I was watching television this morning and a person was talking about anger as an emotion and if you put a “D” in front of the word “anger” it becomes the word “danger.”

It made me think about one of my previous articles I wrote about “Are You Having That Difficult Conversation?” and how when emotions supersede logic we become “emotionally hijacked” and slip into the most primitive part of our brain known as the “reptilian state” otherwise known as the “fight/flight state” where no problem solving exists.

It also made me think of my social work days where I learned that anger is a secondary emotion not a primary.  Anger is often called a secondary emotion because we tend to resort to anger in order to protect ourselves from vulnerable feelings.

A primary feeling is what is felt immediately before we feel anger. … We might first feel disrespected, hurt, offended, afraid, attacked, humiliated, embarrassed, rejected, or some other primary feeling.

Anger is our body’s way of trying to protect itself. In fact, sometimes, anger is considered a substitute emotion in that we may become angry so that we don’t have to feel the primary emotion in the situation. However, as we all know, living in anger or feeling angry about a situation can create new problems, including social and health issues to name a few.

So what do you do when you get triggered by something someone else does and you feel anger?

Most importantly is to realize that there is a good chance you have been emotional hijacked (where your emotions supersede logic) and anything you do while in this state of mind will never be the best you.  

SO DON’T REACT.  Don’t let the pressure the feeling of anger provokes make you take action when you are still in the reptilian state.

Wait until you are back into a logical/rationale mindset to RESPOND in a way that represents the best “you.”  Where you will have no regrets, you will be proud of your response, confident in your decision making, and feel powerful in that you problem solved to reach the best solution.

Part of that requires understanding the motives that drove the other person’s behavior that made you angry.  What were the vulnerabilities that triggered their behavior?    What primary feelings around being disrespected, hurt, offended, afraid, attacked, humiliated, embarrassed, rejected, might they have been feeling?

Many conflicts are dealt with by trying to problem solve against the presenting “position” at hand.  In a work context, it’s typically positions around “facts,” “methods,” “goals,” or “values.” 

Sometimes it is fruitful to start with each other’s positions to problem solve for the best outcome.  However, sometimes, the positions are so strong and emotional if feels virtually impossible to do so.

So what do you do?

You dig a little deeper.

And you focus on the “interests behind the position.”  WHY does this person feel so strongly about their position?  What is driving this position? Fueling this emotion? Many times at work (and certainly can apply to personal life as well) it is either needs or fears around:

Being able to dig deeper to uncover each other’s interest behind the positions, requires keeping your emotions in check (despite how emotional you might be).

For those of you familiar with the SBI feedback technique (situation, behavior, impact) you can leverage this along with some good open-ended questions and listening skills. Here is an example: 

Situation:  Yesterday, at the work event…

Behavior:  I overheard you speaking with John and sharing information that was not positive about me, rather than coming to me directly to share how you felt. Side note: typically you would be more specific on what the feedback was that you heard.

Impact:  I felt hurt as I thought we had a relationship where you could come to me to talk if something was bothering you versus speaking with our manager about me first.

Can you help me understand what happened? 

By allowing for two-way dialogue and listening you will uncover the person’s interest’s behind their position.  What drove their behavior? This will certainly provide you with more information than you had to then make an informed, rationale and logical decision how you want to RESPOND to the situation.

Don’t let anger control you to take actions and make decisions you will soon regret, but rather recognize the anger and don’t get emotionally hijacked – that is where the true power lies.

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