How do you stop your emotions from shifting into “fight” mode and verbal violence? I understand the principles of Making It Safe, but often, I only become aware that I am in “violence” well into the conversation—when my own emotions are already heated and boiling over. The wisest choice at that point seems to be to get out of the space and conversation where I can get my emotions under control, but, by then, the damage is usually done. While I have greatly improved over the years and am far more aware of my own bullying nature (intellectual or otherwise), I still struggle to change.
Upset & Unaware
Dear Upset & Unaware,
Oh yes, I have been there. I have been in that conversation where I said something and as the words came out of my mouth I thought, “Why am I saying this? And with this tone?” I could literally feel the expression on my face, and it was not one of curiosity or calm but rather of condemnation. So yes, I have been where you are—having raced down a path to anger, judgment, and verbal violence. Inevitably, in those moments, I think to myself, “Wait. I teach something about this. Oh, yes. It’s called Learn to Look. Learn to Look for when a conversation turns crucial because the sooner you get back into dialogue, the lower the cost.”
But sometimes learning to look seems to come too late. I don’t want to simply learn to look for the signs that a conversation is going off the rails so that I can course-correct quickly. I want to avoid going off the rails at all. So the question for me is not: “How can I recognize earlier when I have been triggered?” but, “How can I not get triggered at all?”
So that seems pretty crazy, right? Not get triggered? Ever? Impossible. In real life, stuff happens. Irritations abound. Rough edges push up against all sides of our lives. The triggers are there and will always be there. Yet the question remains, “How can I avoid being triggered?”
I have two practical ideas to offer you, but, before I get to them, I want to add a frame to the discussion and a challenge for everyone reading this.
Viktor Frankl wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” This is the idea I am fascinated by—that we need not wait until our response has begun and then somehow catch ourselves because we are responding in a way that is overly forceful, or angry, or violent. If we learn to see that space, to expand it, to live in it, then we can respond in ways of our choosing, rather than simply reacting. The question is then, what can we do to enlarge and inhabit that space more often?
There is no one right answer to this question. I have two ideas that I believe are helpful. However, just as we teach in Change Anything, no one can tell you what your Vital Behavior will be for a change you need to make. Everyone’s Vital Behaviors will be different and diverse.
A lot of people read this newsletter (over 350,000), and there will be a lot of different answers regarding how we can enlarge and inhabit the space between stimulus and response. So I challenge you to share your own answer with us in the comments below. What do you do to enlarge and inhabit this space? I am looking forward to seeing the wisdom of this particular crowd.
And, without further ado, two ideas to help.
1. Morally engage—all the time. In his new book, Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live with Themselves, psychologist Albert Bandura makes the point that we are not bad people but that we behave badly (Want to win a signed copy of this book? Read to the end to learn how to enter). And when we act in ways or treat people in ways that are counter to our moral compass, we use a variety of strategies to disengage from that morality and thereby reduce our inner conflict. Said another way, our poor actions are not a result of moral defect but of moral slumber. If we want to behave better, we need to wake ourselves up.
Here is one example of how you might do that: Write a note to yourself that awakens you to your values and then review it regularly. Write down what it means to you to be a good person or why you care about other people. Put it on a card that your carry in your wallet or a Post-It note on your computer monitor. Put it in your phone. Set an alarm to read it regularly. Wake yourself up again and again to who you are and who you want to be.
The note in my office that is directly beneath my monitor screen and that I read several times a day is, “Never let a problem to be solved be more important than a person to be loved.” This is meaningful to me because I am a problem-solver. A fast problem-solver. Far too often, when I am in problem-solving mode, people become barriers between me and the solution. But while it is true that in moments of moral disengagement, I can become so focused on a problem and solution that I forget people, it is also true that I have a deep, abiding respect for humans and humanity. I love people and I want to be the person who connects with other people. It is not about changing who I am, but simply reminding myself of who I am.
2. Eat for energy. Bet you weren’t expecting that one! I just finished reading Jim Loehr’s, The Power of Full Engagement. Among the many takeaways for me was that the energy we bring to an interaction impacts the outcome. Dr. Loehr’s goal is to help people learn to manage their energy in a way that improves interactions, impact, and outcomes.
I recently received some very valuable 360 feedback. As I analyzed and mapped this feedback, I realized that some of my interactions don’t always go so well. Turns out, the interactions where I am abrupt, short-tempered, or irritated occur between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. Really. It’s uncanny, but not surprising. I eat breakfast and lunch early and by 4:00 p.m. I’m usually running on low blood sugar. Compounding my low energy is the fact that I have usually been sitting for hours on end by this point. So when someone comes in for a crucial conversation, it is not surprising that I don’t always handle it well.
The solution is, in part, to eat in ways that provide sustained, useful energy for me throughout the day. Basically, eat often and eat light. I started having an apple or a piece of cheese or a handful of nuts about 3:00 p.m.—before I start feeling tired or irritable. And then I get up and walk around and take some deep breaths. I have noticed that when I do this consistently, my interactions are far more effective and far more kind.
So, there you have it—a frame, challenge, and two ideas. I am looking forward to seeing what other ideas are out there!
Best of luck,
Win a signed copy of Albert Bandura’s book. Share your idea in the comments below and then also email us your answer at email@example.com under the subject line: “I’d like a signed copy.” We will award books to those with the four best answers.
218 thoughts on “How to Avoid Getting Angry”
I have learned to stop waiting for the moment when I can jump in and respond. I pause at the conclusion of the speaker’s point to thoughtfully and open-mindedly consider pros and cons of responding. I have most of all learned that there are very few epiphany moments in this world, few arguments that can be made to change another’s opinion. I have learned to engage but quickly agree to disagree.
The power of the pause! Great comment, Kevin. Thanks.
I regularly use (and teach in workshops) the power of the “pause button”! Whenever someone is getting feedback… whenever someone might start to feel the surge that may be taking them into being “emotionally hijacked”… and numerous other situations and circumstances… utilizing the pause button in our brain can be a powerful and important moment that provides a brief moment of clarity (hopefully), and a chance to grab onto a piece of rationality. We spend so much of our lives (and particularly our working lives) in autopilot and going full-speed ahead, that we often don’t give ourselves a moment to stop and take a look at what’s required of me here in this particular situation that will best serve all involved. We live in a time where most of us are “button-happy” with all our devices that record, play, send, chat, and the list goes on. Fortuitous for each of us to keep our “pause button” on our personal radar screen for easy and immediate access!
What we do during “the pause” is of paramount importance… but that goes into a longer comment and conversation! 🙂
“The way I see it…” is an entrance line I use. Or “I wonder if (the person) thinks about it this way…”
How to void getting angry- I think the key thing is to make decision that am not going to be angry-whether I am really serious about the decision will determine the vigour with which I take actions to support this decision and prevent anger.
I, too, am a “problem-solver” and can find myself offering a solution before I am asked for one. This can appear dismissive or judgmental, even though I truly care about the other person’s issue. I find that when I focus on listening to the other person and not formulating my response as they are speaking, I can control my emotional response better and see that space for choice much more readily.
Oh, Peggy, this is right on for me! Thanks for the comment.
Relevant and timely – I just experienced something that triggered me and invoked an emotional response – I know better! I had to do a few things re-check my motives at the door and ask myself: what is it that I’m really wanting for me, for the relationship and for the other person. Although not easy when your values are being tromped all over and you’re on that adrenaline high so I went for a run, a long one. I re-focused and re-shifted my energy and connected with mother nature to remind me of what’s most important – that everyone is worthy of love and connection.
Love this, Cindy. I am not a runner but I am a hiker and the mountains of Utah provide space and clarity which I treasure.
I find when my anxiety is high, I tend to have less control of the gap. Removing anxiety for me is getting more sleep and giving myself time. I tend to want to use every last second to get something done before I go on to something else, then I’m stressed because I feel late or unprepared all the time. Giving myself 10 extra minutes to be somewhere or to prep myself for a meeting, releases the stress and anxiety. I’ve also started listing to “Brain Music” YouTube videos while working to help with anxiety.
Great comment. I have been using HeadSpace for quick and easy meditations that help me. Managing stress and anxiety are crucial to showing up at our best.
I like Jill Bolte Taylor’s statement in Stroke Of Insight that the shelf life of an emotion in the brain is about 90 seconds. Rather than fight the anger I sometimes let myself mindfully experience it and avoid creating the million and one stories that keep it fuelled past the 90 seconds.
Okay sometimes I need 180 seconds but that helps me do a 180 degree turn on anger and be open to what comes next. I especially like it when I see a sense of humour about myself in relationship to the anger. As Charlie Chaplin stated: “life is a tragedy in close up and a comedy in long shot.”
Preventing debilitating anger is just one “long shot” away.
I love this–your grandmother’s admonition to count to 100 is now proven valid.
I try to be actively conscious of my communication (particularly when I have recently faltered!). If I find myself starting to give a reactive response, I try to stay quiet & remind myself to do so moving forward. A few moments to pause, allows me weigh what is important and whether a response is even required. Sometimes silence says more. Or, it makes me look for a more positive spin. For example, when staff complain to me about another staff member, silence may help me formulate questions to explore the situation to evaluate the accuracy of their complaint. There may be another reason for the person’s behavior or different perspective. I will admit that this can frustrate my staff at times when they just want to vent. Then it’s a different conversation as to when/ where that is appropriate.
I have found that that space between hearing something that gets my motor going and speaking seems to grow shorter as I get older. When I know I am about to have “my button pushed” it is much easier to prepare myself and start counting before I respond. If I wait a couple of seconds before responding, the outcome is always better.
Being prepared is a term used for many situations. However, I believe it also has merit in helping us avoid letting our emotions get away from us. When I am anticipating a crucial conversation, I think about the different directions the dialogue could take and then plan for my possible response. As the conversation unfolds, I have non-emotionally charged words ready to go. Of course, not all the anticipated conversations get emotional but being prepared helps me feel more confident that the issue can be resolved in a positive manner.
I agree with the food suggestion. In addition ask yourself if you’re getting enough sleep? Many of us have a full day at work and then cram family life in, maybe staying up late to enjoy a little peace and quiet. While we can tolerate that for a few days it is not supportable long term. The doctor is not joking when he/she says at least 7 1/2 hours, and more as we grow older. Don’t and we risk dangerous fatigue and a depressed attitude.
Ditto! Sleep, food, breathing, movement. All of it comes down to understanding that our physical energy is a huge driver of our emotional and mental energy. Thanks for calling out the need for sleep!
As I mature,I find that it has become important to decide what is most important to me, what is my top priority, what “hill I am going to die on.” It helps to know in advance what battles are worth fighting, and which ones can be won a different way. I do appreciate the Crucial Skills I have learned, such as “start with heart” because using them forces me to think about my motives and what I am hoping to accomplish. Listening to my heart before I speak also increases the likelihood that I will say only enoough to support the outcome I really want…
I am president of a council where I volunteer. In that organization I think I am respected, listened to, appreciated and viewed as a positive influence. However, in the organization where I am employed, I think I am viewed as a troublemaker, not often listened to, not often appreciated and viewed negatively by management. Out of the obvious inability to change management in my employment, I decided to focus on how I react differently in the two organizations. To remind me to stay focused on that, I have a post-it note on the side of my computer screen that says “WWYDASA” with the first letters being an acronym for What Would You Do At, and the last two letters being an acronym for the organization where I am a volunteer.
I have a recurring message set in Outlook for me to read daily: “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person act this way?” The question makes me see things from my stressed out boss’s point of view. Also turning it towards myself makes me more likely to react calmly in stressful situation.
Thank you for your insights and advice. I, like you, have discovered that when I expand that space between stimulus (especially a triggering one) and my response, things go so much better.
To expand that space I do two things. 1) I take 3 deep breaths making sure my exhales are longer than my inhales. 2) I drink some water.
These seem like small steps and, yet, they have made a huge difference for me. Becoming aware of the choice that I don’t have to respond immediately and accepting the silence that occurs during my breathing and hydrating have changed many of my conversations for the better.
That’s just it, ENLARGE the space or time between the trigger and your response. This idea is not new. Ask for a break to give yourself time to think about what and how you want to respond. Or, decide just not to respond at that point in time. You might say that you need time to think about it or feel the need to discuss it at another time. I find that by the end of the day I am tired and am unable to respond like I would like to. Sleeping on it helps me to be fresh and rested so that my response is spoken in a way that is kind and respectful.
I find myself doing this many times with my husband. Many times I want to just jump in and make my point in a not too pleasant response. If I stop and give myself time to think it over, the issue becomes less of a trigger and I can think about what I want to say and then figure out the best way to approach my response so that I don’t go off half-cocked and put my husband into his flight-mode.
I actually have a copy of the Crucial Conversations Model, with an outline for each area, that I carry with me in my Daytimer/Franklin. I pull it out before I engage in a Crucial Conversation in an effort to be mindful in the moment. If I wait until I am already engaged, it is often too late.
Sometimes it takes me a little while to uncover the “trigger” that caused my anger in the first place during a conversation. If I am able to step away and take the time to recognize “what” and “why” I got angry, it helps me form an appropriate response. I realize many times it is not the person I feel angry towards, but rather a sense of unfairness or stress that was triggered with an off-hand comment. If I only address the comment, then I miss the root of why I got angry in the first place. Thanks for reminding me to keep my mind and body “fueled” with the right input so I can respond appropriately when my anger is triggered.
How do I react to being ambushed? I admit, I don’t do well in this area. I get defensive but also retreat. After I have stewed about it, I usually write down my thoughts and then communicate to those that ambushed me. If I do react right away, it usually is viewed as snippy and then I regret my response.
I have been meditating each morning for the last 13 months. The space between stimulus and response has been getting longer. I am able to stop, take a breath, observe, and proceed.
