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Working Effectively with Anger — The Solution Might Surprise You


Anger seems to be all the rage these days (pun intended!), with many people in full-throated celebration of it. Rage and disdain have become acceptable expressions of anger. But are they effective?
The words anger, rage, and outrage are often used interchangeably but they are not the same. Anger is an emotion stemming from other emotions, including anxiety, despair, or frustration. I feel angry, for example, when something does not go as I expect and have planned for. My expectations have not been met.

Rage and the “dis- words” (disregard, disrespect, disdain), on the other hand, are expressions of anger. They are choices we make, without fully considering all of the choices available to us.
When we express outrage, we are choosing to shame another, and shaming rarely produces the results we want. Similarly, rage is an expression of anger that fills the space but is hard to work with. Disregard and unresponsiveness are frequently an avoidance of our own discomfort with a given situation. All of these responses are laden with judgment, usually without full knowledge and understanding of the complete picture.
The most effective way to deal with anger is to “look under the hood.” Examine why you feel as you do; not everyone feels the same for a given circumstance, and we all connect the dots differently. Consider your assumptions and what you do not know. Explore choices thoughtfully. In other words, work with the complexity and make intentional decisions about how to respond, keeping channels of communication open. By doing so, you are much more likely to achieve your intended aim, and also more likely to benefit from unexpected opportunities.

Many who read this post will nod and say: “Yes, that makes sense.” But mindfully attending to our emotions and responses is hard to put into practice without guidance. Coaching helps us to develop healthy and fruitful practices of reflection that lead to the outcomes we want. I have benefited enormously from the guidance of coaches and counselors over the years. We are all a work in progress, and we all benefit from coaching. (See our coaching services here, and particularly the quote by Atul Gawande.)
Anger is a natural emotion. How we respond to that anger is a choice. We have far more agency than we realize to modify a situation and create positive outcomes. Contact us to learn more.


Copyright © 2019 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.



Anger and Kindness

Dr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, recently spoke about the value of anger to prompt us to action. He emphasized that the value is derived from being able to channel the anger without aggression, and that daily self-reflection on what we can do improve ourselves is what gives us the power to improve the world. Wise words indeed!

In our era of outrage, far too many people seem to be blinded by anger, and even to cultivate it. Their actions appear intended to draw attention to themselves rather than to effect meaningful, positive change. I am dismayed to see the pride with which so many people proudly proclaim that they “called someone out.” To what end, I ask? Is the targeted person likely to change his/her behavior in response to being publicly shamed? Unlikely, I believe.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” has been interpreted in many ways, often with concrete actions to build, create, or transform something. I think it also means finding ways to be kind, compassionate, and patient in our everyday lives, even with those who drive us crazy – such as colleagues, family members or service providers. It means seeing the dignity of the other and speaking to it, from one’s own place of dignity.

All too often, we explain away our outbursts or aggression as a response to what someone else did or said. But this means that we live our lives in reaction to others, rather than from our own core. A crucial question to ask ourselves is not “What do I want to do in the world?” but “How do I want to be in the world, regardless of what anyone else does?” I know from my own personal experience that developing this type of grounding can be challenging at times, but I also know that it is well worth the effort because of the way it transforms relationships.

Many of us want to make the world a better place, and schools try to instill this aspiration in students. It is heartening to see young people apply themselves to innovative thinking to help those in need, or who address injustice with a problem-solving mindset. We need this. But it is equally important to cultivate kindness. I believe a kind person can generate more valuable change in our society than an outraged person, even when addressing injustices. A kind person is not a push-over, but someone who has a grounded awareness of self and others.

You can read the short article about Dr. Arun Gandhi’s talk here.


Copyright © 2017 Sharon V. Kristjanson. All rights reserved.