Conflict: 5 Steps to Control Your Anger
Conflict is rife with emotion. One that we frequently encounter is anger. While it is often a secondary emotion that is initially triggered by fear, anger is more visible and can trigger ineffective responses to conflict.
by Craig Runde, Program Designer, and Partner & Board Member of the Institute for Workplace Dynamics-IWD – Europe in Paris, France, and Pierre Naquet, President of the Institute for Workplace Dynamics-IWD – Europe in Paris, France.
One of the Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP) active destructive responses is Displaying Anger which involves acting out the inner emotion. Angry displays can include raising one’s voice, swearing, and physical displays like slamming your hand on a table. Suppressed anger can also leak out as demeaning or retaliatory behaviors. In MTI’s Retaliatory Cycle, it is anger that fuels the wrong reflexes of Walk-aways and Power-plays.
These types of responses tend to escalate and prolong conflict because the emotions of the people who are the targets of these behaviors can easily become aroused and cause retaliatory reactions. This begins the retaliatory cycle where people's negative emotions feed off those of one another. While anger is a fairly common response in conflict settings, it doesn’t have to lead to ineffective reactions.
What steps can a person take to be able manage anger in conflict situations so that it doesn't get the best of you?
Understand Your Conflict Hot Buttons:
Most people have heard of the phrase “pushing your buttons.” The CDP actually measures a series of workplace hot buttons that can trigger upset or frustration in individual. Learning more about what angers one lessen the chances of being surprised or blindsided in conflict settings. Enhancing self-awareness of conflict triggers is an important step in managing future conflicts.
Recognize Early Signs of Anger:
Learning more about how we physically respond to hot buttons can also be helpful. Awareness of somatic cues like increased heart rate, queasiness, or muscle tension can alert one that anger is rising and it is time to start slowing things down lest one react in ways that escalate the conflict.
Don’t Suppress Your Anger: Many people feel like they have to suppress their anger because showing it would be unprofessional. They are probably right that displaying anger would be frowned on but there are other options. Research by Stanford professor James Gross has shown that emotional suppression is probably the worst strategy for regulating emotions. They don’t go away, rather they usually fester and grow stronger.
- Regulate Your Emotions:
Researchers have discovered several effective techniques for managing emotions like anger. These techniques seem to work by changing brain functions. One approach is described by words like centering or mindfulness. It involves changing the focus of one’s attention from the elements that are stimulating anger. In centering, efforts are made to physically relax and breathe in a manner that creates a sense calm and balance. In mindfulness, the person steps back and observes vexing thoughts and feelings in a nonjudgmental manner.
Another approach for regulating emotions involves reappraising the situation giving rise to anger. By looking for ways to reframe the experience in a manner that assumes non-hostile intent on the part of the other person, the underlying tensions recede and emotional balance is regained.
Express Your Emotions Constructively:
Another approach to managing anger in conflict settings is finding ways to be able to openly and honestly tell the other person how one is feeling. This is done in a non-blaming manner that focuses on the emotional impact on the person feeling upset rather than on blaming the other person in the conflict. By refusing to walk away or use power plays, you can change the course of conflict.
While we may continue to experience anger in conflicts, it is possible to use techniques that prevent it from driving us to use destructive behaviors which cause the conflicts to get worse.