I have learned about myself that I have very quick physiological responses when becoming angry – rapid heartbeat, tightness in my head and chest. What can follow is a quick aggressive response. So I try to stop as soon as the physiological responses start, and focus on calming them and figuring out what made my response so strong. Quite often it is because there is some truth to what the other person said – it’s hitting close to home. Realizing that, and that there might be a learning opportunity for me in the moment, can help me moderate my response.
Someone once told me that Anger was a secondary emotion. So when I recognize tension in my chest, I immediately start to question “what I am defending against?” “What am I trying to protect myself from?”
I love the idea of getting up and moving as well as eating, I think i need to set an alarm to eat.
I am going to add three thoughts to this very helpful article:
1. In addition to being hungry, when a stressful event has happened, it depletes your energy level. Low energy DOES mean your ‘filters’ are compromised, and your ability to be patient, calm, kind or rationale is less. If possible, recognize that the previous event is affecting you, and back out until you regain your emotional and physical wherewithal.
2. The size of the space between stimulus and responds shrinks when I believe the other person has ill intent, or I have had a bad experience in this situation before, or if I have routinely instantly reacted to things. Thinking, instead of reacting requires practice, time, and attention. Give yourself permission to ask for a minute. Practice apologizing for your behavior, and asking for feedback when you think you have crossed a line. Reflect on the last time BEFORE the next time, and plan a better response. Hard work!
3. This may be unpopular or even untrue, but I believe that humans are mammals, and mammals of both genders are subject to cyclical hormonal changes. Many times I have said to myself in the middle of a rash outburst, ‘Why is my chest so tight and my breathing so short? Why did this thing – which didn’t bother me yesterday, and won’t bother me tomorrow, winding me up so much this second? Why do I feel so out of control at this moment when I usually am so careful with everything I say and do?’
I don’t have an answer, but a few hours later, or the next day, I have complete composure again, and I cannot point to any situational or emotional reasons. So I pick hormones as the cause; my solution is to recognized the physical signs early, find other tasks if possible until I think I am my balanced self again, or I become intentionally and unbelievably quiet and polite and apologetic to force myself into calm and controlled behavior. Sometimes even with success!
When I find myself getting angry, I stop, and then tell the other person that I need some time to think about the idea, problem, situation. I then tell them that I will get back to them in a day or two. This gives me time to cool down, and to think of a better response that is good for both of us.
The idea that getting angry is a “failure” is what I use most often to keep myself calm during conflict. If I get angry and lash out, I’m letting you know that you’ve unbalanced, disturbed or otherwise affected me, and that means I’m “losing” the argument. Like the Godfather said to Sonny, “Never let anyone outside the family know what you’re thinking.”
Regarding Moral Slumber …I help participants in my workshops to think towards success versus away from failure. The tactic works by predisposing the mind to achieving an overarching goal. This approach is based on Dr. Argyris (Harvard University) work on espoused versus practiced theories of action.
I try and count to 3 …or 5…or…this helps me to not ramp up and might even give the other person a chance to “take it back”, starting a new route through the conversation. When I am ready I try, so very hard, to tell myself “this is going to turn ugly if YOU don’t stop it”. Then I say that out loud. Deep breathe and wait. It has typically been enough to, at minimum, agree to disagree and walk away to cool down. But you have to go back to that person(s), with another approach, and try again.
Managing the gap between stimulus and response is easier to do in the electronic world than it is in person. In email and text, I will step away and delay a response when I feel anger or frustration triggered. Far better to pause and respond with emotional clarity than to ‘fire off’ an initial angry response only to regret it later.
Intentional breathing helps immensely. Ask for a moment to reflect. Sometimes we feel as leaders we are expected to have an answer or solution immediately. Interestingly a lot of people are okay with a delayed response, and why? Because it is usually more kind and reasonable.
If I anticipate a difficult interaction I try to prepare for it ahead of time. I tell myself to keep the final objective in mind and how important it is to stay in control of my emotions in order to reach a conclusion that is mutually beneficial. I plan to listen first for understanding and tell myself that I will keep a neutral expression on my face. Before I respond I will thank the person for their input and repeat what they said to make sure I have the correct understanding. This gives me time to think for a few seconds and work through any additional information. Then when I respond I am able to speak calmly. To prevent getting upset, I just tell myself that nothing bad is going to happen because of this interaction. This removes my tendency to regard disagreement as a threat and therefore removes my defensive or “fight” reaction.
I ‘make space’ – similar to the space described here between the stimulus and response, I try to always create a space for myself (and the person I am talking to). If possible, I do this literally, e.g. saying ‘let’s go grab a good coffee and talk’ – simply the walk over to fetch a cup of coffee and a change of scenery often helps. If it is not possible to literally take the person with me, i.e. when talking on the phone, I switch to a different room and state something like ‘I would like to concentrate fully on what you are saying. Can you give me a couple of minutes while I switch to a different room / somewhere more quiet / get my headset, please? That enables me to take a breath, move a little and – if needed – step away from the trigger
Hi Emily, I give myself that additional space by reminding myself constantly to “seek first to understand, before seeking to be understood.” This puts me in curious mode rather than conflict mode, so no emotional reaction is triggered because I’m just gathering more information before reaching conclusions. Whilst this information is being absorbed, I am thinking rationally and therefore already on the path to a reaction that is not only rational, but is based upon more information than I started out with. This has the added benefit of a positive impact on the other person.
By the way, my job is to manage the portfolio of product and packaging change activities in a large multinational FMCG involving 7 factories and 70 markets.
Making priorties of the basics of self-care such as nutrition, meditation, sleep, positive interactions, and physcial activity are indispensible. I also have a strategy for when I have not been at my best self; No matter how long it’s been since my outburst, I congratulate myself for noticing. The more energy I put into the positive behavior of noticing, the less I have for beating myself up. Being self-critical at this point only inceases the shame load we all carry, which ultimately makes us more brittle and more likely to take it out on someone else. By noticing and celebrating the noticing, I move “upstream” in time and go from retrospective damage control to catching things in the moment, and finally to seeing my worst self coming from far off and choosing a different path.
Reminding myself that all people want to be respected has helped me …. even though I may not “like” someone I try to show them respect even though I do not agree with their behavior.
I literally stop. Stop talking, stop doing, stop everything. Take a deep breath and then reframe my mind to respond appropriate to the situation vs. my “cave man” response. I’m also a big believer in the Holy Spirit (or the equivalent thereof depending upon one’s religion or even agnostics believe in this universal “spirit”) and ask for the peace and tranquility it brings me so I can “right my emotional ship” and respond appropriately.
For me I have to work on being happy inside. Because if I lose my own happiness than I become depended on the happenings outside. The things around me becomes more important and because of the things happening I become emotional involved and as an result lose my temper if things are not going the way they have to go according to my feeling. I know this space inside where I have the choice if I want to react or not but if I don’t sustain my own inner happiness and wellbeing I will never make it to get there on time before bursting out in anger again.
For me, I have had to learn that there will always be people that I will have some level of anxiety or animosity towards (for whatever reason) when working with them. I have learned to be very specific, limited and controlled with my conversations, so that I don’t “go over the edge.” This way I can start the conversation, lay the groundwork and go back for further discussion. I do go in knowing that it may take couple of conversations, even for small things. I also know that their point of view is valid and I accept that I will not necessarily agree with it and that I don’t have to. I also accept that sometimes we will come to a mutual understanding and that sometimes we won’t. When we don’t, I know that I have made the effort and that I need to take a different tack. I think really knowing yourself and your trigger points will be important and that the trigger points may be different for different people. Ultimately, I have accepted that conversations will go down any number of paths and that it is OK to just stop them when you need to stop them.
I love the book the 4 Agreements. One of the agreements is to always speak with (or through) your integrity. One of the other premises of the book(s because now there are 5 Agreements) is think of your life as a movie being filmed, acted and directed by you and only you. This sets up the notion – we all own our own perspectives and there are a million more out there!
Take a breath. For me, the simple act of taking a deep breath allows me space to remember that the person is most likely not trying to be irritating.
Good stuff every single time, and I particularly enjoyed this one about How to avoid getting Angry.
I’m one of those hot-blooded guys that used to go nuts about injustice and people just not caring for each other: I fought people on the streets for cutting me off, chased them, etc… THAT kind of nuts, no kidding.
Fortunately, I like reading a lot, and I also met and live with someone that fights me whenever I’m being that dumb, so I got the chance to make some sort of introspection and start working on staying away from those situations.
First, I tried doing the usual: not engaging and the blowing up at the very next trigger, not even how small or light it might be. Not good.
Then, I tried to be nice to people at that very moment, while still pointing out that they were doing something I condemned, but it usually came out as passive-agressive. Strike two.
Finally, I came to realize I just needed to get the habit of doing things the best way I could and lead by example. “I do not approve what you are doing” is not a good way to express yourself, in my opinion. I’d rather go:”I’ll act this way because I believe it’s the right way: I’ll be nice, gentle, caring and patient, and hope someone else gets the idea and follows the example.”. And that was sort of good, and it’s pretty might what you mean by Morally Engage, but the problem was I could not do it all the time, because I tend to react and then think.
So, my way was preparing: every time I know I’m not going to be alone, I go into a “take two deep breaths and then reply” mode. In other words, I buy time. I’m sure I’m not going to be a Jeopardy winner doing that, but my interactions got way better and I barely react badly nowadays.
Two good things came out of that:
– I’m more confident in myself because I trully believe I’m doing the best I could to be as good as I could possibly be;
– I’m always 100% focused on assessing my own acts in order not to leave that path.
Don’t get the wrong idea: I’m no Gandhi at all.
I know this is not a ground-breaking idea, but it felt good sharing.
Keep up the good work Emily!
Changing the world one interaction at a time. 🙂
Since I think anger is based in fear, I am working on understanding what makes me afraid in difficult conversations. Is it something from my past that this person or issue represents? Is it their perceived power over me? Am I afraid of looking stupid or wrong? Those questions help me step into the fear and regroup to have a better result. I keep this question on a posit note on my computer at work “What am I afraid of?” Really helps me get grounded when I am surprised or feeling ambushed by a confrontation.
I am currently participating in a 30 day mindfulness challenge, called Take 5. It’s through Mindwell Canada. I am learning to notice what’s coming up for me and take 5 good breaths. I am beginning to notice a difference in how I respond, (in general) and I’m only at Day 17!
I think about a person who’s respect I treasure – and think if they were to be there with me, at any given moment, would they continue to respect me. It goes along with my “Am I bringing my best self to this choice” motto that I have on my computer screen and read multiple times a day.
I can honestly say that I don’t get angry very easily. For those times that I do, I think a lot of it is connected to two things. The first is that I may be clueless at times and don’t try to over analyze things. The second goes back to stories I put in my head. I took the Crucial Conversations class at my work a few years ago and that was one significant message for me. If I stop to think about the true facts of the situation and check any stories I have, I usually realize that my stories are what is making me most angry.
I have started writing out my scripts–the things I constantly tell myself that can trigger anger, e.g. “I am the only one in my family that takes care of our elderly mother!” There is some element of truth in that but it does ignore many of the kind, wonderful things my siblings have done. As I have made this script so explicit, when I tell it to myself I suddenly say “There’s that one again!” and I cool down some.
One strategy that helps me is meditation. Though I am new to the practice, I can see it expands time and promotes patience.
Before forming an opinion I truly listen to the concern and ask clarifying questions to help the person decide what is truly bothering them. Most times they are upset at the situation and not the person.
Meditation plays a key role in my response to angry feelings today. A calligraphy of this important writing on acceptance hangs in my home office, to remind me daily of the power of acceptance in my life.
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”
Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417
Copyright 1976 A.A.W.S. Inc.
I grew up with anger everyday and have carried those memories into my behaviors in adulthood. I have to constantly remind my forgetful brain of this truth, and then to find ways to live in my life with others.
I attended a course titled “Emotional Intelligence” and one of the examples they gave was that my mind is the rider and my emotion is the elephant. I see this picture in my head during heated conversations and I know that I am the rider and guiding that big fluffy elephant. It helps me very much. Especially with my teens at home.
When I start to feel the physical change to my blood pressure, I know that it’s time to start asking myself questions and I have to do it fast in order to maintain a calm somewhat controlled response. Why is this issue so upsetting? What are the facts, what are the facts , what are the facts?? Sticking to the facts and truth, keeps me solid in how I will respond. I do my very best to respond only to the issue and not to the individual triggering my physical discomfort.
In answer to the question “how we can enlarge and inhabit the space between stimulus and response,” I can only offer that I began a gradual process of stopping my reaction with a question. The question is “what about this is threatening to me?” After a lot of soul searching I found that most of the time that I would get frustrated or angry, I was actually afraid. I might have been afraid that I couldn’t handle the possible outcomes of the decision that was about to be made. Sometimes I was afraid that I couldn’t handle the confrontation constructively or that it would go badly. Sometimes I was threatened because the other person had broached an issue about which I felt personally insecure. Perhaps I had been having a hard time keeping up with my workload when the other person pointed out a minor, but sloppy, mistake I had made; and this compounded my own bad feelings about ability to do my work well. Sometimes the other person had inadvertently wounded my pride and I found myself wondering “what if I’m really not all that great at…”. When I ask, “what about this is threatening to me” I almost always find that I am not actually angry at the other person, and I learn something valuable about myself.
When I first began asking myself about what I feared that was making me angry, it was often well after I’d already reacted. Over time, I got better at recognizing triggers and then recognizing my feelings of anger bubbling up, which has given me more time to stop the reaction and think about a better reaction. Occasionally, I’ve been so upset that I had to let the moment pass and wait a few hours to broach the issue with the other person, but that is a much calmer conversation than what we might have had.
