Anger is a normal, healthy emotion, and its expression can be a tremendous release. Rather than bottling up anger, or expressing it indirectly through slammed doors or sarcastic remarks, it is far more constructive to air strong emotions and hurt feelings out in the open.
When two people can listen to each other in anger and work through a conflict, their relationship is stretched and strengthened. Rupture and reconciliation are the cornerstones of relational resiliency.
Even if you understand the importance of supporting another’s self-esteem, and try to consciously use effective communication techniques, it is still easy to say things you wish you had not said in the heat of the moment. Here are some ideas for expressing your strong feelings before they erupt into anger.
Calm down before you respond
To deal effectively with a conflict, your anger must be under control. Calming down or cooling off is a key step in managing conflict. Some ways to get anger under control include walking away and/or removing yourself from the situation.
Even when one is legitimately angry, it usually doesn’t help the situation to express our anger in the heat of the moment. It is often more helpful to express our anger in a calm and courteous way that the other person can understand and take seriously. Here are some strategies to control anger and calm down:
- Physically relax the body.
- Calm the mind by thinking of something else
- Distract yourself from the anger
- Tell yourself that you are not your emotions
- Take a deep breath and exhale
- Relax your face
- Get some space
Defuse your Anger
Here are some further steps to take next time you feel yourself about to blow up at your child, partner, or friend, from Kathy Collard Miller, author of When Love Becomes Anger:
- Recognize the early warning signs. Think back to what happened the last time you lost your temper. Did you feel tense and hurried inside? Were you gritting your teeth? Were you on the verge of tears? Had you just had a confrontation with your spouse or a family member? Learn to identify when you have reached the end of your rope, so that you can take steps to avoid lashing out.
- Recognize the cause of your anger. Before you overreact to something your child just did, take a second to think about why you are really angry. Chances are, something else is bothering you, and your child, partner or friend does not deserve to bear the brunt of your wrath. You may need to step back from your emotions before you can think clearly enough to recognize what is really bothering you.
- Take a time-out. When you feel yourself about to lose control with another person, you need to remove yourself temporarily from the situation. Try taking several deep breaths, counting to 10, or taking three steps backward. If you need more time to cool off, take a walk or a shower.
- Verbalize your anger. Once you have given yourself some time to figure out why you are angry, you can go about expressing your anger in an appropriate way. Confront the source of your anger—your spouse, your child, perhaps yourself—and explain how you feel. Be sure to use “I” messages—”I feel…” or “I have a hard time when…”—to avoid putting the other person on the defensive. If you are too emotional to talk about it immediately, you can take time to calm down, or write your feelings in a note. You may find that you do not even need to send the note; the mere act of writing down your feelings can be cathartic enough.
What is your conflict style?
The more you learn about conflict and yourselves, the better able you will be able to choose conflict styles that work for you. Conflict styles include:
- Denying there is a problem
- Leaving well enough alone
- Pretending nothing is wrong
- Hard bargaining
- Might makes right
- Getting what you want an another’s expense
- Yielding to another’s point of view
- Attending to other’s concerns while neglecting your own.
- Splitting the different
- Each person wins some and loses some
- Exploring sources of conflict
- Finding a mutually satisfactory solution
Some ways to improve communication
- Watch your body language. Eye contact, open arms, and open gestures all say that you’re interested in what the other person has to say. Sitting with arms folded and legs crossed, or looking at your phone while you listen all tell the other that you are guarded, defensive and distracted.
- Relax and pause before your speak.
- Tell a story.
- Ask questions and repeat the other person’s last few words.
- Develop empathy.
- Really listen.
The top 10 communication skills
- Be a good listener.
- Use nonverbal communication like eye contact, hand gestures and tone to convey your message.
- Be clear and concise.
- Be friendly.
- Show confidence.
- Be empathic.
- Demonstrate open-mindedness.
- Show respect.
- Give feedback.
- Choose the right medium for communication.
Choices in Conflict
We all have choices in conflict. We can shift from judgment to curiosity by asking the following questions:
- What good reason does my child, partner, friend or co-worker have for his or her behavior?
- What can I learn from this situation?
- What do I believe about this situation?
- What personal issues or areas of difficulty come into play for me in this issue?
- What’s the worst thing that can happen?
- What might happen if I do nothing the next time this happens?
- How can I take care of myself in this situation?
- How can I take care of my child, partner, friend, or co-worker in this situation?
Align with your values
Sometimes our responses to anger and conflict are automatic and conditioned from the way were were treated ourselves as children, but we can new responses to conflict that align with our values and intentions. Here are some questions we can ask ourselves:
- What about the way you habitually respond to conflict would you like to change?
- What could you do differently in conflict that would be more in keeping with your values and how you prefer to interact?
- What do you think prevents you from reacting this way?
- What ways of responding to conflict do you admire, that you have observed in other people?
- What is the highest compliment someone could say about how you respond when you are in conflict?
- What do you want to learn to be able to respond to conflict in ways that you prefer?
Above all, be gentle on yourself as you change your relationship with anger and conflict. Know that change takes time, but that we can lay down new neural pathways in our brains and change even the most intractable behavior. The new science of neuroplasticity tells us that the structure and activity of the brain can change in response to new experience.
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering magazine for over 30 years. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, Hollyhock and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please sign up for my free newsletter with the latest posts on parenting, activism, and healthy living.