Anger is the messenger.
What is your instinct when you face anger or other high emotions within yourself
or from a colleague or client?
“Certainly I’m angry…But I don’t think it’s a helpless emotion.”
— SHERMAN ALEXIE, author
About anger (and other high emotions)
I’ll never forget the first real mediation session I observed during my training. As tensions rose between the parties, the room filled with the heat and smoke of their anger and accusation, pushback and tears. Although I was sitting away from the table as a student observer, I felt trapped and triggered. My body went into flight mode; I had to keep from bolting from the room.
With training and time I learned that my job at the table is to hold space for emotions to be released; to know when to let them flow and when the parties need me to intervene or call a break. I learned the physiology of anger, how pain under stress triggers chemicals which flood the body and brain and take 20 minutes or more to subside. I learned how to help lower the heat so everyone can regain their cognitive brains. I learned how to ask questions that get to the vast pool of feelings and needs beneath the anger.
As a conflict coach I teach clients these same skills so you can be calm and attentive during moments of anger and high emotion. It’s not easy to do, but it absolutely can be learned if you as a Fearless Leader choose it as your goal.
Mediator Tammy Lenski talks about anger this way:
When we experience our own anger during conflict, it can swamp us and hijack us, embarrass and humble us. It can also make us feel powerful and strong in the moment.
When we experience someone else’s anger, it can startle and frighten us, intimidate and coerce us. It can also jolt our own anger awake, as we push back with our equivalent power and force. Most times, the main point of anger’s story is not loss of control or unacceptable behavior… The main point of anger’s story is that something important isn’t being heard or understood yet. Anger is the frustrated messenger.
“Anger is the prelude to courage.”
— ERIC HOFFER, philosopher
When you face anger or other high emotions within yourself or from a colleague or client, is your instinct to make it go away? assert control? fight back? run?
All of these reactions are natural, but choosing to engage means acknowledging the anger and seeing it as a messenger. When you welcome the messenger, you can then consider why anger was needed to carry the message. This allows you to open up to receive the message that’s struggling to be heard.