Even on the occasions that I have a valid reason to be upset, I am better able to reflect on exactly what it is that I have the right to be upset about instead of blowing it out of proportion. I also have the opportunity to pause and ask other questions like “what other reasons would that person have to say or do something like that” and “what do I not know about the situation” and “what actual harm did this person just do?” When my husband and I wrote our wedding vows, we included a promise to not jump to conclusions and ask questions instead. This works for our marriage and for every other relationship I have. It is so much better to ask an open ended question than to immediately make an uninformed accusation.
I have Viktor Frankl’s quote on my monitor at work “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” A dear man who had great one-liners said “take a stutter-step”. I also remember “I am responsible for my second thought and my first words.” Such great ideas, I strive to implement them more each day.
“don’t sweat the small sh*t, and its all small sh*t”. In my younger years I found that when I got angry about something, I usually got really angry and would react with verbal or silent violence. I had a manager when I worked for a manufacturing company that recognized what I was doing and helped me to recognize that I was putting way too much effort into getting angry over things that I shouldn’t be and doing or saying things that I shouldn’t be. His suggestion was to look at everything as if I could handle it and recognize when I was getting upset about things so that I could deal with it more effectively. Between this mentoring and feedback, along with learning the process of effective coaching, I have learned to live in that space between and it has helped me tremendously. I still get angry, but what I do when that happens is drastically different than what it was before.
“Count to 10 before you say something you’ll regret.” This old adage came to mind when you asked about what to do between stimulus and response. Actually, for me, breathing is my leash and anchor. Taking a couple of slow, deep breaths calms me down and centers me, whether in a confrontational moment or any other stressful situation.
For me, two things have helped me try to see/inhabit this space more:
1. The look in my daughter’s eyes (now 9), even when she isn’t there. If I keep her in the back of my mind, her reaction to those “grownup world” conversations, problems, etc. really helps to remind me that there is almost always a better path, a kinder path, a more emotionally honest path than anger/hatred/frustration/lashing out.
2. Reminding myself that that I am not always right and my interpretation of others’ intentions is not always right. And that I need to see through their eyes as much as I can, because then I can try to address the root or underlying issue and not get caught up in my own biases and assumptions. I remind myself that compassion is free, that we all have a hard row to hoe, and that I am in charge of keeping perspective and my reactions.
I enlarge this space by asking myself, “Why is this person so upset? What is their story?” and reminding myself of positive interactions I have had with them prior to this event (perhaps once they expressed appreciation for me or provided a compliment or service to me). I have to remind myself that I value this relationship and my reaction can damage or re-enforce this relationship. Trying to understand where they are coming from gives me the space I need to forgive them for behavior that I find offensive. I find that if I practice this and am able to provide a calm and loving reaction that the majority of the time the person realizes that they offended me (at least that they would be offended by their behavior) and they apologize for it and we can have a productive and meaningful conversation. This has not been easy to learn. It has taken persistence on my part. I recognize that people seem to love or cling to their pain. They search for more justification for feeling victimized/wronged. Though I don’t understand this I have to be honest that I have practiced this behavior before also. I just finally reach a point that I found it exhausting to continue and fortunately found books written by insightful and studied people about internal reflection and practicing healthy interpersonal skills that have really helped me. I personally feel so much healthier and happier because of it. It is so liberating to be free of the burden of wearing my pain like a badge. I also find that my relationships over time are ever increasingly valuable to me -rare treasures.
I do this often with my son and when I feel emotionally attached to the subject. I think within personal relationships it is okay to have a “safe word” to use when the conversation is getting out of hand. In work relationships, my manager suggested when we disagree to do a pro con list for certain things. That shifts the focus and everyone can see all the ideas.
May I recommend not sitting all day? Set up a shelf for your laptop that you can stand sometimes and sit others.
Mostly I recommend having a walking meeting whenever possible, but especially if the conversation may be challenging. I walk with my students and colleagues all the time and I find they are much more candid as well as open to hearing my ideas when we walk then when we sit in an office or even in a coffeehouse.
I think I’m less likely to be angry when I’m walking — and there’s no table to pound 🙂
I’d also add: Let other people be responsible for themselves; don’t own others’ problems.
This technique works when the reason I’m getting angry is because I care about a person who’s struggling, and it starts to feel like they aren’t handling the situation well. I start to get frustrated with them and with myself for not being able to help them resolve the situation. Ironically, this makes me more impatient, irritable, and surely less helpful!
I caught myself doing this recently, and reminded myself that the outcomes were ultimately theirs, I can’t and shouldn’t try to control them, its unfair of me to get over-involved and then feel stressed about them ‘putting something on me’, and we both just want to enjoy our time together.
Recently, before I got together with a friend in a tough situation, I told myself, “It’s my job to love here, not to fix. Their outcomes are their own.” It reduced my tension a lot and made for a much better interaction for both of us.
I once heard in a training class to “give the other person an MRI.” In this case, MRI stands for Most Respectful Interpretation of what they’re saying and why. This requires an assumption on my part that there is a good and logical reason that the person said what they did. If I don’t know that reason (which is usually where the anger comes from), then I need to learn more before I react. This doesn’t mean that there actually was a good and logical reason that led to the remark from the other person, but in the space and time where I discover their reasoning, I find that my anger never arrives…well, almost never, and that’s if I remember to MRI the other person…which I’m getting better at, but not there yet…alas.
I’m a very empathetic person, so I get easily emotionally wound up if others are emotionally wound up. My best effort on how to avoid getting angry is to realize that most of the time, it’s not really about you me a person. Sometimes people’s reactions to things are more about your position, dealing with an uncomfortable topic, or even the other things going on in someone’s life than really directed at you personally. Instead of thinking, “Don’t shoot the messenger” think about why the message is upsetting to that person. Sometimes it’s not you that they are upset with, but a policy, procedure, or some other issue that could potentially be resolved. By listening to what they are saying, restating for understanding, and asking questions to ensure I understand what is going on, I can usually calm the other person and re-engage in solution oriented dialogue. Based on the “LEARN” model of customer service, it’s just as important to use these steps with our colleagues as it is with our customers.
I have this same problem. Having just read about habit forming, what timing, I am going to try this. Habit forming requirs three phases, cue, action and reward; and repeat. My cue is responding to someone. My action is to always pause before I speak. Not like 10 seconds but just a second to start with. the reward is to have a well thought response. Doing this for ALL conversations will get me into the habit without a conscious need to do it. That one second will give me the foot hold to catch myself from my feelings. It will appear that I am slow, but that is much better than saying something I will regret. Once the habit is formed, I can always extend it longer should a second not be enough. It will be easy to extend because the habit is formed.
I really like the distinction in this post between recognising when you’ve been triggered, and avoiding getting triggered in the first place.
The one thing that helps me most to avoid getting triggered is to practice mindfulness regularly (which for me means sitting for 30 minutes 2 or 3 times a week).
When I do this regularly – which is not often enough! – I am much better at noticing my own responses to thoughts, my own stuck patterns and being able to distance myself slightly from my emotions, so that I have them rather than them ‘having me’. It opens up that space that Victro Frankl wrote about.
The size of the space between stimulus and responds increases for me-
1. when I pause before I say something. It might not work sometimes as some situations and people trigger the emotions. As soon as I realize it , I calm myself and apologize if needed. Sometimes, I sleep over before I start the same conversation I left due to needed space. It is more thoughtfully said than abruptly which can elevate the wrong emotions.
2.I also, like to create gap by playing more listener’s role than talking. It gives me time to listen and make others feel important. Saves me from talking more and possibly say wrong things that I do not intend to. This one depends on given situation.
I am a huge fan of this news letter and have been reading it avidly since I did the Crucial Conversations training at my work. For me, I find a lot of the advice and skills presented have benefited my personal relationships. And I find myself using them to create better interactions mostly with my immediate family – my spouse and children, and my own parents and sibling.
I have found that the “space” between stimulus and reaction can at times seem only a fraction of a second long when a core belief or vulnerable pain is triggered, especially by a loved one, even if it is not their intention. I typically find myself several seconds, or sometimes even over an hour; late in catching my response. Then it’s “oh geeze I allowed this to get at me once again…” But I’ve been told by others to be grateful even for the identification of it, because this is progress, this is waking up and becoming aware. And it’s a step or several steps in the right direction. With that awareness can come change.
Many of the authors at Crucial Skills that write for this newsletter, though they don’t come right out and say it, their words and advice resonate and seem to be in alignment with spiritual beliefs and practices that I have picked up over a life time. Not religion, but spirituality – there’s a big difference. The goal of becoming self aware, to understand how your mind and emotions operate and how they effect your behaviors; and then working towards changing those unwanted patterns or behaviors is spiritual work in my opinion. Especially if it is aimed at becoming a more loving, accepting, and compassionate person; and especially if it is directed at improving interactions and relationships with others.
On that note, my advice to “live in that space” or “be in that space” where the decision is made – meditate. Every day if possible. Emily Hoffman discusses leaving notes and reading them several times a day. Meditation is a similar practice. It is through repetition and practice that we change our thought patterns, beliefs, and ultimately our emotions and behaviors.
Take time to yourself, sit quietly, clear your mind of the typical racket and noise going on in there by breathing deeply and feeling yourself breathing until you are aware that you are relaxed, and your mind is no longer racing, and you are no longer thinking. Then, picture the times in your mind when you have been triggered and have gotten angry. Focus on how your body felt in that moment, focus on what your body does, recall the thought patterns that arose, and truly pay attention to those repetitive thought patterns; and then observe the behaviors that resulted. You are literally watching yourself. Once you can identify it in your meditation, it becomes easier to be aware of it as it is creeping up, or as it suddenly completely engulfs you, in the hectic reality we call life. You also have to make a conscious choice in your meditation to react different, and envision yourself reacting differently in those situations where you are triggered. What is most important, you have to actually feel the emotional state that you would feel if you successfully accomplished this goal in real life. You must feel it while you are in the meditation; you are tricking your mind and body to rewire.
There are endless books and resources out there to help with this type of work. And, my last words here – it is work, hard work. And you must be persistent and stick with your goals. When we are wired to react and feel the same emotional responses over and over, in my case for close to 30 years, change does not happen over night. It requires repetition and practice, so please be good to yourself and do not let the setbacks deter you and don’t beat yourself up over them. They will occur, but change in the right direction will continue the longer you keep at it. You will find that “space” will get longer and longer with practice, and you will make better progress in using that “space” wisely the more you practice. And if you really keep at it, I swear to you; you will see miracles happen in your life.
“Also trying to rid myself of angry reactions”
Handling anger in the midst of a conversation…quite a subject. A subject that impacts each one us, for sure. Here are a few words of wisdom from the Scriptures that have helped me navigate some crucial conversations:
Proverbs 14:29 — “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly.”
Proverbs 15:1 — “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Proverbs 16:32 — “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit [self-control] than he who takes a city.”
Proverbs 25:28 — “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls.”
Proverbs 29:11 — “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.”
One other verse that’s proved helpful for me, pertaining to the subject of anger is James 1:19-20 — “…let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
These are helpful verses to live by; I find them helpful for me in my ministry and on the basketball court [as a basketball official].
My answer to the question of how to avoid getting angry during a crucial conversation is to cultivate a sincere curiosity in the other person and in his or her back story, motivations, struggles, points of view, etc. I remind myself that more information is always a good thing, and I make gathering information the number one priority in that situation.
I have found that this simple — but conscious — re-direction of my goals changes the dynamics of the interaction substantially. No longer is it necessary for me to defend myself or look for holes in the other person’s argument or position. Instead, I just want to know more.
The sincere investigation into “Where is this person coming from?” creates an exponentially larger space within which I can develop a truer and broader understanding of myself, the other person, and the situation as a whole. From that larger, richer space comes a more thoughtful and informed perspective that frames the problem — rather than the other person — as the adversary.
Together, knowing more, we can tackle the real issues. We all want resolution. Viewed through a wider lens, that fact puts us all on the same side.
It is not wrong to be upset with people who hold different views from my own. The current social move towards making everything “PI” and comfortable for others is exacerbating the ability for people to express their feelings and share conflicting views. In response, I try to digest what someone says before responding, and seek the common ground between us to start a productive conversation. Suggesting alternative solutions rather than downplaying another person’s recommendations allows everyone involved to think broadly about an issue and find a fair solution.
When realizing I’m in a situation that is causing me to focus on the problem rather than the people there are physical changes occurring in me. My heart is pounding, my brain wants to swim into other areas, and my skin gets sweaty. I redirect my brain to look at the situation from outside my personal perspective, look at the person in front of me and focus on their feelings not mine. This opens space in my being that allows peace to flood in and that peace is valuable. My attempts to stay in this space of peace is great because I know once I allow my feelings to enter that space of peace is gone.
In this world of constant busy-ness, and chaos those moments of shear peace are too far and few. Cherishing these moments are what energize me to continue to grow as a person.
I’m reminded of of one of Stephen Covey’s seven habits – “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. There have times in that “space” when I’ve remembered this and it helped. If I needed more information to understand the other person, I would respectfully, and briefly, probe for clarification, but without being judgmental or overly reactive. The mental and emotional effort to first understand the other person is, by itself, a catharsis which promotes the adoption of an attitude and response towards the individual that is consistent with one’s moral compass.
I am the primary caregiver for my husband who has an incurable neurological disease, and I can become SO angry with his behaviors when I am tired or frustrated, even though I logically know that it is a symptom of his illness, and there is nothing he can do about it. A yoga workshop I attended had a very simple and helpful idea – just breathe. You take three breaths, and the ONLY thing you think during those breaths is 1-2-3. Three really deep and counted (and intentional) breaths will help pull you right into that space, and help you detach a bit from the story you are telling yourself – and really, I think the guy is right on. 3 breaths is like a magic number. It isn’t foolproof – but it really helps.
