Navigating Anger (Part 3)


NAVIGATING ANGER (Part 3) Sally Campbell

Assertiveness in tough situations

Working with anger instead of reacting to it doesn’t mean we become passive “wimps”. Respect for the other and for ourselves is at the core of a collaborative mindset. When angry talk becomes disrespectful or personalized, the listener may need to set some boundaries for acceptable communication. When the going gets intense, the pendulum can swing from avoidance and accommodation at one end to aggressive fighting back at the other. Personally, I find passive-aggressive behaviour the hardest to respond to – when a person speaks in a measured, calm voice while sticking the knife to you. Assertive communication is none of these. Here are a few aspects of assertion:

  • It is clear and confident.
  • It sets limits when they are needed.
  • It models respect for differences.
  • It says, “my interests are important too”.
  • Assertive communication names tactics and “dirty tricks” without labelling or blaming.
  • It invites people to take responsibility for their statements and behaviour.
  • Most importantly, it is friendly. If you can’t muster a friendly approach, you aren’t ready to use this communication tool. Give yourself some time to assess the situation. Maybe talk with a trusted ally or guide who can shine some light on the conflict dynamics. Don’t dive into trying to use assertion until you feel emotionally grounded.

When you are communicating assertively, you are not pushing or poking a stick at the other side. For instance, taking an assertive approach to a confrontation, you would describe in a neutral way what happened (the harsh or dismissive comment, the confronting action) as you see it, state its effect upon you (such as your desire to walk away), and invite (not demand) the other side to respond (“I’m wondering where you were coming from?”). It is important to give the other side time and space to respond. An assertive response in a tough situation, followed by respectful silence, is powerful communication.

Expression our own anger or frustration using assertion

When the anger/frustration/resistance getting in the way of good communication is our own, we need to find ways to express how we are feeling without creating more resistance.

Here are some tips:

  1. Notice where you are in the “Anger/Arousal Cycle”. If you find you are rapidly climbing up “anger mountain”, (ie: you can feel that you’re no longer on an even keel) and heading to a peak of strong emotion, this is not a good time to try to use reason. As you head toward the summit of angry arousal, your judgment is correspondingly decreasing. You aren’t doing your best thinking. Your judgment is impaired, because you’ve gone into “fight, flight or freeze” mode, and are now relying on your more primitive brain system, your amygdala, rather than your pre-frontal cortex. You need cooling-off time.

2.Trytounderstandthesourceofyourownanger.(Thereisusuallyfear,hurt,disappointment, confusion, sadness, embarrassment, or even shame behind it.) Sometimes it takes some time alone to really listen to yourself and discover how you are feeling. Years of ignoring or pushing down our deeper feelings can mean that this way of listening to what’s going on inside takes some practice! Don’t be hard on yourself, be tender and kind.

  1. Be aware of time and place. How appropriate is this discussion right now? Pay attention to your own bodily state; that is, breathe. As I said last week, if you cannot find calm in your own physical being, this is not the right time for talking through a conflict. You may think you are being assertive and the listener will hear aggression or push.
  1. Be aware of the other, and the very human need to save face. Do you have privacy? Don’t corner the other person; maybe all that you can get now is a commitment to talk when emotions have settled down. (“I’m upset about this and it sounds like you are too. AND I really want us to talk about it. Can we discuss it in a few hours/tomorrow morning/….?”)
  2. State your frustration or feelings in a way the other can hear. Make sure the other is willing to listen. Don’t sacrifice yourself for the sole purpose of making peace. You need a certain amount of confidence to speak assertively, to believe that what you say and feel matters to the other. If this is not the case, assertion is not the best idea.
  1. Describe in a neutral way what led to the frustration, tension, or other feelings. Remove the blame.
  1. Be specific and speak from your own perspective. Stay away from broad generalizations and “you” statements (“you always”, “you never”).
  2. Tell the person the effect your anger is having on you and the relationship, without giving away your power by using such phrases as “You make me feel so…..”. No one makes us feel anything. We are the keepers of how we feel.
  1. Let the person respond without interruption.
  1. Be willing to listen. The object is not to prove yourself right, but to be understood, to show that you understand the other, and to improve your interaction.

Next week: Part 4

Author: TIG