• helenearmstrong

Get Behind Your Anger

I work with many people currently with whom managing conflict whether at home or at work, is a difficult issue for them. It’s like a part of them shuts down once they sense their own angry feelings on the horizon or, indeed, that of others.

Many people see anger as a flaw, something dysfunctional within themselves that needs to at least be managed and reined in or even better, eradicated completely.

I see anger is neither negative nor positive; it is simply an energy that requires our undivided attention without judgement. If we have an inner cesspool of self-loathing and we judge ourselves for our anger, then we will add to it. The irony is that this approach actually leads us to be more susceptible to feeling anger – the more we push away from it and hate ourselves for being this way, the more likely it is to happen again and with more ferocity. This approach also fuels anxiety sending it into another stratosphere altogether: the energy it takes to fight against our own difficult feelings as well as walk the tightrope of avoiding conflict with others, is phenomenal and can push our stress hormones to a new all time high.

I try and look with curiosity, not criticism at why I feel anger. Anger is only a symptom so get in behind it to discover the feelings that are fueling it. They are the feelings that matter the most. I am usually feeling misunderstood; perhaps someone has not considered my feelings or respected them in an appropriate way; I might feel judged either advertently or inadvertently.

Here are my top tips to dealing with anger and managing conflict:

· Take It somewhere else first: regulate the rawness of your anger in a safe place. This might be with a trusted friend, mentor/advisor, therapist or significant other. My favourite tool in this department is to use the power of journaling; I get my anger out on the page and regulate these strong emotions in that private conversation with myself ( check out my website at where you can contact me directly for my free booklet on the art of journaling). The point of the matter is not to push down how you feel but also not to let the raw venom of your immediate response spill out and cause more toxicity in your personal/professional relationships.

· If in doubt, say nothing:: I want all my communication to be thoughtful and considered and sometimes this just takes a bit of teasing out first. An important question to ask ourselves is ‘will the person concerned actually hear what I have to say?’ If I am in any way doubtful about this, I take my first piece of advice here, say nothing in the first instance and take it away to work out all my thoughts and feelings before coming back to the table for talks. I always keep it in the back of my mind that once I say something, I can never take it back; I try and avoid the attraction of saying what I think and then regretting it later. The main idea behind using this age-old proverb is to first of all, work out the best way to engage the person in question and encourage them to listen; I sift out what I think will be heard and understood first, in order to gain a more trusting rapport.

· Trust your Instincts and show your teeth when you are not in doubt: sometimes I have felt compelled to be more immediate with my annoyance; people quite often come to me with some regret about showing their teeth in the moment and, having assessed what has happened, I quite often find myself feeding back to them that it seemed the right thing to do in the moment. I know this may sound contradictory to my first two points, however, I’m afraid there are always exceptions to every rule! A situation may arise where your gut says you must show how you feel immediately. Such circumstances are, however, very situational and need to be continually reflected upon. Again, turning to your trusted person in your life for feedback is essential for this one so you can work out whether your gut was telling you the right thing. One past coachee was continually being put upon by his over-demanding, micro-managing boss. He snapped one day and told him how he really felt; the anger bubbled up and the teeth were shown. The amazing thing was his boss started to listen to him and back off. The coachee came to me feeling guilty about what had happened, however, having analysed the outcome, he reframed this in a healthier way and saw that this kind of immediacy worked. The two people concerned were able to revisit this incident and the coachee was able to talk in a more open and assertive way about what wasn’t working in their relationship – the workplace became a better place to be in the end. Sometimes anger, in its unadulterated form, can help press the reset button in a relationship. For my coachee, it was probably the only thing his head-strong, poor listener of a boss would respond to.

· Develop your empathy: My go-to quote on this front must be from the world-renowned author of ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen Covey when he stated that we must ‘seek first to understand and then be understood’ (1989). Even trying to understand the other person you are engaged with and their point of view goes a long way in resolving conflict – try listening to the words and the emotions behind what that other person is saying and then, even more importantly, saying back what you have heard. Always remember that your have two ears and one mouth so use them proportionately!

· Start with ‘I’: of course, we must listen in the first instance, seek to understand and communicate it. Then comes the time to express our own opinions and points of view. By starting sentences in the first singular we take ownership of our feeling -- we maintain self-respect whilst still communicating without accusation. If we have generated enough empathy and been able to demonstrate it in our communications, we can disarm in a healthy way and help the person concerned to really hear what comes after the ‘I’.

· Look for compromise: when it comes to resolving the issue, try and achieve a win/win situation where both parties’ needs are met to some degree at least, through compromise. I usually get into coach – mode and start asking questions such as ‘how can we resolve this issue?’ or ‘what’s your ideal solution where both of us can be happier?’. Compromise is a collaborative form of problem-solving and an essential ingredient in all relationships with our fellow humans whether at home or work.

· You can’t get it right all the time: as I said, every interaction in our lives is both unique and situational. I get it wrong more times than enough, but I try not to worry and instead, I spend some time evaluating what went well and what I can do better the next time. If I need to, I will take responsibility and apologize for what has been said wrongly or what has created confusion and misunderstanding. Again, I get curious with, and not critical of myself. Self-criticism leads to more conflict as it disables us from remaining open and learning.

So relax and get behind your anger to understand what it truly means. Remember that taking this approach to it and to the wider arena of conflict management will pave the way to healthier communication with others. More importantly, it is a radical act of self-care and even narcissistic-free self-love that will inspire others to do likewise.

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