I will cut and paste that quote. I have 28 years in recovery. I attend AA meetings though not with the same frequency when I was new to sobriety. When one is trying to get sober, the space is everything. Sometimes your life depends on it. Also, the Third Step prayer serves as a checki in, a note to have close by to help us redirect our behavior and help choose actions that are reflective of who we strive to be. Our best self. Often those who are choosing anger are doing so because they feel powerless with out it. It becomes a habit just like alcohol. We can become addicted to anger. There is a rehab house for women in Redwood City. They received a grant to have Crucial Conversation training. I am volunteering there and co-facilitating the training. I am only recently becoming acutely aware of how the principles of CC are helping these women internalize changes that are essential to living a happy sober life. Who wants to be around a dry drunk. We teach CC every Monday afternoon. There are about 12 women in the program. They have a lot of anger and when you hear their stories, it is understandable. I LOVE teaching them how to pause and find a way to articulate their opinions, fears, etc in a way that will prevent the other person from shutting down. Most of these women are wanting to redeem themselves. They want to have a conversation and have the other person consider that they are working hard and they want thr other person to know that they can be trusted. These are brutally hard conversations. Thank you for this important writing. I will share it with these struggling women.
My approach to widening the space between stimulus and response is similar to Peter’s comment #2 above. A mentor advised practicing the “5 P’s” for any task: Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. In this case, when you know the people, the situations or topics that will push your buttons and send you over the edge, you can better prepare for them and prevent the undesired responses. Much of my meeting preparation now includes emotional preparation for any potential “button pushing” based on who will be present or what will be discussed. This has also helped me better deal with those situations that arise spontaneously.
Thank you for your excellent post Emily. I don’t like getting angry or experiencing affliction. I don’t like it when my family or friends experience affliction. But I also realize that we will experience affliction and hardship.
C.S. Lewis writing in The Problem of Pain wisely observes, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Years ago in the navy I learned that smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.
I loved your quote by Viktor Frankl. I cannot always choose what I go through, but I can choose how I go through it. Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning, writes, ”Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. ” I am learning that adversity can produce character and endurance.
The words of James help me to put my anger and affliction into a proper perspective, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
1. always believe in the best of people. It is surprising how much one’s emotions can fog our views of others.
2. know that you are not the controller of other people’s lives/ thoughts/ actions. But instead, you control your own thoughts and actions. Choose your values and be proud of your words/reaction.
3. proof is in the pudding- if x behaviour is not producing a favourable outcome, then it is clear that things need to change.
In a simple test, I can see that in hypothetical situation A, where I believed the other people had ill will towards me, and that my defensiveness emotion produced barriers and violence, that the result was negative for both me and the participant to the conversation. Result made us both feel worse
In Situation B, where I believed that the other person was upset but ultimately wanted to find a better solution, and I chose to listen, understand and verbalize with empathy and logic, that the result was mutually beneficial. We both ended up with a better outcome.
Makes me question, why do something that makes my life negative and hard. So, I need to make the right behaviour easier and the wrong behaviour hard, right? In the space between stimulus and response, I try to pull only the tools I know will lead me to the type of response that makes a positive result.
I have discovered a few things which help me maintain composure and “enlarge and inhabit the space between stimulus and response.”
1) Get adequate sleep.
It is so much easier for anyone to cope with stressful situations that might set them off when they are well rested. This is much easier when you keep a sleep routine. Who doesn’t find it more difficult to react impulsively when they are crabby and tired? During busy or a stressful times, sleep has to be a priority.
2) Take necessary medications.
Of course, this only pertains to a certain segment of the population (ones in need of medication). Many people who struggle with underlying issues, just don’t want to admit that they need medication. As a result, many people are under-medicated or not receiving necessary medications. This applies to people dealing with chronic pain, psychiatric and physical issues.
3) Avoid alcohol and drugs.
Many people try and self medicate when they are upset with a situation, or they haven’t received proper medication for another underlying issue. Usually adding alcohol into the mix will not help anyone trying to enlarge the time before reaction. If anything, it will decrease your ability to resist an immediate (and sometimes totally inappropriate) reaction. Keeping a clear head helps most folks examine a situation more objectively.
4) Keep your mouth shut.
This sounds a little obvious, but sometimes just choosing not to say anything gives you time to think a situation through. Practice not saying ANYTHING until you have time to think of an appropriate response. The trick with this one is not to wait too long to address a situation, because this can lead to resentment.
There is nothing wrong with stating that perhaps you can discuss the situation at a preset time or date. This gives you time to think through an appropriate response (and use some of your Crucial Conversation skills).
I care about other people because we all have a limited, finite existence. The world will go on without us, but we won’t. Everyone is therefore his or her own world, living for their purposes, not mine (and I am not living for theirs). Therefore, treating each person as a unique deserving individual is a moral imperative, and when I’m rude or hasty or angry or impatient in dealing with other people, I violate that moral requirement and need to regret, repent, atone, and resolve to do better the next time. Doesn’t always work, and I really do need to work on NOT behaving that way rather than trying to fix it after the fact. Trying. Always, always trying…
Great Insights. So true but often forgotten in this fast speed – “get it done already” world.
The idea of eat for energy is true. I do find that being tired does effect one’s responses more than they know and because it is a lack of energy – it may not be totally in a conscience frame of mind. It is only after the fact that it is realized – when as mentioned in the article – a little too late.
Getting up and away from your desk to stretch, walk, do breathing exercises tend to help clear the mind and allow better focus – opportunities to dwell on the space between stimulus and response.
I work to maintain perspective. I read an article about how so many things that upset us are 1st world problems. Missing a flight, not getting a promotion, having a meeting last through lunch can be upsetting and throw us into bad behavior. Then I see footage of refugees leaping into icy waters or living in a horrible camp and all my “issues” melt away. I start to list all the things I’m grateful for and I can smile and move on.
I have learned there is always a physiological response that points to the emotion that is arising within me and will determine what my verbal or other response will be. When that physiological response points to danger (for me it’s sweaty palms and a knot in my stomach) I work to step back and analyze why I am responding as I am. What story am I telling myself that is driving this response, and is that story true, partially true, or false? What do I need to learn to be able to judge the accuracy of my story? And how then should I respond?
“Master My Stories”. I use this tool before and during a difficult conversation especially with a person that I know is difficult. Before I go to talk to a difficult person I tell myself a story about that person that will make me see them as more human. I try to explain the bad behavior that I know they will display during the conversation. For instance, I tell myself that the reason that this person insults me during a routine conversation is because they were emotionally abused as a child. This makes me feel pity for the person instead of getting angry and then I can stay focused on getting what I really want and understanding what he really wants. Staying focused on what he really wants and why he wants it is an important tool when a person becomes difficult during a crucial conversation. Truly understanding the “why he wants it” can also really help you keep your emotions in check.
Like Emily, I have read The Power of Full Engagement, and I found the book very helpful. Eating for energy and getting up for a bit of exercise at least every 60-90 minutes has worked well for me. Another discipline that I have developed is 20 minutes of contemplative prayer each day. For the non-praying, this is very similar to mindfulness meditation. Both lead to enhanced calmness and mindfulness! I highly recommend a mindfulness practice!
To increase the space between stimulus and response, I take a short breath and “say” my response quietly in my head, if it sounds alright, I respond. If the response will derail the conversation, I take another breath and find words more appropriate and safe.
What I found worked for me not to get triggered to be angry is to always remember being aware of my “Breathe”. As thoughts begin racing in my mind as to why this other person is being difficult, I started to replace anger with curiosity and put aside the need to be urgently getting things done. To begin seeing it from their perspective and genuinely listen for common grounds to move forward.
Long before I became a recipient of the VitalSmarts publication, I read a wonderful book “The Dance of Anger” by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. I was in a relationship with someone who was very controlling and I was angry and ineffective to create change all of the time. In the past, I would react by responding with whatever came to mind just to get a word in edgewise. I have learned that by listening and restating my understanding of the conflict, it gives me pause to gather my thoughts and keep my cool. The best lesson that I took from Dr. Lerner was practicing responding in a manner different from what my adversary expected. It has been rewarding to realize that her theory of changing the dance by inserting a new step can change the choreography.
This may sound very simple, but it is hard for some us to do…
Be quiet and LISTEN before re-acting or saying anything that might make emotions start to rise.
There have been moments when I am asked if I have anything to say. (Generally, because I am too quiet for some.) I have learned to say something like…”not right now, I just want to listen first”. There are a great many people that do respect that, and they tend to listen more carefully to what you have to say..when you decide to say it.
I have never responded to a blog before, so this is new to me. Thank you for the opportunity.
(and use some of your Crucial Conversation skills).
Before I react to an e-mail with strong words I try to count to 10, re-read the e-mail then wait, if I can, an hour or a period of calming down, before I decide to respond. I try to think about this with every e-mail so I don’t just react and send an answer that is interpreted wrong.
I too am on an intentional journey of controlling – no, eliminating – intense (angry, threatening) verbal engagement when I am triggered. This is a years-long journey and I’m glad to say that my successes in recent years exceed my failures.
Very Helpful tool: Imagine what else the story could be. Sounds simple – but it requires some effort – and it really works! When someone’s words or behavior triggers me, l find that if I immediately begin an analytical exercise – pondering for a second or two about this person…where are they coming from, what they are afraid of, what are their assumptions, life experiences and scripts… the process of analytical thought forces me back into my reasoning mind and away from my triggered state/reptilian mind.
People become triggered when there is a real, imagined or anticipated threat – such as safety, control or positive regard. That feeling drives us into our ‘fight or flight’ reptilian mind which is a reactive space to be in. Any mental exercise using the Neocortex is a rapid way to move us out of a triggered mind. Thus, the exercise of imagining what makes the other person feel, act, speak in the way they do usually works very well. I find that the next words out of my mouth are less threatening, angry and often are Socratic clarifying questions, reasonable in tone.
I sounds like great advice. Let’s see if I can practice it.
I repeat my primary affirmation: “I am kind and compassionate.” That reminds me of whom I aspire to be, all the time. When I fail, I recognize my slip — usually out loud — and remind myself that “I am kind and compassionate.” That affirmation is especially helpful in molding my conversations at work, where Dilbert-esque humor is rampant, but the opportunity to say something “funny” often occurs at someone else’s expense.
I am a high energy person who tends to think, speak and act fast. Personally, I see a tremendous value of slowing down my pace by asking clarifying questions. It gives me time to reflect on what I think and want to say as well as to connect with another party in a genuine empathetic way.
A daily meditation practice, focused on recognizing the spaces in between the breaths helps me to recognize places to pause that are pregnant with possibilities.
“When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me; speaking words of wisdom, let it be”
In reading other posts about this space and gap between stimulus and response, I am reminded about the wise words from London’s underground transportation system, “Mind the Gap”. When we mind that gap, we have the opportunity to pause and choose between responding (respect, civility, understanding driven) and reacting (emotionally driven). Allowing some time (and sometimes distance) to calm a confrontation helps me to exercise my philosophy of, “Look for the good in others or I do the good”.
I am Type A and I have historically responded very strongly and out of proportion to situations. Now before reacting I ask myself if anyone will die because of the situation/conversation. If the answer is “no”, then it’s not worth getting emotionally charged about and I can remain focused, calm and engaged without being reactive or provocative.
To increase and fully use the space between stimulus and response, I take it outside – mentally, not physically. I try to view the situation in the third person and ask myself: if I were observing the interaction, how would I see it playing out in the best possible way? If I’m still stuck, I imagine my mother or one of my children watching me and hanging on my next words. What would I want them to see me say or do? This ALWAYS works for me, in part because I know that any one of them would call me on my behaviour. It’s also been helpful to learn, through experience, that time passes much more quickly in real life than it does in your mind – you can take that pause to really consider your next words, actions, or expression, and the extra time won’t be as noticeable as you think it will.
While there are many different breathing tecniques (e.g. deep breathing, combat breathing, etc.) aimed at slowing one’s response to strong emotions, I have found that the best technique or method to inhabit the space between impulse and action lies in the ancient technique of single-pointed meditation. Although it is not practical or wise to meditate in a heated situation, the discipline of this daily practice has helped me be less reactive and more objective during times of high or intense emotion. It has taken the ‘edge’ off of the intense emotions and freed up enough energy to be used, instead, as cognition and ultimately a choice of how to respond differently.
To help myself communicate unemotionally I have tried to focus on making a quality argument, focused on facts with a clear intention, and then leaving a conversational space for the recipient to draw a conclusion. The more I do the thinking before speaking the less likely I am to go to the emotional response. This can happen quickly, “What is the right outcome of this interaction? Why? What’s the gap I would like this person or group to fill to achieve this outcome? What information do they need to reach the conclusion that supports this outcome?”
The timing on this article could not be more appropriate for me. When stress levels are higher than usual, or when I am feeling raw, I find myself more defensive and quicker to anger. For me, after the fact it’s can be obvious why I feel that way but in the moment, it’s all emotion. I have been trying to “train” myself to react in a way that if someone (who didn’t know me) was watching, they would think “She is so good at being flexible in a crisis.” or “She is always willing to talk it out and work towards a compromise.” It might not be true every time now, but I would love that reputation in the future. Which is motivating to me.
