by Terry L. Sumerlin
Have you ever been angry? That’s a little like asking if you’ve ever drawn a breath, isn’t it? We’ve all been angry and likely will be again. That’s okay!
Anger is simply an emotion, as are fear, sadness, joy, surprise, frustration and many other states of mind. Because anger is an emotion, it would be foolish for me to tell you that we should eliminate anger from our lives. In fact, there are times when we should be angry. Such times would be when insensitivity, injustice, unkindness, rudeness or disrespect is present. Anger, per se, is not a problem. Sometimes, how we channel our anger at home, in the workplace and in society – is a problem!
I do presentations on “Powerful People Connectors.” However, there are also powerful “disconnectors.” I speak on those too. The most powerful disconnector I know of is uncontrolled anger. I know this from sad experience, and perhaps you do as well.
Oftentimes, the first thing that we want to say or do when we are angry is the worst possible thing. We’ve all heard about counting to ten, right? Though perhaps trite, it’s actually very good advice. Delay is often a very good approach when anger is involved. Count to a hundred if necessary!
Too often we succumb to what we think is an urgent need for immediate action. Then later, if not immediately, we regret what we’ve said or done. The result is relationship disconnect – sometimes permanently. So, let’s look at some important things to keep in mind when we, or when others, are angry.
Aristotle said: “Anyone can be angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not easy.” That’s a powerful statement! It brings to mind two very important warnings.
First, be careful about being angry with the wrong person. We sometimes let anger simmer until it boils over on an “innocent bystander.” This person is impulsively viewed as a convenient or vulnerable target for venting anger in the form of rudeness or verbal abuse. This bystander might be our co-worker, our spouse, our child, our friend or a total stranger. Though our provocation, frustration or bad day isn’t their fault, they become the “cat that we kick,” as opposed to our dealing with the situation or confronting the person(s) who really triggered the anger.
Second, we need to be careful about our motives. Is our anger for the right reason? Are pride and ego fueling it? This can be evident in the relating of events: “I set him straight in no uncertain terms!” In such instances, though ego gets a boost, maturity and relationships take a hit.
To Aristotle’s wisdom, we would add that of C.S. Lewis. He addresses the need for accepting responsibility regarding how we channel our anger. He said: “It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves.” Most of us have been guilty of this form of excuse making. Instead of just taking responsibility for our bad temper and its manifestations, sometimes we just excuse them. Then we wind up repeating our actions in the future, while excusing them just as we did in the past. A better choice would be to just apologize and state our resolve to stop doing what we’re doing – no excuses.
When we apply the preceding concepts, in addition to avoiding relationship disconnect, we will be better prepared to help others when they are angry. Here are some simple, though not necessarily easy, steps we might take to help them: (1) Speak softly. (2) Ask questions that draw the angry person out as to the real cause of his/her anger. (3) Empathize, but don’t beg the person to not be angry. If anything, that will make the situation worse. Instead, we might say, “Were I in your shoes, I would feel exactly the same way.” (Were we that person, we would obviously feel as that person feels.) (4) Ask the person what would need to happen for them to feel better.
Some angry people we can help and some we can’t. When we can’t help, we need to be careful not to “catch” the angry person’s unhappiness. In this connection a familiar quote comes to mind: “Don’t put the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket” (Chinmayananda Saraswati).
Whether it’s a matter of our anger or that of another, if the relationship is important to us, we must keep that thought uppermost in our minds. Whatever gets in the way of that relationship cannot be good.
TERRY’S LEADERSHIP: Let’s not allow anger to disconnect all-important connections.