Questions to ask when you get angry

I have a neighbor who works in “construction”.  The other day, I was trying to build something in my  garage and my neighbor came over and was watching what I was doing.  After a short while, he commented, “Let me loan you a tool which will make your job easier.”  He did loan me the tool  and the tool simplified my project.

There is always a right tool for the job. If you have it, the job is much easier.  If not, the job doesn’t get done or you improvise.  Have you ever used a shoe as a hammer?  You get the idea.

All of you reading this have a tool available to you that will help you deal more effectively with your own emotions (including anger) and the emotions of other.

That tool is the ability to formulate important and focused questions.

Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of questions.

  1. Questions innately call for answers.

When we ask a question, our brain automatically goes into “answer mode” and seeks the information the question is addressing.

By the way, you can use this link between question and answer to your advantage.  When I was in grad school and a paper was assigned for the next class, my roommate would work on the paper until 12 or  1 o’clock and would then go to bed.  I would stay up until the paper was done.

At 4 or 5 0’clock, he would wake up and type out the paper.  It drove me crazy.  I did not realize until much later that his brain was working on the paper while he slept and all he had to do when he woke up was download the information.

I have used this strategy for years to write articles, speaches and book chapters.   It takes some practice and some faith that it will work, but you can do it.

While it is nice to use our brains and the questions we ask to solve challenges we face and compose articles, there is an underlying element to questions you need to be aware of.

Because the question sets up the parameters of the information or answers you get, you won’t get  quality detailed answers if you ask inadequate questions

Put another way, do you really want to have the information your question is seeking?

Let me give you an example.

Have you ever made a mistake and asked yourself: “How could I  be so stupid (emphasis added)?”  Do you really want to know about your (implied) stupidity?   Probably not.

Or, do you really want to know: What can I do to prevent a similar (mistake) in the future?

2. It is important to note that nearly all the behavior we observe in others or in ourselves is an implicit (or unasked) answer to an (often) unacknowledged question.

As an example, when you get angry and lash out at someone, the implicit question is: “What do I need to do to eliminate the threat that is facing me?”  Your actions are your answer to that question.

The questions you ask and the words you use will have an impact on the emotional response you get to the question.

As an example, in response to someone’s inappropriate behavior toward you, is there a different response to the question, “What is his problem?” verses “What is he trying to accomplish here and what are the challenges  he is facing?”

I think you get the idea.

In seeking to resolve conflicts involving anger, the goal is to, as much as possible, adopt a nonbiased, non-defensive, solution-seeking mindset.

With this orientation, you can formulate questions designed to help you gain a better understanding of what is eliciting (not causing) your anger, gain some insight into your behaviorial response and its effectiveness, and create an outlook which can facilitate a successful (win/win) resolution to the interaction between you and another person and improve your relationship with that person.

This approach is also effective if you are dealing with someone elce’s anger.

Questions leading up to your own anger

  • What is the nature of the threat?
  • How valid is my perception of threat?
  • What assumptions am I making about the other person and might they be inaccurate?
  • How else could I think about this situation?
  • Will the action I am motivated to take by the emotion I’m experiencing deal with the threat or am I, perhaps, over or underreacting to the threat?
  • What response can I choose to take to adaptively deal with the perceived threat?

Questions after your anger is displayed?

  • How effective was my display of anger in dealing with the threat?
  • Did I get the response I was expecting?
  • Was my anger appropriate for the situation?
  • What went right with my anger?
  • What went wrong?
  • Did I misperceive the nature of the threat?
  • Did I miscalculate the amount of force you needed to deal with the threat?
  • Was my message misunderstood, misinterpreted or ignored?
  • What can I do differently to get a more adaptive response to my anger?

Someone else’s anger

I wrote  three part series of posts entitled “You are the target of someone else’s anger.”  which covered this topic in great detail.  You can get to these posts by clicking the February and March 2017 tabs in the archives.

The short version is that you can get a better understanding of this other individual by analyzing his anger.

Some relevant questions to gain understanding.

  • What is the nature of the threat that he perceived as he interacted with me?
  • Did he correctly interpret something I did?
  • Did he misunderstand what I was doing or saying?
  • Did he want me to give him some space (put me on notice)?

Some important questions to determine your response.

  • What is my goal in this interaction?
  • What is the best way to communicate with him in this situation?
  • If I was “wrong”, how can I effectively apologize?
  • If I did nothing wrong, how can I help him understand what I have done?
  • If I can’t directly deal with this person because of his “superior” authority, power, or potential to “harm” me, how can I safely accomplish my goals with “indirect” action?

When you ask the right question, you are more likely to get an answer which will lead to an effective response that will help you address the perceived threat.  The anger you experience will then be resolved and will no longer be needed.

I welcome your comments.

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