I have to say that enlarging this space is easier for me at work in my role as a boss than it is at home in my role as wife and mother. At work, when I feel attacked, I have a very quick conversation with myself. It goes something like this (in the micro seconds of a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth): “Holy, cow! What just happened…She just said ??What?? to me? I am the leader here. How can I set the example of how I want this person to respond to my next response? What final outcome am I looking to accomplish? Ok, brain/mouth, here we go…”
Again, I am not so good at this at home where I have a true emotional connection to others. With them, I think I am more readily hurt and maybe even have to prove more of what my role is there; hence, why I stopped to read this article. I have realized that my role as a boss is far less important than my role as a wife and mother. I have the ability to make a much greater impact on my husband and kids than I do on people that I work with. So the next mission is to develop the conversation in my head that responds to those I love. Deep breath in through the nose. Deep breath out. “…”
A sit to stand computer has helped me immensely with how I think. Staying engaged and mobile are critical to me but computers have become so much of a focus for everything that I needed to incorporate that into my basic needs and coping strategies.
Knowing yourself and how you respond to stress matters immensely. I do yoga to clear the stress hormones and then during a situation when the stimulus is there and I need to not react right away is my time for staying focused on what matters.I use the time in between to rephrase what was just said so that I can parrot it back in a different way- “I understood you to say—Am I on the correct page with you? That makes me spend more time on communication and less on reaction.
BUT if I am over tired and stressed it is much harder to do so hence the Yoga, sit to stand computer, better food intake, less caffeine, more exercise- it all matters and all contributes to the state of wellness that is critical to everything we do! The goal is on going and never completely met but it is worth it!
One way I am seeking to train myself from going to “violence” in conversations is to practice my responses in the “stories” I tell myself. I often imagine conversations that turn negative and find myself getting heated or thinking up unhelpful responses. As I practice awareness in my “stories” and imagined conversations I am training myself to be alert to my emotions at an early stage so that I can “step back,” think about what I want and respond appropriately.
I tend to be a problem-solver as well and can get angry when I feel someone is “in the way.” One thing that helps me is to remember that God loves this person and made them the way they are. In fact, their “obstruction” may be saving me from myself and avoiding a catastrophe. That reminder usually gives me pause to re-evaluate and probe a little deeper without taking offense.
I meditate. I suppose any meditation technique will do, but the one I use is Ascension meditation, which works WITH the mind to focus on emotions such as praise, gratitude and love. As a result of this practice, I am calmer and I am increasingly able choose to respond with kindness no matter what others are doing or saying.
I realize that I am approaching this from a religious/spiritual standpoint and as such, this may not beg posted on the blog, that said, sometimes in the midst of my anger or frustration I will silently call upon God for grace to communicate in a way that is safe for others and that will produce the best outcome for everyone. In the throws of frustration, even this can be difficult. Sometimes it is a failure. Other times, it is a success. Even if it only works half the time, it is more success than I would have without it. The catch is remembering to do it! 🙂 I’ve decided that it’s worth it if it keeps the other person’s ego intact, the relationship intact, and helps produce a positive result.
I ask to remain neutral and a bit detached. I asked to keep sight of the person as a fellow human.
Start with a good base
I start each day with 30 mins of practice on my trumpet, before anyone else arrives. I am terrible at trumpet and it reminds me that we all are working to improve. It creates a base for interaction with people all day long.
Something that helps me enlarge the space between stimulus and response it to stay curious. Curiosity helps me to not to jump to judgment but helps me keep it safe for everyone. Curiosity helps me to seek to understand the other person. Curiosity keeps me open to a new perspective.
I have been down the same path and I find its down to 2 issues largely.
1. Certain People: I seem to get irritated and annoyed with certain people and sometimes it is more due to personal biases that actual topic of conversation. If I find myself in that situation, I try to separate the situation and objectively asses. Obviously easier said than done.
2. Defensive about my work: The other area is where my work comes under question implicitly or explicitly. This is where one would try and look at it from other person’s point of view and rethink what is the goal of the project or what is right for the customer.
Again it is easy to say these, but feel like I have to practice everyday. Also it is not like algebra in terms that once you have learned it you can pretty much solve equations. Behavioral changes need constant reinforcing even if you have practicing the change for months. Thats my 2 cents.
I’m a voracious reader of novels. And what does that have to do with this conversation?
Recent studies suggest that reading literary novels (often described as narratives that focus on in-depth portrayals of subjects’ inner feelings and thoughts) can improve the Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind is the human capacity to comprehend that other people hold beliefs and desires and that these may differ from one’s own beliefs and desires. (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-sapolsky-theory-of-mind-20131229-story.html)
Reading is a safe place to practice understanding another point of view. I think it also improves our ability to stay focused and slow down. Our immediate, sound-bite, get-it-done faster world doesn’t help us find the space in between. And a good book brings pleasure.
I also like practicing looking at other people with the joy and wonder of a 5-year old at a natural history museum. Wow, why do they do that? Maybe it helps take some of the “me” out of the equation. Plus it’s fun.
PS. Thanks for everyone’s time in sharing. It reminds me to be more intentional.
My husband taught me a saying that I use in moments when I feel myself falling into anger, “It’s only stuff and money”. What it means is that no matter what we’re dealing with, nothing is more important than the person. I can let go of the stuff – physical or emotional – in order to preserve the relationship. Starting from the place that the person is the most important part of this situation helps me remove anger from the discussion. From there I can use the Crucial Conversation tools to have a more meaningful conversation.
The best way I’ve found to enlarge and live in this space is by responding with a probing but non-confrontational question. Simply asking someone why they hold their opinion or where their information came from requires them to do the thinking and speaking and at the same time prevents me from saying something, at least for the moment, that I might later regret. I always get a better understanding of the other person’s motives and, occasionally one of us even abandons our initial position.
Often when I’m getting triggered, I feel myself being triggered by my emotional self and my ego is too involved. I know I manage it better when I shift my thinking from my point-of-view to the other party’s point-of-view. To give myself space, I mentally validate my feelings which provide my ego self-assurance in the moment. This way the selfishness can pass, and I can then quickly shift to the other party’s point-of-view in a grounded stance that is no longer emotional. To solidify this grounded stance, I will either voice the other party’s point-of-view or speak from the newly framed space.
For example, I was recently in a situation where the other party clearly was not aware of the work I put into a proposal. Instead of reacting from my emotional ego by being insulted or concerned about their lack of preparation, I reframed the situation by stating how their points were right in line with the proposal. In order to do that well and not react, I mentally stroked my ego – thinking I knew I did the work well and this was not the issue. I then told myself not to assume anything and consider their point-of-view. This “space” provided me the opportunity to see how the other party just needed time to get up-to-speed regardless if they insulted my ego or not.
To create a larger, more helpful space for a response, I’ve found that reminding myself of the other person’s humanity centers me. This can be anything, including 1) thinking about something I like or admire about the person, 2) recalling a talent or interest that we share, or 3) in the event that I don’t know this person, a simple acknowledgement that this is another human being with family, friends, and thoughts.
To be clear, it takes a LOT of practice.
Years ago I place a bright pink post it note on my desk lamp. When I raised my eyes to see a person enter the room I would have to look at it. I had been told my staff didn’t feel like they could come in my office because I looked mad. This came as a big surprise to me as I had always welcomed their presence but I did realize that if I were working on a problem or concentrating hard on something when they came in my facial expressions didn’t always appear welcoming. I no longer require the pink post it but I have positioned my chair so that I have to turn around when someone comes in and it gives me that time to change my focus and smile when they come in.
Well, the snarky idea is “don’t watch the Presidential debates.” Seriously, though, the idea that I turn to comes from David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” speech: While our default setting as human beings is to be self-centered, we can choose to adjust those default settings. “It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”
Yoga, Diet, and Affirmations. One: I started a regular hot yoga practice to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. To be able to observe, let thoughts pass, strengthen that (bigger now!) muscle call the frontal cortex that is markedly larger in monks since you can actually get better at creating this “space” if you practice! So yoga is one way that I create space between when something happens, and when I react to it. Meditation has the same affect. Two: Diet. I started a “whole food diet” at the end of July because I’ve suffered “chronic fatigue” and malaise since my daughter was born 4 years ago. Turns out I was on the roller coaster of sugar and carbs. I’ve noticed, like you, a distinct difference in my energy levels (even) and even better…my mood. I am just happier. I feel better. My mind is clear. Not so dang irritable. I eat six meals a day. And oh yes…no more “chronic fatigue” (otherwise known to me as sugar addiction). Three: Affirmations. Sounds hokey but I believe your thoughts create your reality. What really is the loop playing in your head? I find that when I use affirmations regularly, I have something to measure my actions up against. For example…am I really refraining from complaining if I say that? So these are my tools. Overall…I look at them as whole body/mind/soul wellness. I think this is a lifestyle. Thanks for a great article!
I totally agree with the low blood sugar and sitting! I eat frequently throughout the day and have healthy snacks and portions readily available. I also have a standing desk which helps with activity.
I try to remember that anger is often an indication of an underlying fear. I make an effort to look at and feel the anger, label it for what it is initially in that space. This tends to lessen it’s power and I feel more openness and peace. Then I move forward knowing that the anger has indicated an injury in myself that I can look at and address.
My go to feeling is to disconnect, so I have 3 mantra’s in difficult situations: “Stay present”, “Do I want to be right or do I want to get along” and “Am I contaminating or contributing to this conversation”. Focusing on the energy you bring to a room/phone/conversations is important and requires some feedback from others to ensure you’re presenting yourself in your intended manner.
There are two things that typically get me into hot water and lead to angry conversations. One is that I try to figure out where someone is going with an argument before they get there and cut them off at the pass. People don’t like that. As a school administrator, the second is when someone attacks or insults one of my teachers. I get defensive and that never moves a conversation along. Two prior leaders have influenced the conversation that I have in my mind when this begins to happen.
1) The first leader had a rule whenever we were collaborating to “Presume Positive Intentions.” I don’t know who invented these, but it is part of the “Seven Norms of Collaboration.” We all considered that everyone in the room means well and that supposition shapes the conversation and disagreements differently.
2) The second leader taught us to ask ourselves, “Why would such a great person say something like that? (or think something or do something or feel something)” This got us to thinking about the other person’s story in relation to our own. It also reinforced that we are both good people with the same goal in mind. And most of all, it got me to ask the questions that would lead to common understanding instead of just defending my own stance without understanding theirs.
So for me, presuming positive intentions and asking myself why such a great person would feel this way help me reframe my mindset and redirect the conversation in a more productive way.
I pray and envision that that Jesus in sitting with me or standing by my side. I ask for his will to be done… with my response.
I am remembering my desires to act with proper morality by wearing a special ring on my right pinkie. It reminds me who I am and how I really want speak, act, and take care for others.
For me, staying morally engaged is all about slowing down. I am a fast thinker, talker, mover. When I allow myself even a few seconds in between my trigger and my response, I am able to take a breath and slow down. That gives me time to think about how I phrase my response. What do I really want to convey here? Is it my feelings (which may be volatile or hurt which doesn’t help me to get my point across!) or my thoughts and ideas? Over time I have noticed that when I can wait even a few seconds to respond to an emotional topic, my answer is usually one that I can feel good about, rather than one I will want to apologize for afterward.
Breathe. And lower my shoulders, which tend to rise when I am feeling pushed, hurried or frustrated. By focusing on the physical act of lowering my shoulders and keeping a neutral expression, I can better manage feelings of frustration or impatience.
I think this is great advice, and I’ve found the same things helpful in the moment. But when I’m mad and in the moment, I find that taking a deep breath, and acknowledging what I’m feeling and why I’m feeling it, can help diffuse a lot of the tension. When I have the moment of “oh-no, this isn’t going the way I would be proud to share with my boss”, I take a deep breath (wait about 5 seconds or say, “I need a minute”) and say something along the lines of “Ok, we’re not going in a positive direction. I understand that you are as passionate as I am, but I want to apologize for handling our interaction unprofessionally. I want to understand where your coming from respectfully, but my actions aren’t supporting that. I’m sorry. You were saying that…. I can understand your perspective. I was looking at it this way….”
I’ve used this, and honestly, it was nerve-wracking! It’s SO HARD to do this, particularly when there seems to be a dominance game being played, but what this does, is say- “I don’t want to play- I want us both to win, and get the best product for the company”. And it WORKED! It was awesome. Thanks for this blog post! It is so incredibly applicable to everyday worklife!
Some of the same work for me – started meditating again and yoga classes. Both have helped slow down my responses.
Another trick to slow responses (particularly useful in meetings) is a set of worry beads. Mine have 11 beads in a section. When someone says something that pushes a button, I pause, in my head I quickly repeat the mantra, “Let me be filled with loving kindness” while stepping through the 11 beads, then respond. I always have the beads on my lap or out of sight. Recently this had an unexpected effect. The person sitting next to me saw me pull my beads out and warned the group – “Dave’s got his beads out – who pushed his button?” Everyone laughed (including the button pusher) who surprisingly admitted it was probably him and he would like to revisit his thoughts with the help of the group. The humor made it safe to talk through our differences and come up with a great compromise.
I learned to exploit the .25 second gap between stimulus and response by doing shivasana and meditating. Those practices grew my awareness of changes in my body when it is heading to a triggered response–before it gets to my brain and out my mouth. If I’m rested, de-stressed by exercise, and have eaten properly, I’m pretty reliable not to respond violently. If I haven’t been faithful to the 3 foundations of well being, all bets are off.
Creating Space between stimulus and response is a goal that I yearn to achieve. My path to getting there is mindfulness training. Both training myself and sharing what I have learned with others. I co-teach classes on health coaching and mindfulness. There are many books that are great to read and helpful. But, what I find most helpful, is the pause, and deep breath, and practicing the loving-kindness meditations.
Meditation practice is a process of teaching one’s brain to be non-reactive. By sitting with oneself, all sorts of thoughts and feelings arise. Just seeing them arise, noting them, and letting them pass, one trains the mind to remain calm. Over time this practice carries over into everyday life and enables one to stay calm, or at least less-reactive, in stressful moments.
