You Won’t Like Me When I’m Angry
…and I probably won’t get what I want either
You can convert the impulse to become angry into momentum to get what you want. The secret is from the exceptional book “The Surprising Purpose of Anger” by Marshall B. Rosenberg. It’s only 35 pages long, and has changed how I respond to all sorts of people who used to piss me off. (get it at Amazon)
How to get what you want instead of being angry
- Identify the trigger for the anger, without confusing it with the source (trigger=what someone did or said).
- Identify the internal judgment that is making us angry (what’s the inner reason we’re reacting to the trigger?).
- Discover your needs behind the judgment (what do you really want?).
We do all of this in our own mind before interacting with the person who triggered our anger.
Here is an example to make the steps clear:
Two friends Nick and Zac are talking about hanging out later in the night when a Josh joins the conversation and eventually invites only Nick to a party (trigger). Zac immediately begins to get angry.
Here’s a typical end to this story:
Zac gets angry “because Josh didn’t invite him to the party”. Zac could become so upset he confronts Josh and tells him he’s a jerk for leaving him out, or he could just walk away and begin telling everyone what a jerk Josh is. Either way, Zac is unlikely to go to the party or have a fun evening. He’s consumed with destructive energy focused on Josh’s wrong doing. He might even seek to punish Josh by talking badly about him. None of Zac’s energy is focused on meeting his needs.
Here is an alternate (better) way this story might play out.
- Zac pauses to avoid instinctively reacting to Josh (hard to do, but worth the trouble).
- Zac identifies Josh’s inviting only Nick as a trigger that’s evoking negative judgments about Josh.
- Zac identifies being with Nick and other friends as something he wants. He realizes his anger stems from his concern for not being with friends, and fear of being alone. He separates his feelings of fear from Josh’s actions and focuses on how to get what he wants. Anger dissipates as Zac refocuses his energy on getting what he wants.
The last step leads us to say aloud 4 things to the person triggering our anger.
- Inform them of the trigger which they have done that is preventing us from getting what we want.
- Express how we are feeling (anger should have been transformed into true feelings like sad, hurt, scared, frustrated, etc).
- Identify our needs which aren’t being met (being with friends).
- Finally, make a request of what we want from the other person.
In our example, Zac tells Josh he and Nick had made plans to hang out. And that by inviting only Nick to the party, his plans would be ruined and he would be left alone for the night (which would suck). Zac states that he really wants to hang out with friends, and asks Josh if he would like to join Nick and him for dinner, then they could all go to the party later.
In this solution, Zac has refocused his energy away from being mad at Josh, and toward getting what he wants. He doesn’t waste any time blaming Josh, or assigning any negative intent to his behavior. Instead, he focuses only on his needs and how to meet them.
Remember the trick: observing, feeling, needing, requesting!
You may have noticed a powerful technique at the end of the example when Zac invited Josh to hang out with Nick and him. This shows some empathy for Josh and his desire to be with friends, and invites reciprocity. It now becomes difficult for Josh to decline the invitation, or to resist inviting Zac to the party.
Of course, Josh doesn’t have to respond to our interaction the way I’ve described. But, the more empathy and understanding we display, and the more we honestly we explain ourselves, the more likely he is to respond positively to our request.
Many authority figures (parents, schools, churches) tell us: “don’t get angry”. How has this worked so far? I would suggest we’re better off by recognizing anger as a warning that one of our needs is about to go unmet unless we take action. Then, follow the steps we discussed to get what we want.
We all have habits and behavior patterns formed through years of observation and learning. These habits are automatic, and without conscious thought, lead us toward getting angry at the person who initiates the trigger. But, as the example shows, we can create a new habit that helps us get what we want and becomes just as automatic.
If you like this trick for improving your life, the book will give you more to work with (get it at Amazon).
Keys to success
– STOP! This process can become automatic and quick, but initially it will take a moment to work through. So, rather than instinctively lashing out at the other person, take a moment to get your thoughts straight.
– Totally divorce the other person from any responsibility for our anger. What other people do is never the cause of how we feel.
– Remember: how we feel is a result of how we interpret the behavior of others.
– Remember: anger diverts energy away from getting what we want.