This is a picture of a bicycle frame and a bicycle tire both of which are securely chained to the stand. Unfortunately, all the rest of the bicycle is gone. I am sure the owner of the bicycle thought he (or she) did the right thing by putting a chain with a secure lock through the frame and detached wheel. Clearly, the owner did not get the result (a secure bike) that he had anticipated.
The same thing can happen when you express your emotions.
I discussed the emotional process in 3 earlier posts (3/31/16, 4/6/16 and 4/13/16).
Emotionally, you are a threat detecting organism. Once you perceive a threat and your Amygdala subconsciously prepares your body to REACT and engage the threat, your cerebral cortex kicks in and enables you to assess the nature of the threat and choose how you want to RESPOND.
So, let’s say that you correctly assess the threat your feeling informs you about (The threat is genuine.), you choose your response (rather than react), and the reaction you get is not at all what you expected.
As an example. You are standing in line to get to the cashier and someone cuts in line. This is a “threat” to your view of right and wrong. In other words, it isn’t right and it isn’t fair. You get annoyed (mild anger) or even angry, gauge your response to the situation and assertively tell the person that you (and others) have been waiting in line and that they need to go to the back of the line.
When we get angry, it means we have perceived a threat to our egos, our goals, our values, our relationship, or our resources from our point of view. This is what anger, as a threat detector, is designed to do.
You expect the line-cutter to apologize and exit the line. This is what they “should” do.
Instead, they glare at you and tell you to mind your own business.
What went wrong?
In short, the person with whom you are interacting had not read the social “script” which states what a reasonable person should do in this situation. Notice the italicized words. Their anger tells you that they see you as a threat and that they are attempting to minimize the damage they believe you have caused them.
To put it another way, you viewed the “threat” from your point of view and acted accordingly. They did the same thing.
Who is wrong here?
You can answer this question in several ways.
The word “wrong” implies a judgment.
So, this person has violated a “social norm” regarding lines. In this sense, we judge him (or her) to be wrong.
Emotionally, however, everyone’s feelings are based on their view of the world. This is important to keep in mind when we deal with other people. Your emotions are always valid for you (and the other person). Valid means that your feelings are consistent with how you view the world.
Your feelings may be valid for you but wrong for the situation.
Or, in this case, his feelings may be valid for him but wrong (according to social norms) for the situation.
You, however, have experienced a valid feeling (anger), your emotion is right for the situation, and you took the right action to nullify the threat. Unfortunately, what you did resulted in the situation escalating.
A few months ago, I posted a question on “Connect A Professional Woman’s Network (LinkedIn). I wanted to know how professional women were treated when they showed anger (both appropriate anger and anger appropriately displayed) in their work settings.
Over 2000 responses indicated that when women got angry, the men in their work settings demeaned and marginalized them and/or called them derogatory (misogynistic) names.
These women did all the right things (from an anger mastery point of view) and got all the wrong results.
So, what can you (as a man or a woman) do?
The short answer is that you shift your point of view and use the energy of your anger (or other feeling) to motivate and energize the actions you need to take to nullify the threat.
My assumption here is that you have correctly perceived a threat and that some action needs to be taken to nullify that threat.
In this situation, you need to shift your point of view to that of the other person. The questions to ask are: How does he (or she) see the situation and in what way does he see you as a threat?
Please note that I am not saying his point of view is correct (by any standard). Nor am I suggesting that you ignore your perception of threat. On the contrary, he (or his actions) are a threat which you need to address. But, you can’t address these issues until you understand and work around his perceptions.
There are several actions you can take.
First, you can apologize for any misunderstandings that may have occurred. Note that you are not apologizing for your getting angry. You are only attempting to soften any misunderstandings.
Next, you need to take a “project manager” approach. By this, I mean that you need to step back and review what your goals are in the situation, what the stumbling blocks are, what risks you might be exposed to, and what resources you need to move forward.
You are approaching your situation with this person as if it were a project and using your anger to give you the energy you need. You are still angry but you are not outwardly showing your anger as this will only escalate the interaction.
Your “project” goal is to address the threat.
The stumbling block is that his ego, sense of vulnerability, misperceptions, or hidden agendas are preventing you from addressing his actions.
Your resources include your ability to find a different way to approach him. Perhaps, you need to bring in a third person or you need to approach this individual from a different angle perhaps a cost-benefit analysis or a productivity or a workplace environment suggestion.
The point here is that you look for an approach which will grab his attention, take the focus off of you as a possible threat, and enable you to address the issue of his behavior that needs to change (for a reason he sees as important).
This approach will work in a professional setting or at home with your kids or spouse. In using this approach, you are mastering your anger by using it as a source of energy and you are mastering the anger of the other person by understanding his perception of you as a threat and working around it.
I welcome your comments.