The Key to Understanding Anyone Better..Hint: It is not empathy, although that would help. Part 1


  • You are interacting with another person whose behavior you find excessive, inappropriate, or “wrong” and you have no clue as to what is “causing” the behavior.
  • Because you have a “relationship”with this person, you want to gain a better understanding of them and their actions.
  • You have no clue how to begin the “process of understanding”.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar “situation”?

Most likely, the answer is yes.

Possible “relationships” include:

  • a parent with their child
  • a boss with his or her subordinates
  • a leader with his or her followers (volunteers/team)
  • a spouse
  • an adult child with aging parents
  • a person dealing with clients or customers
  • and so forth.

In pursuit of understanding, you may have read , or been advised, that you should “put yourself in their shoes”. This is what empathy is all about.

While empathizing with another person is good, there are at least 3 reasons why you might find it difficult to achieve.

  1. You may have tried to do this but “empathy” is not your strong suit.

I know of a very intelligent individual who works in the medical profession.  He views himself as very good at “understanding” the clients he works with but tends to focus on the issues he sees in the client’s reasoning or behavior.  He does not seem able to put himself in their shoes and experience his understanding from their point of view.

  1. The gap between you and the other person is too wide and inhibits your “putting yourself in their shoes”.

This gap could be due to a difference in age, gender, race, religion, or culture. Or, some other factor such as your values.

  1. You found yourself judging the other person as “wrong”.  When you judge another person, you have made a decision about them and the process of empathizing with (or even understanding) them stops.

While empathy is beneficial, it isn’t crucial.

So, even if you find it difficult to empathize with another person, you can still begin to understand them and their point of view.

Understanding another person facilitates your effectively interacting with them, improving the relationship you have with them and even, where appropriate, disciplining them.

A person’s behavior is based on their perception of the situation in which they find themselves.

Their perception of the situation is based on their “model” of the world.

Their “world” includes you.

In attempting to understand how another person is perceiving what is going on and the behavior they are engaging in based on that perception, you need to make three assumptions.  These assumptions set the stage and create an environment for understanding.

  1. Assume that the behavior you are seeing is neither “right” nor “wrong”.  It is just their behavior.
  2. Assume that every person’s behavior is “valid” for them because it is consistent with their model of the world.
  3. Assume that their behavior is the “best” that they are capable of doing given their current skill set and their model of the world.

I will discuss each assumption in more detail and give an example in Part 2 next week.

I hope the above was helpful.

If you find it useful, please send this link to someone else who might benefit from it.

And, finally, please leave a comment.


Anger: How to be calm and collected when you are angry and discuss an issue that bothers you?

When it comes to anger, control is important so that you do not go off the deep end.  This is what it means to stay calm.

Staying calm does not mean that you stop being angry.

What you want to learn is how to both manage and master your anger so that it works for you and you can use the energy it gives you to correct a negative situation.

This is what I mean when I talk about strategically deploying your anger.

Let me give you some background information so you understand what anger is and what happens to you when get angry.  I will then give you some suggestions you can use to help you master your anger so that you can say what you need to and deal with the situation.

Anger is one of the 6 basic emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, surprise and disgust) that humans have had since time began.  The job of anger is to prepare us to fight off threats that will harm us if not dealt with.  When we were living in caves, these threats were always real and usually were life threatening.  When angry, adrenaline is released into the body and prepares us for battle by giving us the energy we need to overpower our adversary

Fast forward to the 21st century.

Today, anger acts on  you the same way that it did for Mr. Caveman.

Your anger tells you that you perceive a threat to you.  Today, unlike for our ancestors, most threats are not survival based.  They are threats to our ego, our sense of right and wrong, our values and so forth.

I call these psychological threats.

With the above in mind, let’s take a look at what you can do.

  • The suggestions I will be making sound simple to do and they are.
  • However, they will not be easy to do in the situation when you are angry.
  • Consequently, in order to use these suggestions, you will have to practice them.

This is a mistake that many writers make.

  • The writer offers a strategy. The reader tries to implement the strategy.  Nothing changes. The reader feels more frustrated.
  • I hope this does not happen to you, my readers.