Whatever else one might say about dealing with verbal violence, whatever mantras or diets or energy practices might be useful, stabilizing the mind is the only way (that I know of) to reliably defuse reactive anger. These other aspects are very good in their own right, and coupled with a habitual mindfulness, they have far more power.
Peter Drucker insists leaders know how to ask questions…the right questions. The one I like to ask when I sense anger brewing is this: “Is there another aspect of this situation I am not considering?” I not only ask it of myself, I often ask it of the other person as well. Questions can be more important than answers and with this question, both parties are assured of a willingness to get at the root cause of the potential problem.
For me the answer is to remember why we are in conversation to begin with. If I can slow down and remember my intention (Do good work, love of my wife, etc. It helps me disarm the trigger.
After reflecting on the topic (how to avoid getting angry), one of the things I realized is how difficult it is for me to think clearly when I am angry. I liked the ideas given in the newsletter to help “enlarge and inhabit that space” between stimulus and response. However, I have some deeply-rooted triggers. So I decided to make a list of all the things that I could think of that make angry in my interactions with others (in particular conversation/communication). That in turn led me to see that I feel threatened by certain (perceived) attitudes, words, and energy. I decided to reassure myself through the power of prayer and the remembrance that God has power over ALL things, and that the threats I perceive are primarily in my mind. That also led me to realize that when I am in an interaction with someone and they act in a way that I feel threatened by, more than likely they are responding from their own perception of being threatened. I then reviewed an incident that occurred between me and my teenage son in which I internalized his complaint about something, I felt triggered by his perceived ingratitude. So I decided to recreate the scenario in my mind, and this time I asked him why he felt that way. I think for me, going forward that questioning the behavior, tone, spirit with an awareness of my triggers might help me to avoid getting angry.
I have worked hard to recognize that time and use it wisely, I find the skill that has helped the most is listening, not only to what someone is saying but the meaning beyond, the tone, the body language, gathering as much information as possible – that time allows me to stop and say, for example. ‘you seem very passionate/upset/in need of clarity and I can see it is bothering you, lets take time to explore that so I can understand why – that will make it easier for me to respond/assist/form an opinion’ I try visually to look the part, taking a breath, slowing down the moment for everyone, appearing concerned so it can be seen, etc. I have found over time that people allow me to have that time and what I do works to calm the situation and allow more freedom of exchange, etc. This is in fact what everyone is wanting. It works particularly well if I am in disagreement with the other party and want them in a safe place so that my side of the picture is better received. Instead of ‘arguing’ we are working together to resolve a common problem or meet a common goal.
Despite the fact that I cannot justify ill behavior in my relationships due to my own lack of maturity and patience I have behaved disrespectfully more times than I’d like to recount.
I’m learning that for me humor is my best ally. When I start to feel or notice in others that first flush of anger I play the song (inside my mind) R.E.M.’s It’s the End of the World As We Know It. Then I picture something ludicrous. For example, my sister and her husband were in a heated argument making dinner. She was straining a pot of spaghetti and instead of pouring it back into the pot she dumped it on the kitchen floor and started jumping up and down in it. The two of them could not stop laughing. From that point forward anytime one would start to get upset the other would say what are you going to do, dump a pot of spaghetti in the floor?
It changes everything for me to picture something silly like this to reset my emotions. Then I can take a deep breath and focus on helping the other person defuse themselves as well to get us both in a place to resolve the issue.
Life is much more fun when I keep my priorities in perspective. Behaving in a way that builds self-respect for me and others, as well as my relationships in general are at the top of my priorities.
I use a biblical concept the apostle Paul shared with the Corinthians in 2nd Cor. 10:5. That is to “take every thought captive to be obedient to Christ”. Paul realized that the battle was for our mind and that if we hold our thoughts captive to the lens of truth then our reactions will follow truth and not a lie or deception or “vain imagination” (v4) that we create.
Recently, I almost lost someone I love dearly before having the opportunity to say some things that I wanted to say. It helped me to recognize how important relationships are in the grand scheme of things. When I prioritize good relationships, not only does my communication improve, but I find fun in even the mundane.
I PAUSE Practice Awareness Until the Spirit Emerges. The right answer is always inside if I just pause.
Transcendental meditation, where I am often able to find that ultimate space between a mantra and thought, is a practice that comes to mind. I find it to be a great tool to balance my life and find it a useful tool to reflect upon when I need to find that space between stimulus and response. Believe me it has saved me many times!
Much like you said in your article and realizing that some of your interactions don’t go so well when your blood sugar is low… I think that we all might consider looking at what is our “chocolate cake”. These are the things that trigger us that we aren’t aware of until we take the time to reflect on our day and begin to notice patterns where we aren’t at our best. Was it food, not enough sleep, a phrase someone used, too much caffeine, too little caffeine, dis-organization… the list goes on and on. We only know what they are if we take some time to reflect on WWW and CBB…what’s Working Well and what Could Be Better.
A lot of people tell me that they are amazed at how rarely I get angry. It’s partly due to temperament (what I was born with) but I notice that there are things I think about that tend to diffuse or prevent anger in many situations:
1) Humility: it helps me to remember that I have been wrong many times and that getting angry at someone for a perceived “wrong” could be . .. well . .. wrong. Walking around with a certain degree of humility keeps me in the “space” between experiencing and reacting.
2) Detachment: often anger comes as a result of feeling personally wronged, attacked, criticized, or disrespected. I remind myself that often the situation at hand does not necessarily imply anything about me personally. Even if the other person intends to personally attack me it is my willingness to internalize the attack that leads to anger.
3) There is more than one “right” way: although I have my own perspective on a situation, I have to remember that the other person does too. The Presidential race is a perfect example of this phenomenon. You can take the words of Hillary supporters and in many cases hear the same words coming out of the mouths of Trump supporters.
4) Mind the Gap: often anger arises in the absence of information. Once I take the time to understand the other person’s perspective, I realize that I was making inaccurate assumptions.
If I haven’t already launched in the wrong direction (which is a stuggle for me) I take a breath or two or ten, and try to think about how the other person must feel. What is their experience level? Are they new or a seasoned employee or manager? Do we have an established relationship or am I a complete stranger? What is going on in their personal life that might be affecting them? Then, I try to take a quick read on myself. If I know I am exhausted and already very stressed, I know I need to take extra steps and actions to be more patient and take my time or the conversation will go badly. Putting myself in their shoes forces me outside myself and helps me get more centered. I have a much better chance of being successful and building a relationship versus tearing it down.
I’m also a problem-solver. After years of trying to always maintain “professional distance” I have learned that loving people has helped me be more professional and has led to better problem solving! Loving people (not in the inappropriate romantic sense) involves opening up and some risk in being vulnerable in order to be authentic. People respond well to someone who is authentic.
How do you give feedback?
John Gottman in his book “The Relationship Cure” talks about how most of your interactions (80%) should be positive and that any feedback should be threaded in an otherwise positive, loving, and appreciative stream of day-to-day communication. Often times we think that we should give others feedback in the form of personal criticisms or attacks. Not only is this practice harmful. It doesn’t work. Instead learn to give feedback regarding the actions of others and enjoy your common human experience.
Susan Wood describes the approach dramatically in the last stanza of her poem Eggs. In the poem she described how much it pained her that her father used to make her eat her eggs before going to school each morning even though she disliked them. She then questions his approach in the last stanza saying:
“But that doesn’t say
enough about . . . why
we faced each other across the table,
my father and I, and fought
our battles over eggs and never fought
with them, never once picked up
those perfect ovals and sent them singing
back and forth across the room, the spell
broken like shells, until we were
covered with them, our faces golden
and laughing, both of us beautiful and flawed.”
You want to have golden laughing faces and to accept those you love as they are.
I use Dr Laura Markham’s idea from Aha Parenting
‘stop, drop and breathe’. This first takes noticing my own state (irritation, anger, fear, etc.), stopping, dropping whatever I am doing (e.g. mid-sentence, my actions or my task) and breathing deeply while focussing more on the out breathe.
This helps to create the pause between the situation (stimulus) and my heated reaction. Sometimes even just one breath can make a difference and help me choose how to respond. I also try to remind myself that ‘this is not an emergency, no one is dying’. This can help me gain perspective on the situation and not need to go into fight mode.
Great discussion! Really enjoying reading others’ answers. Here are 3 more potential options:
Managing Stress & Illness – Illness – There are days when after having been sick I know I’m well enough to go back to work, but also can tell my fuse is short; I will often opt to work from home on those days, if possible, and limit the types of phone calls I make putting off higher-stress calls until I am in a more flexible state.
Stress – Likewise I have been learning some additional tips to help me manage stress; in addition to the usuals like diet, exercise and sleep, when my stress levels are elevated I avoid watching high-tension shows or reading high-tension books.
It amazes me to realize that while my mind is easily able to discern fact from fiction, my emotions are not.
Even watching out-of-this-world science fiction can evoke a fight or flight response in me that doesn’t immediately go away when the show is over or the book is finished. The heightened emotions linger and I find my emotional flexibility has been sapped.
Pre-Forgive – A friend recently shared his approach to dealing with daily frustration and anger; in the morning he has a quiet time in which he pre-forgives whomever will cross him that day. He knows someone will cut him off in traffic, or do something that doesn’t seem to fit with a reasonable, rational, decent person at work. When it happens, he is able to pause before responding when he remembers that he already “forgave their trespasses” that morning. I’m trying this one, haven’t gotten there yet.
Thank you to everyone who shared, and to Vital Smarts for bringing us more tools to improve ourselves!
When faced with Frames in any conversation, I fill the space. I fill it with contemplative consideration about myself and what might be perceived when regarding the externally recognized simulation of my internally mediated emotional responses.
I intend to justify what is perceived from my multidisciplinary background including Stanislavsky and Laban training in acting and movement, respectively. For example, if I know I need to show considerable control in a conversation, I make a quick personal body-scan to find how my physicality could be perceived from my hair down to my toes. Moreover, if I know my posture or my arm movement is displaying a message whereby interpretation of the message could lead to unjust conflict, I work to correct these devices to best fit the intent of the conversation.
To “enlarge my space”when I witness forceful, angry, or violent behavior, I try to notice what the person “looks like”, most often I conclude that they look foolish, out of control, and ineffectual. I suddenly realize what I will look like if I respond in kind. This usually does the trick for me!
Regarding maintaining a moral compass when feeling moral slumber coming on:
I visualize the person I’m engaged in conversation with, or group of people I may be addressing, as a member of a family. They were once a baby, loved, cradled and nurtured by their mother; they were someone’s sibling, or best friend growing up, someone on their sandlot baseball team; they may be someone’s parent; they may have an aging family member in their care,…. When I consider turning the moral compass to an easier solution, or a vindictive response, I bring to perspective that we are all from a family, somehow, somewhere.
This perspective came about in the ‘70’s, when we would travel on a freeway to a vacation destination as a family. Large semi’s would speed past, or cut us off, often scaring the daylights out of us children, and provoking some muttering just short of an expletive from my father, who often would be the driver. Driving regulations were quite different then, as were safety requirements of long-haul truckers.
So after years of this, yet still as a young child, I would add my ill wishes to the truck driver, essentially wishing a catastrophic accident on them. My mother was the one who stopped all of this, saying, “that man is someone’s father, brother, son. What if he didn’t come home to his family tonight? How would they feel to never see him again?” This thought stopped the ill wishes completely.
This is what pushes me back on track, to this day.
Another technique for disengaging in a conversation that will compromise my moral compass is to take a brief pause and evaluate if any more words need to be added. Silence is golden, especially if the point was stated initially. Use the empty space to disengage from an escalating and fruitless conversation, use it to emphasize a point, and hold strong if pushed to continue engaging.
An example: I was discussing photograph printing and new innovations with a colleague. I had just that very day been told by my photo lab that they had recently introduced metallic prints. My colleague confidently stated this media had been around for years. I replied, stating what my photo lab had just informed me, thinking they were on top of current products. My colleague did not reply; end of conversation.
While both statements may have had truth in varying dimensions, there was no elevated discussion on the time line of the innovation of the product, nor was that the point. We each made a point, neither was correct or incorrect, but I learned an important tool in discussion: that one point does not necessarily require any follow up statement. End it. No one wins anything by having the last word.
My colleague made a powerful statement by not saying anything at all, and there was no animosity.
For me, anger is a very physical thing… My stomach flips, my expression changes (you will always see my feelings in my eyes as they are very much the windows to my soul), I hold my breath and I am sure I change colour…
So, to counter this, I literally have to look away from the person at which my anger is directed in order to change both my breathing, the visual image I hold of them and to “level out” the flip of my stomach – I look away, shut my eyes for just a second, close my mouth breathe in deeply through my nose (so that I can feel my diaphragm expand) and lift the corners of my mouth into a smile. I find that the physical change in my expression, together with the oxygen, gears my brain right down. This allows me to slow my thoughts and concentrate on the issue and not on my reaction to it. I also find that this changes my whole body language.
People are so wonderfully different and so very much the same. In the moment I look away from them I try and remember both that they are entitled to be different and that they will experience similar anxieties and fears as my friends, family members or husband – this makes it easier to be kind to them.
As a teacher, I always had a note by my desk that said, “How are (my son’s) teachers treating him today?” It was my “pause” to always remember that the child I was speaking to was someone’s heart and soul. It nearly always gave me the space to take a breath and start over.
If Jesus were a regular today professor and people took his word like we do so many scholars today, he would say I have a book of how life will go and hear are the simple thing you should know and use for different things that will come up in your life. I stress the word simple because we over complicate things in are life. We make the problem much bigger then the solution. So I fill my void or space with Ephesians 4:2 Always be humble and gentle. Be Patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Understand Jesus knew we would have this problem and a host of other things going on and in the word it says he died for us and the sins we had committed. so story short what he pours into us he wants use to pour into other people.
And at one time I used to be an angry person and never smiled.
