wrong. Managed anger can help us get the outcome we really want. There’s some great material on this in the topic on Personal Energy. But anger’s a bit like fire – if you don’t control it, it can destroy everything. It can ruin or shorten relationships, your career, or even your life. The trick is to practise using it to best effect. Once you know how to stop blowing up, you might like to practise Assertiveness and Nonviolent Communications.

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2. You can’t really manage anger, can you?

Yes, you can. Anger is not actually an instantaneous reaction to external provocation. It’s our choice. The moment of choice may only last a split second, but, with practice, you can extend that moment, to make the most of it and use your angry energy in the way most likely to achieve what you want. You can easily learn how. You need to create space to manage your own anger – to relax the tension and think out how best to achieve what you want; get a wider perspective; stick to the point you want to make; genuinely listen to responses, and always be prepared walk away if need be. (See also the topic on Emotional Intelligence.)

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3. Isn’t it better ‘out’ than ‘in’?

Yes and no. Sitting on your anger will eventually turn it in on you, make you miserable, probably increase your stress levels, and may shorten your life. Chronic suppressed anger is linked with many physical ailments, some of which are life-shortening. It may help to visit the topic on Stress Management. Although letting your anger out can seem like a good thing, the latest thinking is that this can feed the furnace and lead to wild outbursts of towering rage. It can also get in the way of peak performance and even cost you your job. This is because it can alienate those around you, lose you allies and increase your chances of being accused of bullying, harassment or other unacceptable behaviour. Instead, channel your anger into useful outlets.

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4. How can I avoid ‘losing it’?

You need to create space in which to manage your anger – to relax the tension, get a wider perspective and think out how best to achieve what you want. So:

  1. Buy time: take a deep breath, count to ten, walk away – whatever it takes.
  2. Have a word with yourself. Ask yourself what:
  • Buttons of yours are being pushed?
  • Unspoken rules of yours are being broken?
  • Objective facts are there here?
  • Assumptions are you making (that might be wrong)
  • Expectations of yours are not being met (and might be unrealistic)?
  • Conclusions are you jumping to (that might be wrong)?
  • Else might be the case?
  • Consequences might befall you if you let rip?
  • Would this matter if you’d six months to live?
  • Outcome do you really want from this?

You might like to have a look at the tips about managing your own inner state in the topic on NLP. Tension can be reduced if you just lighten up (why not look at the topic on Humour?). When you do open your mouth, stick to the point you want to make and genuinely listen to responses (try visiting the topic on Listening Skills). There’s some useful stuff in the topic on Nonviolent Communication. For the longer term, you might want to take up or increase physical activity; take up calming activities; get to know yourself better; learn better personal effectiveness strategies, and look after yourself better. You might like to act on the tips in the topic on Self-Coaching.

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5. Is managing anger simply suppressing it?

Not at all. Suppressing anger is just pretending it’s not there. That can lead to all sorts of negative results, such as eventual outbursts of disproportionate rage or long-term health issues, ranging from more frequent colds to heart attacks. Managing anger is acknowledging its presence, taking action to control it, diverting it to useful ends, and practising ways of safely venting the associated adrenaline.

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6. Are anger and aggression the same thing?

No. Anger is an emotion. Aggression is a type of behaviour. You can be very angry without showing aggressive behaviour. Some people go unnaturally quiet when they get really angry. Aggressive behaviour is often what an angry person does in order to vent their anger, even though it rarely addresses what they’re angry about. It’s rarely useful outside a combat zone and certain sports arenas, so should not be tolerated in the home or workplace. You might like to look at the topic on Violence and Aggression.

Anger on the other hand, can be a good thing if properly channelled to positive ends. You might like to look at the topic on Motivation.

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7. How can I avoid confrontation?

That depends on what you mean by confrontation. Confronting inappropriate behaviour or language is generally to be applauded. There are of course more and less effective ways of doing that, and you might like to look at the topics on Difficult People and on Nonviolent Communication. If you see an assertive exchange of views in which each party respects the rights and views of the other(s) as being confrontation, you might like to look at the topics on NLP, Confidence, Assertiveness, Listening Skills and Negotiation.

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8. Won’t standing up for myself make it worse?

