I am angry! – Or am I?

righttoolI run up against anger in all aspects of my life. I see it in my work, in my family, in my community and most dauntingly – in myself.  

As I hear participant's stories in my Navigating Challenging Dialogue™ workshops, I am reaffirmed that anger:


a) Doesn’t have the impact on others we were hoping it would. b) Is not really representative of what we are feeling. c) Provides only momentary relief and usually leaves us feeling yucky about ourselves. d) Is a tool.


“A tool?” you ask. Yes, anger is a tool. We use it to convey that we are disappointed. We use it to convey that we were wronged. We use it to establish, or hold, a boundary. We use it to justify revenge. We use it to release ourselves from the energy of the underlying bad feelings.


I’m just not sure it is the most effective tool for achieving these goals. Anger is like using a power nail gun to hang a small picture, when a tack hammer would have done the job. Instead of tapping one small nail that can easily be removed, moved, or patched over, the power nail gun fiercely sets many nails at once. The nails are driven deep into the wall – deeper than needed. They will be hard to remove. They will require a lot of work to repair the damage to the wall. In essence the nail gun is not only ineffective for this purpose, but when inappropriately applied, it is damaging.


When we use anger to convey messages to others, it frequently yields the same outcome as using a power nail gun to set a tiny picture nail. Our message comes out fast and furious. Too many messages come out at once and many land much deeper on the other person than we intended. Sometimes the damage is permanent and at best it will take a lot of time and intention to heal not only the relationship, but also the shame and guilt that appears within ourselves. And most often, nothing can ever be repaired to anything close to its original condition.


Have you ever started a conversation with the intention of conveying your anger and before you know it you have said something about “your mama” and are storming away? Not long after, once the adrenaline rush slows, you begin to wish you had responded differently? Maybe you feel shame, guilt or embarrassment? For most of us, we want to rid ourselves of those feelings so we get back in touch with the anger – ASAP. We call a friend and rant and rave about how wronged we were. Some people call their lawyer and get the ball rolling in an “I’ll show you” kind of way. And some of the folks I work with shoot off an email to their union representative or human resource department to file a complaint about the other person. All in an effort to rid our selves of the uncomfortable feelings generated by our own use of the power nail gun. Unfortunately, like the power nail gun example, we are left with too many nails, a big mess and a lot of pain.


Now let’s talk about anger as an emotion. I’ve learned, and learned, and then learned some more (and still learn) that anger, while an intense emotion, is not a very pure emotion. What I mean is that if you look under your anger, you will always find some kind of combination of other emotions – most commonly fear, sadness, disappointment or grief.


The next time you feel anger rising to the surface, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions: - What was I hoping would have been different? (Disappointment) -What about this situation is making me feel vulnerable? (Out of Control) -As a result of this situation, what am I choosing to let go of - i.e. trust, friendship, relationship, a promotion? (Grief) -What scares me most about this situation - i.e. I’ll be seen as an ineffective leader. I will end up penniless and homeless. I will always be alone? (Fear)


In the beginning you will be tempted to focus on the other person, but the more important work is to explore the questions in the context of yourself. In other words, you may be disappointed that your staff person missed an important deadline, but are you also disappointed in yourself that you forgot to check in with them on their progress last week? Does their missing the deadline bring up fears that you are ineffective as a leader and will be fired?


Once you answer each question as thoughtfully and completely as you can, ask “what else”? And go deeper. This is where your truth is revealed.


You can be angry that your partner isn’t great with money, but the more important thing is to go under that anger and check in on how you react when you feel out of control.


When you are able to isolate the deeper feelings, and ask the most important question, “When have I felt this before?”


Explore this question multiple times, searching back and looking for repeating patterns. Look for feelings of fear, disappointment, grief or sadness you may have mistaken for righteous anger. If you realize that you have felt out of control in relationships many, many times – there maybe a pattern you want to explore within you. If you realize you are frequently disappointed that members of your team miss deadlines, you may choose to strengthen your own skills in leadership, empowerment, and holding people accountable.


As you explore these questions, you will gain insight into what is driving anger. A few months ago an appointment I had been eagerly waiting for was cancelled at the last minute due to a scheduling mix up. It wasn’t my mix up. My first reaction was to be really angry with the person who had made the mistake. I could feel anger welling up in me. When I stepped back and really looked below the anger, I realized I was disappointed. Instead of an angry response (which wouldn’t have gotten me any closer to my goal of having this meeting), I was able to say, “I’m really disappointed that this meeting is postponed”. That was my truth.


I call this creating space. When I feel my reaction boiling up (which is biological based on what happens when adrenaline is triggered through anger), I breathe. Deep breathing sends oxygen into our blood stream and brings down our heart rate and other symptoms triggered by anger. Anger can serve as the momentum to begin change. Anger is neither good nor bad. Anger manifested inward causes depression. Anger manifested outward destroys relationships and sabotages opportunities. In both instances anger masks the opportunity for growth. But anger, when recognized as a symptom of sadness, grief, fear, or disappointment, can help us get clarity on patterns, places we can grow, how we want to be treated, and how we want to treat ourselves. Anger truly can serve us.


Staff Development Opportunity: Navigating Challenging Dialogue™


Space is limited. Pre-registration required. Reserve your spot today!


Friday Sept. 18, 2015 or Friday Oct. 23, 2015 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Coffee, snacks and lunch provided $195 per person; 3 or more people from same company $180 per person


Learn more here


Comments from past participants:


"This workshop really helped me recognize my tendency to avoid conflict including strategizing way to deal with it."


"I’m moving into a leadership role and this workshop gave me a great perspective on how to be more effective with my team."


"Valuable not only in the workplace but also with my relationships with family and significant other."