While it is easy to say ” I take a deep breath and ponder my response”, when you are not in that moment, it is much more difficult while in that moment to do so. But what I find myself doing more and more is creating self awareness about how I am feeling and responding. I noticed just this week being caught in a heated emotional moment with a family member. He was angry and I was starting to join him in anger towards him. I found myself doing exactly what I recommend to other, I did take a few deep breathes, then my internal dialogue was – yes he is being disrespectful of my parents, his deceased brother, but why? He loved my Dad. So I listened to him finish and then I understood his anger. I might have been angry too. I did not respond in the moment with words but with listening. After his vent, we moved on to the business at hand. I am so glad I did not respond in the moment, as I may have created a downward spiral. In the next two days I have reflected over this and wondered, did I go to silence? Yes I did, but I now know what I need to do, because I listened to him and heard where his hurt is, I now know what role I played in the problem and that I have been telling a self justifying story for my role. My next step will be to apologize to him for my previous action. I care deeply about my Uncle and while we may not agree on our business transaction, we can at least understand each other.
So my long winded response is, yes we can take a pause and in that pause reflect and be curious, ask the why question? Every conflict we have gives us the opportunity to practice, reflect and get better.
Dear Upset & Unaware,
Over the years, I too have suffered from chronic foot in mouth disease – the settings on my “filters” struggle to match the speed of my sarcasm. As I blundered through my first few Crucial Conversations, I came across a simple technique that has given me some success (and relief). As cliché-ish as it sounds, I take a deep breath and let it out, say the person’s name (and while doing so, I think about who they actually are to me – who the person is that is in front of me) and that is usually enough to allow me to release the built-up pressure, see them for the human being they are, and dissipates the clever story (and the emotions that go with it) before I start speaking. The first few times felt a bit more mechanical and deliberate – but now, I find I do it more subtly and naturally and it still works. I hope this is of some use to you – good luck in your future Crucial Conversations!
To create a bigger safe space I prepare before seeing people who have been triggers in my past. I decide that I will stay in “curiosity”..what is this persons past are they reacting to. I ask the question ‘Is this really about me?’or Is this dialogue true? or What is this person fighting for, out of fear?When I am caught off guard by a response, I am learning to say, ‘this is an important topic to me, so to ensure I give it the time it deserves let’s pick a time to talk about it in more detail.
Years back, I was very explosive (easily triggered) when it came to crucial conversations or disagreements. It was hard for me to agree… on disagreeing. As I moved-on towards the road of continuous improvement (which is ongoing), self-temperament change was imperative. I use a simple rule to inhabit the stimulus/response space; every time I will interact (or I am interacting) on crucial conversation and/or discussions/meetings in which possibilities of disagreements or heated conversations will arise, I say to myself: “temperateness”; sometimes more than once. Is my balance point. It sets the standard of my conversational and actions narratives moving forward. My “modus operandi” template.
One trick I have – comes from Eckhart Tolle – is to pull back a bit from the conversation and focus on my breathing. And, listen to the silences when the person stops speaking. It is amazing when you listen for the silences because you still hear the person – you are still listening, but you become free of the emotions.
Take three seconds before reacting to be sure they’re done speaking and to give both of us a change to absorb the situation. Then I chose my response by what would work for me or how I would want someone to respond to me in the same situation and NOT by what I feel that person ‘deserves’ to hear. (In my head) I “stand” in their place (right or wrong as they may be), and respond how I want the person staring back at me to react to what just happened.
That was outstanding Emily. In every way. I immediately identified with the individual who wrote the question as I have resorted to bullying in past career lives. Sure, I over-powered them with force of will, but I always left feeling defeated. As you, I love people and the counteracting force was always needing affirmation. The balance was to temper my approach and taking Crucial Conversations was a relationship changer for me. I wish I could say that I employ the skills I learned all the time but, alas, another failing is I am stubborn. The framework by Victor was profound. I read Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” when I was a teen so the framework quote by him grabbed my attention. The split second between stimulus and response does exist but few of us take advantage of it. Thank you for the framework and the sage advice.
To enlarge the space between stimulus and response, I:
– Take a breath. Not too deep, otherwise it will appear that I am irritated, and that might trigger the other person or fuel an undesired fire.
– During that breath, I try to tell myself that the trigger wasn’t intentional on the other person’s part
– As I tell myself that the trigger wasn’t intentional, I try to find a positive spin on the ‘trigger’ – that puts me in a better state of mind
I still fail miserably sometimes, and I’ve learned that , when I do fail, it’s because I’ve allowed emotion to take over, and even justify it in the case that triggering has seemed to be a pattern by the other person (therefore I’m judging).
I know that, if a person’s intention is to trigger anger, it should be that person’s issue to solve, not mine. But, by letting emotion take over, I’m making it my issue.
This is a work-in-progress for me, and I’m happy to be member of the crucial skills email distribution list, so that I can learn from the great posts provided!
I have more patience for crucial conversations if I have first shown myself respect. If I begin my day with exercise, quiet meditation & a healthy breakfast I have set a better tone for the day. Beginning the day with purpose adds more meaning to all my interactions.
slowly inhale and breathe out 3X … visualize you are blowing up a balloon filling it with the angry energy and then let it go … watching it sputter out those sometimes destructive first reactions
Repeat a favourite Dr. Seuss/nursery passage/rhyme 1-3X before responding
“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the Kings horses and all the Kings Men
couldn’t put humpty together again!
This article “How to Avoid Getting Angry” could not have been more timely as I had a incident yesterday which greatly surprised me by a coworker whom I thought was a friend. She remarked that I frequently blurt into her room and rudely state my needs without giving notice to what may be happening in her “world”. I apologized to her and quickly left her room. Last night I got to thinking about the incident and realized that I was in fact very tired (2 repetitive days of 12+ hours of work) and knowing me I know when I’ve very tired and hungry I can be rude. Therefore I absolutely love the Victor Frankl stimulus/response reminder as well as your statement regarding morally engagement–all the time. I will put a saying not only on my computer but on my bathroom mirror as a daily reminder of “who I am – how I want to treat others” Finally, I shall definitely begin eating for energy so I have the opportunity of working with the “power of full engagement”. Thank you for this blog. I’m excited to begin my daily reminders and powerful energy engagement.
I agree that breathing/meditation are very helpful. I have also learned to tell myself that I’m going to “feel that emotion later.” Whether it’s anger, frustration, or even feeling like I’m going to cry at very inopportune times – I say to myself – i’m going to take time to feel this emotion x minutes from now – allows me to experience it, but at better times. And sometimes I choose not to feel it later, because it just goes away.
I am, by no means, prefect in my interactions with others. I have begun introducing a practice of taking two minutes to center myself before each meeting and conversation. This practice helps me let go of unwanted emotional energy and become present so that I can focus on the people I interact with and improves my ability to promote dialog through helpful questions rather than through less than useful comments
To allow space/time to avoid a reactionary, “Knee Jerk” response, while having a Crucial conversation, I have to be aware out what my emotional triggers are. Having those identified, allows myself to know when I could potentially escalate a conversation, emotionally. If I feel that I am reacting and escalating a conversation, I ask my self, what is the purpose of this conversation? Is there anything to benefit from reacting and or escalating this conversation? What is the main goal or what outcome do I want from this conversation? By having that thought process, it allows some space/time before reacting.
Another tip would be to try and focus on what the other person’s perception is and or why they are reacting or escalating their opinion. Try to put yourself in their “shoes” to have a better perception of why they are so passionate about their opinion. This also allows space/time.
Reiterate what they are saying by using your own words of your interpretation. It slows down the conversation and allows for space and time.
Sometimes, the reaction has happened but you have to aware of it and remind yourself to bring back on track before it completely off rails. Refocus on the intent of the conversation, regroup, and recover.
Balancing task and relationship can be challenging in our hurry scurry world. A habit I find helpful to consider the POP of each conversation from task and relationship to give me a broader perspective — what is my purpose for this task and with this person, what outcomes do I want and how do they overlap with what I know is important to the other and what process will help achieve our mutual purpose and outcomes. I find reflecting on the POP helps me ground myself and has reduced my tendency to “fire, then aim”!
One helpful way I’ve found to increase the size of Dr. Frankel’s space between stimulus and response was taught to me by Carolyn Rexius, founder of Christians As Family Advocates in Eugene, Oregon. Building on Steven Stosny’s self-compassion concepts, she teaches that our Core Hurts when activated will bring up feelings of shame, fear and anger. We all know that anger is a secondary emotion, a response to protect against stimuli threatening deeper vulnerabilities. A problem occurs; an insult, a threat of failure. I experience it as a sudden drop in my sense of self-value. I assign blame for these angry or fearful feelings that arise, usually unconsciously, from an activated Core Hurt. Core Hurts create an instant impulse to protect myself. Disregarded, Powerless, Unloved and Unloveable are my personal Core Hurts that trigger self-protection. Once in this self-protection space, verbal harshness and aggressive behavior, or withdrawal and stonewalling, easily grow into a flood. I’m tipped over, to change the metaphor.
The process of progressively touching my Core Hurts and allowing myself a more complex view of my identity—hurts, mistakes, mixed intentions and all—enlarges and strengthens Dr. Frankel’s Space. It’s paradoxical that being vulnerable to my weaknesses makes my stronger. You might call it being more compassionate with my own skin.
On one hand, when not in a Crucial Moment, it is the process of building dams along the tributaries that overflow their banks when swollen. On the other, when a moment does go from casual to crucial, I try to use the process of repeating the acronym STOP three times, to keep the space open. Stop, listen, heed the message of this moment.
“STOP, STOP, STOP”
S stands for Surrender (in my case, this is a surrender to the Lord now, to His best in this situation. To the secular person, it might be yielding to the most reasonable, beneficial way forward.) Surrender counters the instinct to self-protect. Letting go seems to be a crucial first step in dropping defenses. “If we entrust ourselves to that fundamental sense of belonging to the universe,” writes Benedictine monk, David Steindel-Rast, “things go well, and we can make some sense even out of the worst that happens to us.”
T stands for Take Time, in the instant but more usually with some reflection; to touch, with kindness and for a moment (we can’t handle more than a few seconds) the activated Core Hurt. In the Crucial Moment, I still find it nearly impossible to touch my Core Hurts. So Taking Time outside Crucial Moments and “pendulating”, as Dr. Van de Kolb describes the gentle in and out movement, to access our internal sensations and core hurts. In this way, he teaches, we can gradually expand our window of tolerance, enlarging the secure base from which I can give, when a Crucial Moment does arrive, a more compassionate response, toward myself and toward another person.
O stands for Opt to Give Yourself and Others the Benefit of the Doubt, or, as Martin Luther put it, “explain everything in the kindest way, as far as you can in keeping with the truth.” It’s the equivalent of the Crucial Conversation question, “Why would a reasonable, decent person act this way?”
P stands for Process the Evident from a Place of Self-value, which fosters a bias for vulnerability and compassion. What’s the good of touching my Core Hurts anyway? Because if I don’t, I choose to self-protect by default. I will end up in a relationship (or even a lifestyle) that is disconnected, confusing, hurtful, and resentful. Vulnerable love, though scary and nuanced, is the only way forward toward love, connection, clarity, and joy. The worst thing isn’t my pain. It’s not letting my pain lead me to higher ground. Processing the angering event is the equivalent of the Crucial Conversation question, “What do I really want?”
I am getting better at keeping in mind the subtle, but significant, difference between being “furious” about the story I quickly tell myself and “curious” about what else might be true. Being curious causes me to slow down and think, which creates a little space. Because you cannot be furious and curious at the same time, being curious is a brief space without anger. This takes practice!
Frustration is my biggest trigger and I try to label the cause of my frustration. Just that pause causes an instinctive breath where I can solve physiologic issues and engage in emotional issues.
I think it is great to use tools and techniques to change behavior. Sometimes this is all we need. We add couple more influence sources and here come the changes we wanted.
But sometimes fixing or trying to fix the behavior is not enough. Sometimes we need to go at the root, we need to explore the inside, our deepest unconscious beliefs, motives and fears that drive our behaviors. This is not easy, especially for action/result oriented people, as the process can be long and requires a great deal of introspection. But I believe it is essential. I think of this as understanding and solving the underlying problem, not merely trying to fix the symptoms.
I have received a very good advice just last week about how this is done. Once we have made conscious our core fears and beliefs about the world and how we should interact with it (which can take some time), it is best to accept it and just watch it at work first. Not to try to change anything but just observe the behavior, and make the link with the underlying motives. Overtime, the space between the stimulus and the response will become more conscious, then wider, until the space will be so big that we will be able to choose another path.
I believe the key word here is consciousness.
When I find myself going into a crucial conversation, or I find myself blind-sided by a frustrated staff person, I take a deep breath and immediately recall one time I reacted proportionately – that is I responded loudly and with equal negativity. It was a disaster that took me months to resolve. By remembering what can happen, I generally remain calm and curious, knowing it is the wise, (and the right) way to approach someone who’s angry.
Think about the ring.
Wear a fun ring and wear it on a different finger every day.
It will help you remember to pause and ask yourself the following question “what’s the benefit of reacting that way?”
A bracelet also works, but your wearing options are limited to two.
I personally use my pocket knife when I put my hand in my pocket to help me remember.
One thing that has helped me a great deal and enabled me to tune into that space between stimulus and response has been a daily morning meditation.
The space that I open myself up to when I meditate is a calm and open state that stays with me even when I go on about my day. By exercising my brain in this way, I have only to think about that state to tap into it, sometimes it requires a deep breath or two and the resolve to step back before I react but it has served me well in some tense situations.
Act like your favorite superhero.
Think about how your favorite superhero would handle the situation and act like that.