Not necessarily. Depends how you do it. The first thing to do in the face of someone else’s anger is to protect yourself by buying time to carry out calming techniques; listen to what they have to say; validate (or if it’s the boss, acknowledge) their right to that opinion; state your point of view assertively; agree next steps, if appropriate and/or walk away, if necessary. Remember your right to hold your opinion. Recognise the other person’s right to their opinion, but that this does not entitle them to become aggressive. You’ll find more good advice in the topics on Bullying, Confidence, Assertiveness, Difficult People and Mental Toughness.

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9. Why do other people get angry over nothing?

It’s only natural. We’re all different, so different things annoy different people. But there is a pattern. Anger often flares up when

  • We feel trapped or tormented, or when we think that
  • Somebody is deliberately doing (or intending) us harm or treating us unfairly.

That’s why it can be really useful to help people feel fairly treated, and listened to, by staying calm yourself, helping them calm down, listening actively to what they have to say, validating their right to their opinion, responding calmly, and agreeing next steps. You might like to visit the topics on Mediation, Nonviolent Communication, Conflict Resolution or Negotiation.

Anger often has underlying cause in violation of our personal belief system. Tolerance for irritation may be reduced if we’re tired, ill, hung-over, or have ‘learned’ to adopt anger as a strategy as a result of ‘family norms’ or other formative experiences. That’s one reason why people often get angry (often over ‘small’ things) when they’re affected by corporate change or in their home environment. You might like to visit the topics on Bereavement, Stress, Change and Communicating Change. If someone shows signs of unacceptable behaviour change involving displays of anger, you may want to think about potential issues around Drugs and Alcohol or Bullying, which might lead you into Performance Management issues, possibly Discipline and Grievance, and even Dismissal.

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10. Why do things get out of hand so quickly?

The original purpose of anger was to get us ready to fight, so it increases our heart rate and blood pressure to increase the flow of blood to our muscles, sharpens our senses and makes more adrenalin. So we get really ‘pumped up’ and bursting to do something physical. Then, because the ‘fight or flight’ choice had to be instant, the mechanism helps us reduce complex circumstances to simple ‘safe/unsafe’ terms. That means that to this day we ignore any information we don’t see in that second as relevant.

So we tend not to ask ourselves why someone has done such-and-such, often leaping to conclusions and failing to consider all the angles. So there’s a higher risk of irrational decisions, over-reaction and instinctive aggression. That’s why one of the most useful things to do is to buy time/create space, before disagreement or confrontation reaches flashpoint. There’s more help in the topics about Conflict Resolution, Mediation, and Negotiation.

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11. Why bother tackling it if the work’s being done?

Marginally unacceptable behaviour can often gradually lead to build-ups of pressure, resulting time wasted by people arguing instead of working, poorer results through conscious or unconscious sabotage or non-compliance with procedures, increased absenteeism, higher staff turnover, working to rule, bullying, violence at work and more industrial tribunals. So it’s your plain duty as a manager to nip it in the bud.

If you catch it in time, simple Coaching or Performance Management methods may be all that’s needed. If things are more serious, there may be Health and Safety issues and you may need to consider Discipline and Grievance or even Dismissal procedures. Before going down that route though, be aware of the content of the topic on Disability in case the person says their behaviour is due to health issues.

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12. What if it’s a customer?

Usually, a customer gets angry with you if they feel no one has paid enough attention to an initial complaint. Their dander is up because of that feeling of being ignored or belittled. It doesn’t matter whether they’re right, wrong, or plain unreasonable. It doesn’t even matter all that much if you can do anything about their complaint. Just show them you care. Take a deep breath to protect your own inner state and buy some time. Focus on the facts, and listen for what’s really going on. Validate their right to their opinion, and agree some next steps. You may convert a witch-hunter into an ambassador. Have a look at the topics on NLP, Customer Relations, Nonviolent Communication and Negotiation.

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13. What if it’s the boss?

The boss doesn’t get angry because they’re the boss. They get angry for the same reasons as everyone else. They’re feeling trapped, tormented, unfairly treated or ignored. Because of the power dynamic, it can be awfully tempting to appease them, but this can simply add to future problems. In many ways, dealing with an angry boss is like dealing with an angry customer. Remember that, as with anyone else, their behaviour may be affected by Stress, ill-health, Bereavement, Bullying, or Change. Don’t discount Drugs and Alcohol abuse. Take a deep breath to protect your own inner state and buy some time. Focus on the facts, and listen for what’s really going on. Validate their right to their opinion, and agree some next steps. Of course, there’s an extra dimension in that they may have power of hire-or-fire over you, so it may pay to investigate and address any wider issues.

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