Anger management:

You should practice moving into anger management as soon as you become aware that you are getting angry.

You manage your anger when you create both psychological and physical “space” between you and the person with whom you are interacting.

You create psychological space when you lower your initial arousal level so that you can respond rather than react to your situation. You do this by taking a deep breath as soon as you become aware of your anger.

There are two reasons for taking a deep breath.

1. The first reason is that the deep breath relaxes you physically and lowers your arousal (level of energy).  If you need to take several deep breaths, that is okay.

Most people tend to get over-energized in angry situations.  The deep breath helps to counter this,

2. The second reason is that the breath gives you a few seconds to collect your thoughts.  Your thoughts (perceptions) are what create the anger in the first place.

You create physical space by taking a step back from the other person.

You do this for two reasons.

1. First of all, it gives you some additional safe space if you need it.

2. Secondly, it sends a message to the other person that you are not a threat to them.

This physical space can be a small or a large step back.

Anger Mastery

Anger management involves lowering your level of arousal and most writers talk about anger management as an end goal.

I suggest you move on to anger mastery which involves resolving the situation in which you find yourself by either strategically deploying your anger if the threat is valid or letting go of the anger if you determine that you have misinterpreted the other person’s behavior.

When you master your anger, you attempt to assess the nature of the threat and choose your most adaptive response.

When you are in the middle of an interpersonal interaction the goal of which is to communicate your concerns, there are two assessments to be made:

  1. On the one hand, you need to assess the validity of the threat that you perceive in the situation that is leading up to (not causing) your anger.
  2. Secondly, if the other person is expressing anger (or its lesser cousin irritation), you should attempt to assess the threat that he (or she) perceives in you.

There are two reasons for assessing the nature of the perceived threat (both yours and theirs).

1. When you think about the threat, you give yourself a few moments to “calm down” a bit further and plan your response.

Note: You are not becoming less angry.  You are simply letting some of the energy go so you can take effective action.

As an analogy, when you are in your car, you slow down just enough to get around the curve.  Too much speed, you get in an accident.  You don’t stop the car, you just drop the level of energy (speed, in this case) to remain effective.

2. Thinking about your adversary’s perception of threat gives you an advantage in that it helps you manage your own anger by giving you some awareness of where their anger is coming from so you don’t take it personally and helps you deal with him or her.

If you can’t figure out what their threat is, this is okay.  You can still master your own anger.

You may decide that there is no real threat and just let go of your anger.

If you decide that the threat is real, you can use all of your energy to effectively deal with it.

As I said above, it is easier for me to make these suggestions then it is for you to implement them when you are angry and over-energized. But you can learn to implement them!

With this in mind, I suggest that you “practice” these strategies.

Here is how

In the comfort of your own home,

A. Review the strategy in your mind ==>

1. As soon as I become aware of my anger, I will stop and take a deep breath.  If I need to, I’ll take two deep breaths.

2. Once my thoughts are more clear, I will think about the nature of the threat I perceive.  If I can, I’ll try to get a fix on his or her perceived threat.

3. As my thoughts continue to clear and my energy level drops just enough, I’ll engage him or her in conversation.

B. Next, think about the last time you got angry and did something that was not very effective ( like crying or screaming)==>

1.   Let’s say this is point B in the interaction.

2. Try to think back to point A when you first became aware of the anger.

3. Imagine yourself taking a deep breath and successfully implementing the strategy.

4. Do this several times.

C. You can also practice taking a deep breath with other feelings such as stress, anxiety and so forth.

The purpose is to give you a sense that you can do this (YOU CAN) so when you find yourself in the next angry encounter, you are more prepared to take effective action.

I welcome your comments.

How do I get over the fear of being wrong and the fear of failure?

This is a question that I was asked on  I thought  some of you might be interested in the issues this question raises.

Most of the answers that were given by others on Quora tended to focus on the reality that we all make mistakes and need to learn to accept that.

While this is a good response to this question, I, as an expert on emotions with two Amazon bestselling books, Emotions as Tools and Beyond Anger Management, would offer a bit different perspective.