Or, think about how your favorite real-life hero (parent, grandparent, Aunt, Uncle, BFF) would handle the situation and act like that. Make them proud of you. And be sure and tell them so too.
Be the person your dog thinks you are.
Be nice because nice matters.
Forgive (yourself and others).
Be awe full.
Be wonder full.
Be joy full.
Be hope full.
Be respect full.
Be faith full.
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.
Be supportive and positive about each other when you’re in public, and be kind and respectful when you’re alone.
Stop and ask yourself, “If you knew how they felt would you treat them differently?”
Empathy is discerning what some other person is thinking and feeling, and responding in some appropriate way.
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
For me the answer is simple, and it’s something I *always* do, sometimes to my detriment. 😉 I am not one to give a knee-jerk reaction to anything that anyone says to me. I am constantly evaluating why this person is acting the way they are and why they are angry, upset, etc. I do this from a detached ‘space’ (it’s the psychologist in me). I consider all the scenarios that might explain their behavior. I calmly ‘accept’ their take on the matter, assume their emotions have nothing to do with me, and leave.
Only after fully thinking everything through do I then decide whether to respond to them differently than I did. I don’t usually get angry or upset with people until I’ve had time to think about what they said or did. I’ve always believed that people have good reasons for acting the way they do (in their own minds), no matter how inappropriate or upsetting it may be to others.
After taking the Crucial Conversations training, that only seemed to underscore my natural ingrained habit.
I have been working on dealing with anger and I look forward to reading all of the replies. Some of my learnings that I review often are:
1. Everyone experiences anger.
2. Once triggered, I find that I can keep adding on thoughts that intensify my anger.
3. People that I find irritating are not my enemy.
4. I sometimes get angry when I feel that I am entitled to something. I then need to remind myself that I am not entitled to anything. I sometimes notice that I have ill-will towards others. Part of this is a feeling of entitlement. For example, I am entitled to walk through a cross-walk without any cars coming near me.
5. I have tried to adopt a stoic philosophy by often imagining the worst that can happen.
6. I also try to be mindful versus managing or controlling anger. Meditation helps.
I try to clarify and articulate the character of the outcome that is needed to transcend the situation and work backwards from that. If I can remain focused on the features of the ideal (or workable) solution, I can’t be attending to my frustration at the same time and there is a chance that someone else will also see the advantage/s of a better quality of behaviour and outcome. It doesn’t always work and then I get angry or they get angry or we all get angry.
I do two things to calm my nerves
1. I interrupt the emotional upsurge, and my ask myself what am I telling myself at this moment about the situation. Then I analyze how many of those are rational or supported by real data. Then I specifically ask is there a realistic counter that I know to be true to each of those points that I was unknowingly telling myself.
2. In my mind I imagine myself as being soccer goalkeeper. The goal post contain the long term end results I value dearly, such as relationship, career, etc. I then ask in what way it this situation a threat to those goals? Most of the time the answer is that what happening is not very impactful to the long term goals. Then, I focus on the question – how should the goalkeeper (me) move (act) in this situation, to be consistent with the overall objective of protecting the (long term goal) post.
Combination of the two, helps me act and behave in manners that I dont regret later when the momentary emotional storm has passed.
LISTEN! Develop the discipline of listening (no responding ’till you’ve heard it all).
Even if you detect flaws early in their approach/direction you must let them finish their thought(s) then LISTEN some more.
“Listen some more” means to the answers you pose to them which lead them to the same conclusions you’ve already reached (that their argument is flawed). Pointing out the flaws in their thinking is taken as a direct confrontation and is usually perceived as disrespectful.
If you habitually use questions and listening rather than confrontation, or worse edicts, to communicate then it almost always defuses the situation and garners “buy-in” to your position from others.
Make it your absolute habit to ask questions and listen until either you learn from them or they learn from you (most likely both will happen) or an amicable “agreement to disagree” can be reached.
This is great advice! Thank you for a great reminder to actively listen.
“What do you do to enlarge and inhabit this space?”
I recall (but can’t find) an interview with Daniel Kahneman (read “Thinking, Fast and Slow”) when the interviewer asked how he, Kahneman, was able avoid biases and other cognitive errors given his research and as covered in his book. He sadly reported that he was no better than before though he thought the success of the book might be that we are better able to identify it in others. The fundamental problem is that many of these behaviours are unconscious and by their very nature you don’t know you’re doing it. System 1 versus System 2.
Same here, it’s hard to catch yourself in the moment.
As has been commented a number of times here, preparation is vital. Not just for the specific encounter, but also in your life – good sleep, eat well, an active lifestyle, a broad and balanced outlook on life.
This newsletter came the day after I had endured another painful conversation with a co-worker and I had walked away from, shaking my head wondering why they always go that way with him. This gentleman is my stimulus. All I have to do is see him, receive an email from him, see his name light up my phone and I physically respond. I become irritated before I even speak to him. And once I do speak to him, my exasperation is written all over my face, in the tone of my voice and in the words I use to communicate with him. Think condescending and belittling. I realized after this last verbal exchange with him that I can do better and that my reaction said more about my inability to manage myself than it did about his unknowingly being irritating to those around him.
To increase my space between response and stimulus, I have challenged myself to take a deep, calming breath every time I come across him in any form. If I see him walking through the building-deep breath. If I walk past his empty desk-deep breath. When I review his emails, work files or even hear his name spoken, I take a deep, cleansing breath. By doing this, I am trying to associate him with calm and I am in control of myself. I am creating a space where he can be himself and I can be the best ‘me’ that I can be. I have spoken to him once since this effort began and it wasn’t perfect but, I was calmer, I was more in control and I didn’t allow my mood to be affected negatively by my interaction with him. The best part, my face didn’t have an expression on it that said, “I think you are a moron!” So, baby steps towards larger spaces!
I work to identify my triggers — those things I know will set me off ex. when I feel criticized by another or when a value of mine feels like it has been violated. I plan ahead — implementation intentions so the next time I am triggered in a similar way by the person or situation, I recall my intention.
Similar to the morality point, I think…see others as humans (with feelings like yourself ) and not objects (that need ‘dealing with’ to get your way). I recently read Leadership and Self-Deception and it supports your ideas.
Do NOT stop to take a deep breath.
I mean do not stop to just take a deep breath. Instead, stop to smell the air around you. Concentrate for a moment on what it smells like. That will cause you and your brain to really stop and think about something else for a second.
If you just take a deep breath, you’re still going to be thinking the same thoughts and going to say the same thing.
But, if you smell the air as you breath it in, you’ll force yourself to stop and take a mental break for a second and give you the space that Viktor Frankl refers to in his quote.
Stephan Covey once said; “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” If we listen with the intent to understand we can open our own minds and respond in a logical manner instead of in anger.
Also, I have read that if you feel the fight portion of the amygdule response coming on do some math problems, it helps engage the frontal lobes of your brain.
I really appreciate all the practical wisdom that is being shared!
Here’s what is helpful to me in creating the space between React and Speak. I keep a note on my wall: “Nothing pays off like restraint of pen and tongue.” When I have a really volcanic reaction, I look at or think about this saying, and step back. The first and most important thing is to NOT speak when feeling unbridled anger.
I also ground myself — firmly planting my feet, and if possible my hands, on a firm non-animate surface, like the floor, my desk, the arms of a chair, or a wall. I take a deep breath and exhale sharply, and imagine the volcanic, stressed-out energy flowing out through the palms of my hands and soles of my feet.
I continue breathing more deeply than usual, allowing the tension to continue to flow out of me and into the inanimate object. This keeps me from speaking, and creates the space VF talks about. I can do it unobtrusively, even when standing or sitting right in front of a person or in a meeting.
To build the habits of self restraint, self appraisal and learning from challenging events, so they are engrained and available almost automatically, I practice a written daily review of my day: what pleased me, what do I not feel good about, and what would I do differently?
thanks for the opportunity to reflect and share about this.
For me, recognizing the physiological symptoms of my response can give me a clue that I am having (or about to have) an emotional reaction. When I feel my breathing hitch up, or my throat or chest tightening, this is a clue that I have been emotionally triggered.
The more mindful I can be about my body, staying in the moment to instantly recognize these clues, the more time I can insert between my feelings and my behavior.
I am not always successful. 🙂
In sports, we prepare mentally and physically to respond to expected challenges and opportunities. It can be the same in the rest of our lives. We train our mind, our emotions, our bodies to recognize the challenge and the opportunity it presents to us, then respond using the tools we’ve honed over time. When you are presented with a challenging problem – get curious. Ask for more input – not less. Verbally and mentally acknowledge the energy and frustration and honor it. Breathe to create space. Question to create space, a deeper understanding, and empathy. Remember that your perspective of reality is naturally different than another person’s perspective, and see if there’s potential for a proactive rather than reactive interaction. Respond as if this is your most important relationship, speaking directly and with compassion.
I’m addressing this question for the hardest situation…when the anger wells up unexpectedly and has to be dealt with immediately. So no planning ahead, no “let’s discuss this later”, no getting a cup of coffee. For these times, my best, simplest solution for enlarging/inhabiting the space between stimulus and response is to take a conscious breath…starting between your eyebrows, down through your center and to the base of your spine, allowing your body to get out of the way of this breath (it can also help, once the breath has started, to feel the base of your spine so the breath knows where to go). At this point between the in and the out breath, find a brief moment of gratitude…for being able to breathe, for being alive…whatever comes to you (fastest is just a genuine silent “thank you”), then breathe out…up your spine and out the top of your head. It takes less than 10 seconds…and best if you are subtle about it, since in a face-to-face heated discussion it could be interpreted as a huffy sigh if done overtly! Practice this, first to get a feel for that kind of breath, which you may have never taken before, then visualize a situation that you would use this in and practice interjecting this breath before your response. As with any learning shift, even after you get comfy doing it privately, you’ll forget to do it in the heat of anger…but you will remember about it afterwards. THAT’s the real first step to learning to do this, so don’t beat yourself up for not doing it, rejoice that your brain/body is starting to connect the anger/conscious breath activities together. Over time, with practice, you’ll catch that moment before what my mom used to call the “knee-jerk” reaction and the pause space Emily referenced will expand. It physically severs the cycle that normally develops from survival/fear, that is usually deeply hidden behind the anger, and allows you to get back into the thinking vs. reacting part of your brain.
Thanks to the whole VitalSmarts team for wonderfully thoughtful, well-written and from-the-heart articles!
I use a cautionary mantra I learned a few years ago whenever I sense an emotional reaction that may shift perspective: “feeling it doesn’t make it real; believing it doesn’t make it true.” Running that through my head givers me the space to think about my response and about the situation. It has been invaluable in employee engagement and coaching.
Your blog was timely considering behavior and reactions were a topic in a team meeting yesterday. I think we sometimes forget that we are human and reactions may not always be flawlessly professional. I am constantly reminding myself that everyone is human, we learn at different paces and have different understandings. It is better to be kind than to contribute to the negativity in the world.
I try a couple of things I don’t think have been mentioned yet. One is that I sort of ‘zone out’ and listen to what’s going on from outside myself.
The other thing is to decide I’m not going to respond. Instead I’m going to allow a period of silence and see what happens.
What a great answer and article. I love the idea of enlarging the space between trigger and response and also of looking deeper to see why something triggers me at all.
I get angry when people don’t follow my rules and do what they “should” do. But I don’t live by other people’s rules. Why do I expect them to live by mine? It has been helpful to remember that truth and look deeper.
Generally speaking, I have discovered that my anger is most often related to how other people’s choices affect me and those I care about. It isn’t just because someone did something “wrong” according to my rules.
Looking at the causes of my anger has opened my eyes to how often I respond to the world around me from a very self-centered position. Knowing that my anger reveals my selfishness and lack of love for those around me has helped me to get rid of some of the “trigger points” in my life.
It’s not that I can stop being self-centered, but seeing it helps me understand that my anger problem is on my side of the fence and not the fault of the person who I blame for “making me angry”. They did what they did and I decided to get angry about it.
What has helped me the most has been to recognize before God that I have a problem with being self-centered, to confess that to Him and to ask Him to change me and help me to love others the way He loves me. I’ve seen Him make changes in me that I was incapable of making on my own.
My comment has more to do with the space between stimulus and response. For myself, if the conversation has turned critical, I may take the other persons comment or response personally. I may feel that this is an attack and pride sets in. To mitigate this or increase the gap, I have found that it may be best to stop the conversation before it escalates (if possible) and ask the person if the conversation can continue later to provide some breathing space. This is similar when responding to an email. It is easy to respond quickly without thinking and later regret what was written. Step away, get a coffee or go for a run (from another readers comment :)) and ensure you are in the right space before responding. It is too easy to let pride take control and respond harshly. Great article!
What has helped me the most is to write down my thoughts and feelings, however bad. Then wait 20 minutes and revise. Then wait another 20 and revise again.
When I do several rounds of it, I wind up at a place where I see my own part in the situation and my anger or exasperation with the other person(s) is gone. Then, I am ready to make something work and to apologize if I need to.
If I’m with people when I want to explode, I try to delay so I can have some time to write it out and cool off.
It helps me to remember that you can hardly ever take it back. Another person’s memory of your anger or other bad behavior and of their own hurt is pretty sticky.
Thanks for the reminder!
Breathing can help to take you back to “where you are”. It takes you back to self-consciousness. It’s a physical exercise that anyone can do to reinforce self-awareness. Concentrate on the breathing process, feel the fresh air coming in your nostrils and the warm air coming out. This helps to break the emotions vicious cycle.
When I realize I am tired. Yawning too much. Not able to read. I move crucial conversation to other times. This is especially true at home.
My approach is two-fold. Go in with curiosity about the person and their perspective while also being curious about how I might see it differently. There is no reason to get angry. Sometimes people need time and space to see things in a different light.