When facing an unavoidable interpersonal conflict, the chances are great that you will be dealing with overt and undisguised ANGER - your own and/or someone else’s.
What you do about it in the face of this heavy duty EMOTION may require new ways of thinking and behaving.
IN A CONFLICT - BE THE BULLFIGHTER & NOT THE BULL!
THE BULL IS OUT OF CONTROL!
(STIMULUS è RESPONSE)
THE BULLFIGHTER is in CONTROL!
(STIMULUS è THINK è RESPONSE)
When you look at the picture above, you’ll notice that the bullfighter is in control, waving the cape, and that the bull, because he is operating on sheer instinct, is out of control, running headlong right into it. Of course, there is a sword waiting in the cape for the bull’s unthinking efforts.
So, remember that in a conflict situation, you must deal with your own anger first. Get your negative emotions under control. Only then can you hope to win against the bull.
In a conflict gone nasty, which could be described as a bullfight, the person who plays the bullfighter wins about 99.9% of the time. No amount of emotional bull like intensity can make up for the power of planning and thinking strategy. Read on to learn the conflict strategy.
There are THREE STEPS TO HANDLE ANGER:
1. Understand How ANGER Develops in A Conflict
When you ask people what makes them angry, they always point to something external or outside themselves, such as an overbearing boss, a pushy shopper or rude driver.
They rarely mention threat or fear as a cause of their anger.
This lack of personal awareness about such a powerful EMOTION is one reason why many small conflicts escalate out of control.
Jones and Banet (1976) in their studies found anger to be perceived as a response to something outside ourselves when, in fact, it is an intrapersonal event - we make ourselves ANGRY.
Because ANGER is so unpleasant and human beings are so adept at projection, we usually attempt to locate the source of our ANGER outside ourselves with statements like,
“You make me so angry”, “You irritate me with your habits”, “You’re really bothering me”, “You make me so frustrated”! Do you notice the common word “YOU”?
As we attribute the source of our ANGER externally, we make some internal assumptions about the possible danger of threat. We make assumptions about the other person. We think that they have a personal agenda or are trying to “get over” on us.
This assumption is then checked against our perceived POWER of dealing with the threat this person represents. If we conclude that the threat is not great or we are powerful enough to handle it successfully - we stay calm. If we conclude that the threat is dangerous or that we are powerless to handle it, ANGER emerges is an effort to reduce or destroy the personal threat and to protect our assumed impotency. We react like the proverbial bull. (See the ANGER CYCLE.)
2. Learn To Deal Positively with your ANGER
Unidentified ANGER can be particularly destructive because it can disguise itself in many ways.
We need to know not only WHAT pushes our anger button, but also how we generally behave when it is pushed, i.e., denial, withdrawal, depression, displacement, violence, etc.
Self-awareness and self-understanding is essential to ridding ourselves of behaviors that are the ineffective and destructive behaviors of the bull.
So, when you realize that your ANGER is rising:
First, OWN IT and ADMIT that it belongs ONLY to YOU. You have a choice in any conflict on how to respond. Be strategic in planning your response, just like the bullfighter.
For example, the person who stole your parking spot did not make you angry - he was just taking care of his needs at your expense.
Or the co-worker who dumped the bulk of the team project work on you did not make you angry - she was just taking care of her needs at your expense. These people were just taking care of themselves first.
You alone generate ANGER, so claim it! By doing so, you will increase your sense of personal power. By understanding their motivations, you can deal with your own response.
Turning blame and attribution into “I” statements locates the ANGER where it actually is - inside us. For example, saying, “I’m getting upset with the lack of consideration in the world today” or “I’m disappointed because I thought I could trust my colleague to pull his fair share”. This talking to ourselves, in a calm way, actually helps us to control our anger.
Next, calibrate your ANGER by asking yourself, “Just how angry am I?”
By assessing your ANGER you will be able to make better judgments regarding what to do about it. This may help avoid inappropriate action that would only escalate a conflict. With the person who stole your parking spot, how angry are you making yourself? Angry enough to make a scene? Angry enough to get out of your car and shoot them? With the co-worker, how angry are you with yourself? Angry enough to confront him? Angry enough to tell the boss?
