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Stop internalising anger because it’s a professional thing to do. Get it out! 4 tools to do it in a safe way.
Okay, let’s get something out of the way. There are no good or bad emotions. What we feel is an indicator from our body that something needs our attention.
Over the years, more and more companies have accepted that people have emotions (however absurd that sounds). With that comes acknowledgement that they can affect our behaviour and effectiveness. Some countries have sick leaves that can last half a year or more just for getting back on your feet mentally. These are all steps in the right direction, but something’s missing.
“I’m pissed” 😤
Different cultures and nationalities vary in their approach to anger. Most people are afraid of anger because they associate it with aggression. Rightfully so in many cases, yet there is so much more to explore here.
Anger, a common example, can often be a cover for an array of painful feelings—a sense of dejection, failure, abandonment, sadness, depression, to name a few, and hurt which is perhaps the most common. - Joan Cusack Handler Ph.D.1
I think getting your anger out is exploring what’s underneath instead of tucking it in a place you never want to see again. Internalised anger significantly foster depression.2
Sometimes, it can be as easy as saying in a meeting: “I’m angry right now and need to take a break to understand what is happening. Let’s take ten.”
We are inclusive to other emotions like sadness or fear, so why shouldn’t we be more inclusive towards managed anger?
How to respect your anger and express it in a healthy way?
Managed means that we don’t blow up in other people’s faces but learn to self-regulate our emotions. This means:
learning new ways to know what is happening, understanding what is underneath anger,
widening the gap between how we choose to react to them,
exploring our tools to self-soothe,
respectfully setting healthy boundaries,
learning to cope with other people’s anger in a way we feel safe.
So, let’s dig into five tools. What can you do individually and in a group setting to put those into practice:
Name it and frame it.
“I’m feeling flooded with emotions/anger right now and can’t think straight. I need to sit with it. Let’s do a recess and meet in 10.” (in a group setting)
“I’m feeling anger right now. If its intention was to inform me about something important, what would that be? What is the underlying emotion? What do I feel when I feel anger?” (when alone)
An important distinction here is that you feel anger instead of ‘being angry’. This emphasises that you are not your emotions and their temporary character.
Self-soothe by action, meditation or breathwork.
Self-soothing means bringing awareness to what is happening instead of trying to escape the feeling. It might not mean dealing with it in the moment, yet seeing it for what it is and reflecting soon after. You can take a walk, work with your breath or focus on being here and now.
Express yourself with FFCE.
Facts - express what happened, not your opinion.
Feelings - what did you feel in the moment and at the same time, not blaming how others made you feel.
Consequences - what were the consequences of the event from your standpoint?
Expectations - what do you expect from the other to change, and how can your relationship benefit from that?
👉🏼 Example: On the last retrospective, you stood up and left the room in the middle of the conversation without a word. I felt anxious and puzzled, not knowing what happened. We needed to pause the whole meeting. I would appreciate it if you asked for a break and voiced what was happening so we could respond.
After researching inward what’s going on, we sometimes might need to set a boundary. We can't control others, yet we can respond to how they react.
👉🏼 Example: If the person to whom we addressed feedback from point 3 said: “I hear you but don’t care” and was not open to discussion - this poses a different question. What boundaries do I need to set in place to be able to function with that person in a healthy way for both of us? This can be:
Communicating only formally without personal chit-chat that makes us feel as if we have a relation,
How will you act if a scenario repeats itself? What might be the consequences for the other person?
Clearly communicate your own expectations with the other person, how this can work forward and if it does not, what would be the next step (changing team, working with somebody else, etc.).
Doing the above can make you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable because you sit with emotion instead of trying to eliminate it. Making yourself heard can change a team or a meeting dynamic because so few people dare to speak up and elaborate.
That said, there is always space and context for everything, and you might not be in a safe place to speak up, yet you can always tend to yourself.
How do you tackle anger in a professional setting? Let me know in the comments!
PS. Some additional wisdom from dr Niole LePera on anger in relationship setting:
“What Feelings Can Disguise The importance of identifying hidden emotions.” by Joan Cusack Handler Ph.D., Psychology Today
“The Perplexing Notion of Depression as “Anger Turned Inward” by Mary C. Lamia Ph.D., Psychology Today
“The oversimplified concept of depression as ‘anger directed inwards’ was a commonly held belief over many years in psychiatry and gained a foothold in the broader culture. As will be described in much greater depth below, psychoanalytic theorists and clinicians have viewed anger as a significant source of conflict for patients prone to depression, triggering intense guilt and self-criticism. Identification of the often unconscious anger and its sources, including rejection and loss, leads to an increase in its tolerability and to diminished guilt and depression.”
- Fredric N. Busch, “Anger and depression”, Cambridge University Press