Being Real While Angry

We have a hard time with the emotion of anger in America. Either we try to forget whatever it is that is bothering us and suppress our feelings or we explode, say a lot of extreme things, and then have to apologize like mad or lose the friendship.

I’ve learned a different way and I’d like to pass it on to you. Here’s how to be angry with someone, express your feelings, and still keep the friendship.

First of all, figure out why you are angry. This would seem easy, but it isn’t. Trying to figure out why one is angry can take a day’s worth of thinking. It’s so much easier if you can bounce possible ideas off a friend. You just need a friend who can listen without giving advice. Sometimes they can guess why you got angry; it’s great when you can have two heads working on a problem. Because you really need clarity about why you are upset before going to the next step. How do you know you’ve reached clarity? You actually feel better and many times, you don’t feel quite as angry anymore.

Step Two: So now you know why you are angry, now what are you wanting? What are you longing for? Here’s an example: You are angry with a friend because she keeps interrupting you, because you are wanting to have someone’s full attention. Another example: You are upset with someone for writing something bad about you to someone else, because you value your reputation. Reputation and having attention are core human needs. When important values aren’t met, we usually get angry.

Step Three: Speak from the place of what you value as opposed to what the person did wrong. In fact, the less you treat the person as having done something wrong, the better. From the other person’s point of view, they were doing the best they knew how under the circumstances. If you can keep in mind their innocence, then sharing your values and asking for their help becomes a completely different way of dealing with an upset.

July42013 Value

How this way of sharing might sound:

Toby: You know how the other day you went off with Melissa and didn’t tell me?

Sam: Yeah, I thought you were OK. You seemed busy and so I didn’t think you’d care.

Toby: I did care and I realize it’s because I like to be included in decisions. I care a lot about being a part of something. I think it’s because I was left alone a lot as a kid. I can see how you thought I was OK, but in the future, could you let me know if you suddenly want to change a plan?

Sam: Sure! I didn’t know that it was like that for you. I didn’t mean anything by it.

Toby: That’s cool.

The above conversation feels a lot better than the one below:

Toby: You were such a jerk the other day.

Sam: What?

Toby: Just don’t bother doing stuff with me if you plan to leave in the middle of it. OK?!

It’s easy to see that this second conversation sounds bitter and accusatory. Expressing oneself from the place of what one values or wants eventually becomes easy and rather fun. And it makes an enormous difference in relationships.

You can learn more about this way of communicating from Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.

Mistake #20: Not Knowing The Group’s Real Values

Just as an individual will make better choices for him-or herself with more accurate self-awareness, so a group will choose more wisely if they have a truer picture of their group culture. I know one group that deeply values order and peacefulness. They also idealize inclusivity. They ignore their need for order by inviting new members, who have different standards of neatness, to join them. Eventually the messier members leave, because the repressed need for neatness creates continual tension. If the group could see and accept that it’s need for order trumps the need for inclusivity, then it might be able to select members more suited for it. Or at least warn prospective new members that neatness is a high value.

Often it’s the clashing of a belief with a need that creates the confusion for a group. We feel badly when we can’t live up to our beliefs. We want to be ever generous, inclusive, and perpetually energetic. In actuality, we need to have limits on our generosity, we need to exclude certain types of people, and we need a lot of down time. The more a group can face their limits and honor them, the more energy they will save in the long run.

Take-Home Point: Know thyself is as important for groups as it is for individuals.