Anger as a signal
When you feel anger rising in your belly, your subconscious is generally warning you to pay attention and perhaps to take action in order to avoid potential pain or loss.
Anger can be a powerful emotion. In threatening circumstances, it can be effectively channeled to help defend yourself or others, to command action or to set and maintain boundaries. In many circumstances, however, showing raw anger prevents understanding and perpetuates suffering — yours and others.
Beneath the anger
When you view anger as a signal, then the most effective response is to pause and reflect before taking action. Assessing the emotion and thoughts underlying the anger is generally the best way to plan how to rectify the situation or avoid further injustice.
Often it is helpful to figure out specifically what is underlying the anger. Generally, anger is triggered by fear of immediate loss, pain, or future damage, or by the recognition of an injustice. For example, you might fear being physically or emotionally hurt, or being abandoned or losing someone you love. You might fear financial insecurity or being ridiculed. Anger is also triggered when you see others hurt or treated unfairly.
The other individual
To be most effective, first consider the perspective of the other individual(s) involved even if you don’t agree with their perspective. You can communicate much more effectively if you can find common ground and if you use a solicitous tone of voice and effective choice of words.
“Perhaps you meant to help…”
“I imagine this promotion means a lot to you…”
“I know economic times are rough…”
“You seem to have a lot going on in your life…”
How to communicate anger effectively
The best communication occurs when people show their vulnerability while remaining self-possessed, in other words, if they don’t give in to the underlying vulnerability and they don’t go ballistic. So, don’t attack, cry, beg or whine. Stay neutral, find common ground, and state your case or make your point.
Here are some examples of bad vs. better communication:
Bad: “How dare you talk to me like that!”
Better: “I know you’re upset, but I feel pushed away when you talk to me like that. Would you explain what you want without raising your voice so much.”
Bad: “How selfish of you not to call until the last minute!”
Better: “I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, but when I didn’t hear from you, I was disappointed and decided to make other plans rather than be angry with you.”
In summary, when you feel anger, don’t become reactive, but do the following:
1. Understand what is motivating your anger, so you can be clear about what you want.
2. Find common ground to keep lines of communication open.
3. Express the feelings of fear or sadness that cause your anger without becoming overwhelmed by fear or sadness.
4. Maintain a calm demeanor, that is, maintain your self-respect and self-control.
5. Make a request, not a demand of the other person, if appropriate.
In certain life-endangering circumstances, however, using the full power of your anger could just be the most effective way to prevent harm.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD