Let me be clear about one thing at the beginning of this brief article….Everyone gets angry. Anger is one of our core feelings that we are born with. It is part of our evolutionary process. Maybe, just maybe, in several million years time this feeling may have evolved out of us but I sincerely doubt it.
I make that statement above because I often meet people who tell me they never get angry. They are mistaken. They are wrong. They may even be lying. We all feel angry and quite often.
Once we can accept that then we can move onto the next statement which is what this article is really about. Most anger is about power. Anger is a way we can use our power and how we use it is going to dictate the quality of the relationships we have with the rest of the world.
Please think back to a moment when you felt angry. Just before your anger was triggered it is very likely that you felt your power was threatened or in a lot of cases you felt powerless. Anger is our way of holding on to and asserting or reasserting our power. How we may do that depends upon what we find works for us. It may be sarcasm, closing down, withholding affection and support, or it may be through overt aggression and shouting and banging doors. Whichever way we choose to do it we are exercising and demonstrating power.
The thing about power is, if you want it and seek it you probably should not be allowed to have it.
We never feel more powerful than when we are exercising our perceived right to righteous anger. This is the “I was happily going about my business causing no one any harm and you chose to cause trouble” anger. It’s the “you started it so I’m entitled to finish it” anger.
At that moment we feel like we have all the power and the protagonist has none. How the situation develops now and whether it becomes a resolvable conflict depends upon us.
Question – How do you use your power?
Let me give you an example of how this can play out.
We have a number of businesses in our building that all have to co-exist and to do this requires co-operation. A conflict started when one of the businesses ran a workshop which involved drumming which is noisy. The other business at that moment needed quiet. In that moment there is going to be conflict. The business making the noise had been inconsiderate and in their enthusiasm to put on another workshop had failed to consider others. The business that needs quiet felt righteously angry.
Have you ever felt that righteousness and the power surge that comes with it?
The question that the business that felt they were in the “right” could have asked themselves would have been…..Do we want to resolve this issue and have a working relationship going forwards or do we want to makes things worse?
What would you do?
This is what they did. They wrote an e-mail that was assumptive that the other business was in the wrong (they were) and then laid out a set of demands which asked for set quiet times on certain days. Which sounds reasonable enough except that these two businesses had already spent a lot of time negotiating quite times. Both businesses have contrasting needs and they had acknowledged this. The demands, however, were excessive and instead of reiterating what had always been agreed demanded more quiet time for that business; a lot more quiet time. The e-mail ended with the threat of greater punishment if their demands were not accepted.
Instead of moving into conflict resolution mode they moved into punishment and conflict mode. In other words they went on the attack. Because their demands were jaw dropping in their proportion to what had been agreed previously the noisy business now felt attacked.
Have you ever noticed what happens when you feel attacked? It is really easy to go into defence mode and the best form of defence is attack. In other words whatever action we take now comes with some form of righteousness, and so it goes on, and on, and on.
These two businesses are now continually in conflict with both feeling hyper sensitised towards the slightest issue and neither feeling any empathy at all for each other or any desire to cooperate.
Here’s a thought about how it could have played out.
The quiet business could have written an e-mail that expressed their anger but also acknowledged that they know the other business well enough to know that they would not do this deliberately. They could have reiterated the agreement they have and asked for it not to happen again.
This is what I call compassionate healthy anger.
Given that the noisy business know they have over stepped the mark, feel quite contrite and wish to make amends it is likely that the quiet business would get an apology and some friends in the building who recognise how reasonable they are and who will go out of their way to help them in the future.
Some people call this “keeping your powder dry” which in my opinion is still the language of having power over people and a perceived threat of righteous anger in the future which is not really healthy.
I prefer to think of this as resolving conflict, having healthy relationships with others and being clear about my boundaries. It’s also about being realistic and looking at the bigger picture.
A couple of thoughts to end with –
- People rarely start conflict deliberately. It’s normally a misunderstanding and if we enter conflict with this mindset it is easier to resolve it.
- Mistakes, inconsiderate behaviour, laziness etc may start a conflict but it’s the abuse of the righteous power that prolongs it. It takes two to have a conflict.
Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.