How to keep your anger in check

May 5, 2009 4:44:45 PM PDT
How to deal with extra stress and pressure in a bad economy.

Falling into Always/Never
One problematic thinking pattern is to overly generalize what has happened, magnifying or minimizing to an extreme. For example, thinking, "He is always interrupting me!" Or, "He never says thank you!" Or, "I am always having to work around his mistakes!" Or, "Nothing is ever good enough for him!" These types of all-or-nothing statements are so general they blind us from the more accurate description of what is actually going on.

Minimize this behavior by speaking and thinking as accurately and factually as possible about the situation. For example, "At Friday's rehearsal, he complained about how late we seemed to be going." Specifics and actualities more accurately pinpoint the source of anger and make it easier to deal with.

Accentuating the Negative
A second problematic thinking pattern is to discount anything positive about the person or situation and focus only on the negative. A myopic focus on things that are wrong or not working -without any acknowledgement of what is right and working- can cement angry feelings in place. Break free from this negative cycle by being willing to acknowledge something positive about the person or situation. Of course, when you're ready to tear your hair out, this can be challenging! Start with something small that you can easily see. For example, "At Friday's rehearsal, he was getting a cup of tea and asked me if I would like one, too." Just by acknowledging small, positive aspects, you can help yourself broaden your perspective.

Assigning Labels
A third problematic thinking pattern is to make sweeping, big picture assertions about the other person's character based on their behavior. For example, thinking, "He is so selfish!" Or, "She's a control freak!" Or, "My boss is a jerk." (For a more detailed account of how negative filters work, see chapter 11.) While we may feel strongly that the label we have attached to the person is accurate, it nonetheless encourages us to focus on our negative opinion of the person-instead of on taking steps to resolve the behavior.

Focusing on specific behaviors can counterbalance assigning labels. Ask yourself, "What happened?" "When and how often does it happen?" And, "How does it affect me?" For example, instead of thinking, "He is so rude," focus on the specific relevant behavior: "He took up the whole left side of the dressing room," and what you can do to resolve and address it.

Dwelling on Blame
A fourth problematic thinking pattern is to allow yourself to feel that the other person is entirely responsible for whatever has happened and you are merely a victim. The real problem here is that blaming takes all the power out of your hands and transfers it to the person or situation making you angry. Of course, there are times when another person is responsible for a hurt or injustice we have suffered, and it's important that we acknowledge this; however, continuing to dwell on blame is unhealthy.

The solution is to switch your attention to focusing on fixing the problem, rather than on apportioning the blame. Create a plan to take care of yourself regardless of what else is happening and don't put your hopes into the other person or situation changing or doing something different.

Assigning Motives
A fifth problematic thinking pattern is to jump to conclusions about another person's reasons for doing what they've done. More often than not, we really just don't know. For example, we may tell ourselves another person's dismissive behavior is because he or she doesn't respect us, but it could just as easily be because his or her mother refused to buy the little red wagon they wanted at age five! The key to getting out of assigning motives is to focus on how the other person's behavior affects you and what you can do about it.

Revisiting the Experience
A sixth problematic thinking pattern is to mentally keep the experience-and the anger-alive. For example, you're revisiting the experience too often if you find yourself venting your anger to anyone who will listen, over and over again.

One way professional athletes train is by repeatedly imagining the action they want to perform, e.g., a perfect golf swing. This works because our body doesn't know that we aren't really experiencing the situation-our body reacts as if the situation is real. Similarly-and much less positively!-every time we revisit our anger, we reinforce our negative feelings.

There are times when you will need to vent to a friendly listener as a way to get the frustration you feel out of your system. The difference between complaining and communicating is the intention you have to let it go once you have gotten it out.

The Prevailing Wisdom: Five Practices

We interviewed a variety of experts in the field of anger management and gleaned from them five helpful practices for managing your anger. The practices may seem obvious, but that does not necessarily mean they are easy! However, putting them into practice can make a world of difference in how you experience and manage your anger.

  1. Unpack Your Anger
    Alyse Danis, a practicing psychotherapist in San Francisco, emphasizes that anger is never just one emotion or one color: if your anger is red, look for the pink. Dr. Danis (personal communication) explains, "You can unpack your anger by looking for the emotional components that lie underneath (sadness, shame, guilt, loss, etc.). Unpacking is a critical step in being able to move to acceptance (i.e., these are the facts) and resolution (i.e., this is life, things happen)." The next time you are angry, ask yourself: What other emotions are at play here? What are the feelings underneath the anger that I need to acknowledge?

  2. Use Relaxation Techniques
    Meditation, deep breathing, exercise, visualization, self-hypnosis, biofeedback-the list goes on. Simple relaxation tools that can help reduce angry feelings are in abundant supply: If you do a Google search for "relaxation techniques" over 5 million search results are listed. Similarly, if you look up the word "stress" on Amazon.com, close to 15,000 books come up, all containing information on relaxation techniques. The key is learning to integrate these techniques into your daily life, so that when faced with a stressful situation they are readily available.

