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May 9, 2001 Volume 1, Issue 19
 
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Dealing with Your Own Anger

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However perceptive we become about what can anger us, we still do get angry once in a while. Here are four steps to help you deal with your own anger.

At the end of Sean's four-hour stint at the help desk, Mad Melvin called. M2 was always abusive. The problem this time was the new backup software. For anyone but M2, Sean could have kept it together, but M2 never followed directions. M2's style was to click randomly and hope that he would accidentally get the result he wanted, all the while insulting the help desker. Finally Sean lost it: "Call back later from somewhere where Planet Earth is a local call," he said, and hung up. Instantly, Sean knew it was a mistake.

You've probably read about tactics for preventing yourself from becoming angry. However skilled we are at catching ourselves before we become angry, we're still left with the problem of what to do when we do get mad. Here are four steps for dealing with your own anger.

The sooner
you become aware
of building anger,
the sooner
you can intervene
Learn to notice your anger
The sooner you become aware of building anger, the sooner you can intervene. You can become more aware of feelings of anger by catching yourself in the act. The next time you're there, inventory what you're feeling — tightness in the chest, clenched teeth or fists, rigidity, shallow breathing. Knowing what anger feels like helps you notice it earlier when you're on your way there.
Accept anger
Anger is part of being Human. The only way to be certain that you'll never be angry again is to die, and most of us aren't ready to try that yet. When we believe that being angry is "bad," we complicate things, because our feelings of shame or guilt or even anger about being angry make regaining composure much more difficult. Accepting that you can become angry helps you to accept that you're angry when you are.
When you're angry, take responsibility for being angry
A bicycle raceYou're the owner of your own emotions. Only you have access to the systems in your body that lead you to become angry. You're in complete control of that process. True, someone might have done something you didn't like, but of all the possible responses available, you chose anger. That's something you did, and you can't proceed until you recognize that.
When you notice your anger, breathe slowly and deeply
Breathing brings you back from the edge of control, and you can act more creatively. Breathing gives you the oxygen you need to think, and breathing slowly and deliberately gives you a focus other than whatever you used to become angry.

Becoming angry is like falling from a bicycle. No matter how good a cyclist you are, you can always fall. The trick is to fall without hurting yourself or the other cyclists, and to get back on the bike again even though you know that another fall is inevitable. Go to top Top  Next issue: Diagonal Collaborations: Dazzling or Dangerous?  Next Issue
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Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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We often describe someone who arrogantly breezes through life with swagger and evident disregard for others as having a "big ego." Maybe so. And maybe not. Let's have a closer look.

See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout

Mohandas K. Ghandi, in the 1930sComing June 3: Just Make It Happen
Many idolize the no-nonsense manager who says, "I don't want to hear excuses, just make it happen." We associate that stance with strong leadership. Sometimes, though, it's little more than abuse motivated by ambition or ignorance — or both. Available here and by RSS on June 3.
Two hermit crabs in their snail shellsAnd on June 10: The Perils of Limited Agreement
When a group member agrees to a proposal, even with conditions, the group can move forward. Such agreement is constructive, but there are risks. What are those risks and what can we do about them? Available here and by RSS on June 10.

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