The above question uses the word “fear” as it is commonly used i.e. “fear of being wrong” and “fear of failure”.

Unfortunately, both of these uses are incorrect because the emotion the writer is really referring to is anxiety.

I should mention that, for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t really matter which word you use. However, when you understand the difference between anxiety and fear, you enable yourself to master both emotions and the suggestions I make below will make more sense to you.

Fear is an in-the-moment emotion, the message of which is that you are perceiving a threat that will “kill” you unless you get out of that situation. Fear is the hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck raising up. The best response to fear is to get out of the situation. Too often, women, and sometimes men, experience fear but ignore it to their own peril. An example is when your feelings tell you the guy standing in the elevator is bad news eventhough he looks fine and has done nothing wrong. While you might be wrong about him, trust your feelings and take the next elevator.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a future based emotion the message of which is that there might be a threat that might hurt me.

Notice in the question that the writer is concerned about what might happen if, at some future date, he (or she) is wrong or experiences “failure”. Both are future possibilities. If the writer were wrong or had failed when they were writing the question, they would have asked a different question.

So, let’s address the question.

The antidote to anxiety (fear of being wrong) is to ask two basic questions about what might happen in the future.

The first and most important question is this: If the worst possible outcome happens to me (however you define “worst” and “being wrong”), can I survive (however you choose to define “survive”) it?

If the answer is “I won’t like it but I could survive it”, then you no longer have to dwell on the issue and can move on to the second question.

By the way, there are very few situations in which you would not “survive” if you made a mistake. So, the answer to question #1 will usually be yes. Now, if you are talking about being wrong about whether or not the mushroom you are about to eat is poisonous or not, or whether you have chosen the right rope to repel down the side of a mountain, well it will be in your best interest to get more information before you make a decision.

Whether you could survive the future or not, question #2 becomes your next focus.

Question #2 is: What do I need to do, learn, or make happen in order to reduce the possibility of “being wrong” or “failing”.

I need to explain that there are two types of anxiety. The first is called distress and the second is called eustress.

Distress is disabling, focuses on the worst case scenario, and leads you to act as if this undesirable outcome is inevitable. It is distress that the writer is most likely referring to when he talks about the “fear of being wrong”.

Eustress is enabling, uses the same motivating energy of anxiety, and focuses on what you need to do to make the right decision. This is the energy my students use to motivate them to study for an upcoming exam. When you prepare for a future event, you no longer have to avoid it because you are now prepared for it.

So, if you are prepared for the future event and you can survive it if goes bad, you will no longer have a “fear of being wrong”. You may not like it, but you won’t be “afraid” of it.

Finally, let me give you a different definition of “failure”.

Most people think that “failure” is a destination. You either “succeed” and reach your goal or you “fail” and fall short.

This is a disabling definition as it only gives you two options-achieve your goal and label yourself a success or miss your goal and label yourself a failure. And, as all kinds of things can happen which delay or interfere with you reaching your goal, you are more likely to experience “failure” rather than a need to recalculate and redirect your attention.

A more adaptive definition of failure is to see it as a process or journey. As a process, failure is defined as “falling short Y times and getting up X times, where  X > Y”. It is this definition the person who quoted Edison  as saying: “I didn’t fail 1000’s of times to make a lightbulb. I found 1000’s of ways that didn’t work.” is referring to.

As long as you pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, make the corrections you need to make, and move forward, you can’t fail. You only fail when you give up.

I hope that gives you, my readers, a bit different perspective on this question and I welcome your comments and feedback.

Things happen after an “anger”.

You are probably wondering what an “anger” is.  And, rightly so. I am using the emotion of anger as a noun or as an event.  In other words, when you get angry, I am suggesting, for the sake of the discussion, that you are experiencing an “anger”.

In both of my Amazon bestselling books and other posts, I have written about anger  as an emotion that:

  • communicates a specific message
  • can be mastered
  • can be strategically deployed to improve your life and your relationships.

