Anger has a bad reputation for being loud, forceful, and aggressive. However, anger is also passionate, bold, and energizing.
When someone gets angry and acts out in a destructive manner, we think that the problem is the anger. Actually, it’s not. Anger is just an emotion, like happiness, sadness, excitement (you know the list!). The problem is how that person reacted to anger.
Anger gets a lot of attention because frankly, not many people are good at being angry. Most of us revert to a natural fight or flight response to anger because we didn’t spend time as kids developing the skills to react in a positive, productive manner. Most of us went to school to grow our intellectual capacity (new information, knowledge and facts) but I personally don’t remember any classes that focused on growing my emotional capacity. So, when a child (who never focused on his/her emotional growth) becomes an adult and gets angry, the outcome looks childish and messy at best.
Anger can be a very powerful and helpful emotion. Anger is full of energy and passion, and if we can better understand the anger, we can use that energy productively and move into action. For example, if I am angry because I didn’t get that raise I expected I might feel like barging into my boss’ office and start screaming at him which may of course result in losing my job completely. Hopefully, I would have some ounce of rational thought left to steer me away from his office, however I may not know what else to do.
The hardest time to change a behavior is when you’re right in the middle of it. So first, take a deep breath. Maybe two. Maybe three. If that doesn’t work to help calm down, then delay the conversation. A great way to role model this for others is to acknowledge the feeling and actively choose not to engage. For example, you may say, “I’m realizing that I’m really angry right now and I’m not thinking clearly. When I’ve calmed down, I’d like to discuss this with you.” Then experiment to see what actually helps you calm down. It’s somewhat trial and error but don’t give up; this is essential in helping you regroup and refocus your anger. Many people find a sensory change to be very helpful to get themselves back in check. Some examples of sensory changes include stepping outside (especially on a cool day), holding a piece of ice, squeezing a stress ball, looking at a beautiful picture, going for a run, or listening to a favorite song. Find something that works for you.
Once you’ve calmed down, your rational brain wakes up and you can think about what your anger is actually telling you. In this case, my anger might be telling me that I deeply care about the work but feel undervalued. It may be telling me that my core values are being triggered. It may mean that I’m frustrated with myself for not effectively communicating my value to my senior leaders. Or, it may mean that it’s time to move on and look for a new job. Anger is allowing me to see what’s important to me and is propelling me into motion. My action may be to meet with my manager to understand how my contributions are perceived by others. Without anger, I may become depressed, do nothing and lose all hope that anything will change. Anger allows for action. The challenge is to make that action powerful and positive.