  3. Delay Responding
    How many times have you said something in the heat of the moment that you later regretted? Reacting on the spot when you're angry denies you the chance to think through what you are feeling, what you need, what you want to say, and how you want to say it. Learn to buy yourself some time to reflect and then respond by using phrases like, "That is something I will have to think about," and, "I'm not sure how to respond to what you just said."

  4. Prepare in Advance
    In The Anger Control Workbook (2000), psychologists Matthew McKay and Peter Rogers discuss a powerful anger management technique they call anger inoculation. The technique focuses on a structured mental rehearsal of those coping thoughts and relaxation techniques you want to use in response to imagined anger scenes. By envisioning yourself in the situation and using various coping skills to remain calm, you rehearse not getting angry when you are in the actual situation.For example, let's say you have a client presentation scheduled that you're dreading. In the past, no matter how hard you have worked, the client has always seemed to focus on some small detail he or she dislikes rather than praise you for the overall excellence of your work-just thinking about being in this situation again makes your blood boil!

    Using the anger inoculation technique described by McKay and Rogers, you would imagine the upcoming meeting in your mind. What can you see, hear, and touch? What feelings, reactions, and thoughts do you have about this? As you envision it, on a scale of 0-100, how angry is this situation making you? Now, imagine using your coping strategies to diffuse the intensity and amount of anger you feel. Is the anger you feel diminishing? Has it increased? Keep trying out various coping strategies in your mind, until your anger has lessened. By running the scenario and your responses in your head in advance, you can thus remove the sting of surprise and practice keeping a cool head in a hot situation.

  5. Revise Your Expectations
    One of the biggest sources of anger is unmet expectations. We get angry with ourselves when we don't live up to our own expectations; we get angry at others when they don't believe, act, or behave as we think they should; and we get angry when circumstances don't turn out the way we planned. For example, if you have an expectation that you should be able to get through the airline ticket counter line in ten minutes and it takes thirty, you may get upset. While many of our expectations may be reasonable, we often continue to hold onto them in situations where past experience has taught us that-though undeniably reasonable-they probably won't be met.
About Karen Leland
In 1986, Karen Leland co- founded Sterling Consulting Group, Inc. and shortly thereafter made history by being chosen over more than a dozen European competitors to become the first American consulting company to win a major contract for business communication and quality service training within the British government.

Over the past twenty-five years Karen has worked throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and South America with a diverse list of Fortune 500 companies in such industries as Health Care, Pharmaceutical, Banking, Transportation, Retail and Telecommunications. Her clients have included: AT&T, Bank of America, IBM, Avis Rental Car, Johnson & Johnson, Sprint and Xerox.

She is a highly sought after keynote speaker and has presented to a wide range of audiences including: Young Presidents Association, American Management Association, American Marketing Association, The Bakersfield Business Conference and countless corporate meetings.

In 1994, Inc. Magazine choose Karen as one of their primary judges for The Inc. Positive Performer Award, which honors companies that have achieved an outstanding level of business excellence. For a period of five years, she was responsible for selecting the winning finalists from among 500 applicants.

Karen has written six books, which have sold over 350,000 copies. In addition to distribution within the US, the books have been translated into ten other languages. She is the author of the bestselling Customer Service for Dummies and In 2006 she co-authored Watercooler Wisdom: How Smart People Prosper in the Face of Conflict, Pressure and Change. The book was based on surveys with over 20,000 executives, managers and staff. Her most recent books are for the Career Press In An Instant Series and include:

Customer Service In An Instant: 60 Ways to Win Customers and Keep Them Coming Back.

Time Management In An Instant: 60 Ways to Get the Most of Your Day

Public Speaking In An Instant: 60 Ways to Stand Up and Be Heard

Email In An Instant: 60 Ways to Get Your Message Across with Style and Impact.

Karen is considered an expert on the topics of time management, quality service, teamwork, work-life balance and peak performance. She has been featured in dozens of magazines and newspapers including: Fortune, Inc., The New York Times, Newsweek, Women's Day Magazine, Fitness Magazine and Time.

She also has extensive on-air experience and has been interviewed on Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN, Bloomberg, The Oprah Winfrey Show and others.

She is currently a national work-life balance columnist for The Huffington Post and examiner.com and a freelance reporter for Comcast. Karen has written for a variety of publications including Women's Day, Self, Entrepreneur, Hemispheres, Spirituality & Health, Fodors, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News and the Christian Science Monitor among others.

In addition to her work in the business world, Ms. Leland has had a lifelong commitment to the arts. She is a working artist, whose painting and prints have been shown in the Sausalito Art Festival, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Triton Museum Of Art in Santa Clara, The American Craft Council Show and The Celebration of Craftswomen.

Her passion for the arts encompasses performing as well. Karen has done industrial films, voiceovers and performances on stages thought the Bay Area and Los Angeles including The Marin Playhouse, Novato Theatre Company, Sonoma Community Theatre and Ross Valley Players. Her most recent role was a lead in the review Shopping! The Musical currently running at the Shelton Theatre, San Francisco.

Email Karen: Kleland@scgtraining.com


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