Whenever I write about specific emotions, about emotions in general or about the model of emotions, I talk about all emotions, including anger, as tools.  This is a very useful metaphor because you use tools on a daily basis including your cell phone, your computer, your car, your TV remote and so forth. In the same way that you learn how to get the most out of your cell phone as a useful tool, you can learn how to get the most out of your anger as a useful tool.

While this model of emotions  remains useful, I want you to think about the display of anger as an “event”. In other words, your getting angry at someone is an anger event (or an “anger”) and you can get a better understanding of anger by analyzing this event and learning from it.  This is true whether it is your anger or anger directed at you.

My goal is provide many different ways of understanding anger not because one is better than the other (They are all effective.) but because one metaphor may work  better for you than another.  You pick which model works best for you.

Or use some parts of each model.


Let’s say you are setting up an “event” such as a book promotion, a soft-opening for a new business, a surprise birthday party for a good friend, a plan to study for an upcoming exam or a trip to the store to do grocery shopping.

Every event can be analyzed in terms of at least three elements:

  • What is the purpose you wish the event to accomplish?
  • What set of actions do you need to complete in order to fulfill the purpose of the event?
  • What is the outcome that you can measure to determine whether or not your event was “successful” in fulfilling the purpose?

This “outcome” is what happens after the event has taken place.

Anger as an event.


Anger, as an emotion, has two purposes.

  • One purpose of anger is to alert you to and prepare you to deal with a perceived threat.  Typically, this threat will involve a specific goal of yours, a basic value such as respect or your view of right and wrong, your finances, your view of “territory” including your personal space, your home, your family and so forth.
  • The second purpose of anger is to warn others that you perceive them as a threat, that you are prepared to defend yourself and that you are ready to go to war to eliminate the threat.

Actions needed

When you get angry, you choose the amount of force needed to eliminate the perceived threat.

If the threat is relatively minor (yet important enough to be seen as a threat), you will act accordingly including engaging the other person by expressing your concerns and so forth.

If you perceive a major threat, you may go on “red alert”, fire up your “phasers”, and take your best shot. (Sorry for the Star Trek analogy.)

Measuring the outcome.

Once you have completed your “anger” (remember the event), you can look back on it and decide whether it was successful or not.

This is the step that most anger management approaches miss because they tend to focus on controlling the anger rather than mastering it as a strategic tool.

Your own anger.

Let’s go back to the events listed above and say that the specific event we are looking at is a trip to the store.

You go to the store, do your shopping, get home and realize that

1) you forgot to buy milk,

2) you spontaneously bought some items you really didn’t need (Think about all those goodies beckoning you on the shelves by the check-out counter.)or 3) you purchased some items you already had at home.

When you analyze your shopping event, you realize that you made some mistakes.  You did not make a comprehensive list and you were hungry when you went to the store. So, while you did get many of the items you needed (advantages), you had outcomes you didn’t want (disadvantages).

So, let’s look at your anger.

You get angry and, once you calm down, you look back on your anger event so that you can learn from it for next time.

Did you achieve your purpose in that the threat was eliminated without unnecessary collateral damages?

If you were ignored or criticized for your anger, or you ended up hurting someone physically or emotionally, or the threat was not nullified, then your anger was not completely successful and you will need to make some adjustments the next time you perceive a threat and get angry.

Some relevant questions.

  • Did you misperceive the nature of the threat?
  • Did you miscalulate the amount of force you needed to deal with the threat?
  • Was your message misunderstood, misinterpreted or ignored?

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 (event).

Some relevant questions to gain understanding.

  • What is the nature of the threat that he perceived as he interacted with you?
  • Did he correctly interpret something you did?
  • Did he misunderstand what you were 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?

I think you get the idea.

When you get angry, you set in motion a series of consequences, actions, and reactions that are directly related to your “anger”.  This is inevitable.

Your responsibility, after an anger, is to analyze whether you were effective or ineffective in resolving the situation which elicited your emotion and resulted in (not caused) your anger.

When you learn from your experience, you have the opportunity to change your behavior the next time you perceive a threat, your “anger” becomes more adaptive, and you avoid making the same mistakes.

You can become a better..

  • shopper
  • event planner
  • student
  • angerer

I welcome your comments.