Then, diagnose the threat.
Remember the ANGER CYCLE!!!
If you are not frightened, you will probably not become angry.
So ask yourself, “What is frightening me about this perceived threat?”
“ What do I stand to lose?”
Back off and examine the threat. It may not be as serious as you think. Can you find another parking space? Can you get another person to help with the project? What power do you have at your disposal? What are your alternatives to starting a bullfight?
Next, talk to people you trust about the perceived threat.
This will help you better understand what is really bothering you.
The feedback you receive will probably clear up your perceptions of the situation and help to defuse your ANGER. Venting to a trusted person always helps you to dissipate your ANGER.
Finally, accept forgiveness as the terminal way of letting go of ANGER.
Forgiveness is a magnanimous gesture that increases your personal power.
This is easy to say and hard to do, mainly because people can perceive forgiveness as a sign of weakness, of “giving in”. So you find out that the person needed your parking space because they had to get back to work. Or your colleague has been having personal problems and was trying to hide them.
Re-establishing a positive relationship with someone who was formerly an antagonist will strengthen your confidence in your ability to confront and deal with conflict. Monitor your willingness to “LET IT GO!”
3. Learn to Confront ANGER in Others Effectively
Do not get hooked in by ANGER.
ANGER expressed by others can draw us into conflicts that are none of our business.
For example, in a team meeting, a particular person is unconsciously converted to ANGER, which, in turn, pulls the whole meeting off track because other team members start to take sides.
As you see yourself drawn into this type of situation, ask yourself,
”Whose problem is this?” “What do I have to gain by becoming involved?”
Then listen carefully to your own answers.
Temporarily abandon the need to be logical. It is futile to try to dissolve fear or ANGER in others through logic.
Remember that NEGATIVE EMOTION BLOCKS POSITIVE LOGIC!!!
When you apply logic in a conflict with an angry person, you make him feel even more irrational in expressing his emotions, blocking his ability to do so.
This blocking increases tension and conflict instead of reducing it. It’s like your taunting the bull.
For example: Think about the employee who has given blood, sweat and tears and overtime to a project. You are the one who must pull the plug because of unanticipated budget cuts. The employee blows sky high!!!!
This is not the time for logical persuasion. You really have no effective choice but to LISTEN and deal with the disappointment and frustration with EMPATHY.
Acknowledge the ANGER coming your way by saying something like,
“I understand that you feel really disappointed” or “I can see how you would feel that way.”
State how YOU feel and what YOU want as a next step as clearly and as pleasantly as possible.
Use the “broken record” reasonableness - state your principles or bottom line consistently over and over again - use calm repetition - until you are finally heard.
DO NOT BECOME LOUD OR HOSTILE - YOU LOSE.
Train yourself to renege on statements made in the heat of ANGER.
As difficult as it is to “give in” or say “I’m sorry”, the pay-off is considerable.
Even a statement such as “I was angry and upset when I said that” can clear the air and lower the tension. Hanging tough and holding the line usually only prolongs the hostilities.
IGNORE ABUSE, only respond (verbally or non-verbally) to reasonable statements.
By ignoring inappropriate behavior, you can slowly extinguish it.
It does require that you do not become defensive and you may have to de-sensitize yourself to angry outbursts.
Negotiate an agreement with the other person to keep to a lower voice level and to control verbal abuse so that meaningful discussion may continue. You can say, “I want to listen to what you have to say; however, I’m not able to because you are speaking so loud” or “I want to understand your point of view and it is difficult for me because you are yelling at me”.
If this does not work, call a TIME OUT! a cooling off period before resuming the discussion again. Remember to always say when you will talk again otherwise, the angry person might escalate because he thinks you are abandoning him and his anger.
If you have tried the techniques listed above and have still not been able to manage the conflict situation; it might be time to call in an objective, neutral third party to mediate for you and the other person. This is where a person who is respected and trusted by both parties may be able to put the conflict to rest. An outside consultant who has no agenda or personal interest in the conflict may be of help here.
Whatever you decide to do in a conflict, remember to be the bullfighter, and not the bull!