You are the target of someone’s anger: Part 2 of 3

This is the second of 3 posts which discuss what you can do when someone gets angry with you.   Put another way, I am suggesting that you learn to master the anger of another person and use your knowledge to make the most out of the situation in which you find yourself.

There are 6 steps involved in dealing with the anger of another person. In my last post, I discussed step 1 and step 2 and the sub-steps of each.

Steps 1 and 2 were all about you, preparing yourself to engage the other person and insuring your own safety.

In this post, I will discuss steps 3 and step 4 and their sub-steps.

Steps 3 and 4 are also preparing to engage the other person but the emphasis in these steps shifts from you to them.

For review, here are the 6 steps and sub-steps.

Here is an overview:

Step 1:  Prepare to engage.                                                                                     Sub-steps:  a. Calm yourself   b. Take a physical step back

Step 2: Insure your safety.                                                                                      Sub-steps: a. assess personal threat level   b. Assess need for immediate action.

Step 3: Validate their anger.                                                                                    Sub-steps: a. Assume their anger is valid.  b. Calm them down.

Step 4: Forgiveness.                                                                                                  Sub-steps: a. understand what forgiveness is. b. Don’t take their anger personally.

Step 5: Empathize with and attempt to understand the other person’s anger.   Sub-steps: a. Seek first to understand. b. Address 7 general issues.

Step 6: Decide how to respond.                                                                               Sub-steps: a. If you did something.  b. The issue is in their head.

Again, let me set the stage (from the first post):

You are at _____ (work, home, walking the dog) and someone interacts with you in such a way that it seems clear to you that this person is angry with you.  He (or she) might be yelling at you, talking fast, accusing you of having done something and so forth.  It is not immediately clear why they are angry.

Step 3 involves validating their anger and has two sub-steps.  Sub-step (a) reminds you of the assumption you need to make regarding their anger and Sub-step (b) reminds you that your goal here is to calm them down by defusing their anger as much as you can.

When I suggest validating the anger of another person, the response that I get usually involves two separate focal points: the anger and the person who is angry.  My audience will raise two issues.   On the one hand, they do not like the implication that validating the anger is acknowledging the anger as both appropriate and acceptable (when is probably is not). Secondly, they do not like the implication that validating the person’s anger is rewarding this individual for both his inappropriate anger and, possibly his inappropriate behavior.

I am not suggesting that you either accept his anger as appropriate nor that you reward his behavior although I do acknowledge that he may think this is what you are doing.

Indeed, while it is true that the definition of “to validate” is to authenticate the authenticity of”, when you validate his (or her) anger, you are only saying that the anger is valid for him and that you agree he has a right to be angry based on how he perceives the situation.  Your focus is totally on the other person and the perceptions which have elicited his anger not on the anger, per se.

This is an important distinction.

To put it another way, if his perceptions of what is going on are completely correct, then his anger both makes total sense and is valid. This is the underlying logic for validating his anger.

As you do not yet know what his perceptions are, you cannot say whether that the anger directed at you is either valid or correct for the situation.

Two points to keep in mind here:

  1. Our emotions are always valid (appropriate) for us in that they are elicited by how we see the world.
  2. The message of his anger is that he perceives a threat or a challenge to his values, goals, beliefs, ego, sense of self, identity and so forth.

In light of these two points, if you immediately question or challenge him or his anger, you may increase his perception of you as a threat and he will escalate his anger. Acknowledging that he is angry and that you would like to understand what he is angry about communicates to him that you want to work with him and that you may not be as much of a threat as he originally thought.

To the extent that you are successful in validating his anger, you move on to Sub-step 2 as he will begin to calm down.

Once you have validated the other person’s anger as authentic and appropriate for them given their perception of the situation, you can move on to step #4 which is forgiveness.

This is tough one for many people especially if the other person, fueled by their anger has said or done things that have hurt you.

So, let me explain how I am conceptualizing forgiveness.

When I suggested to the young women I worked with in the California Department of Corrections-Juvenile Division that they forgive the men who abused them (often their fathers) or the women who abandoned them (or worse), they often refused stating that these men (women) did not deserve to be forgiven for what they did.

Most people think that forgiveness means letting the person off the hook for what they did or absolving them of blame and responsiblity.  This is what happens when your past debts are “forgiven”.  They are erased. Or, when in the Bible (Disclaimer: I am not a biblical expert.) when Christ forgave someone’s sins and that person was “born again”.

As I am using the word, forgiveness means “letting go”. When you forgive another person for what they have done to you, you are choosing to disengage emotionally from that person and their actions.  This letting go frees you up to decide the best way for you to deal with this individual and their behavior in your current context.

Forgiveness is all about you not about them.

Forgiveness allows you to be more objective about the interaction between you and the other person.  In being objective, you have the opportunity to use the energy of your feelings about the situation to both choose and implement your best option to resolve the issues you are facing.

So, now that you have taken steps to insure your safety (Steps 1 and 2) and to initiate the process of lowering the energy level of the interaction (Steps 3 and 4), you are now ready to move toward and choose a response (Steps 5 and 6).

I will discuss these Steps in the next post.

I welcome your comments.

You are the target of someone’s anger: Part 1 of 3

  In most of my earlier posts, I have discussed how to master your own anger. And, in the vast majority of situations, it is your own anger that you will be dealing with.

However, in the course of dealing with other people, it is quite likely that someone has gotten angry at you and you have become a target. Recognizing this, I included a chapter in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, entitled Dealing with Someone Else’s Anger Directed at You.

As I would like to cover this topic in more depth and as I do not want each post to be too long, I will address mastering the anger of another person in the next three posts.

Mastering the anger of another person directed at you involves 6 steps each of which has two substeps. All 6 steps parallel the Anger Mastery Cycle and how you master your own anger. (You can download a copy of the Anger Mastery Cycle by scrolling up to the top and clicking on the tab on the right side of the page.)

Here is an overview:

  1.  Prepare to engage.                                                                                     Sub-steps:  a. Calm yourself   b. Take a physical step back
  2. Insure your safety.                                                                                      Sub-steps: a. assess personal threat level   b.Assess need for immediate action.
  3. Validate their anger.                                                                                    Sub-steps: a. Assume their anger is valid.  b.Calm them down.
  4. Forgiveness.                                                                                                  Sub-steps: a. understand what forgiveness is. b. Don’t take their anger personally.
  5. Empathize with and attempt to understand the other person’s anger.   Sub-steps: a. Seek first to understand. b. Address 7 general issues.
  6. Decide how to respond.                                                                               Sub-steps: a. If you did something.  b. The issue is in their head.

I will address steps 1 and 2 in this post, steps 3 and 4 in the next post, and steps 5 and 6 in the third post.

Let me set the stage…

You are at _____ (work, home, walking the dog) and someone interacts with you in such a way that it seems clear to you that this person is angry with you.  He (or she) might be yelling at you, talking fast, accusing you of having done something and so forth.  It is not immediately clear why they are angry.

Steps 1 and 2 go together and involve preparing to engage the other person and insuring your own safety.

Remember from the Anger Mastery Cycle that all of us are constantly and subconsciously scanning our surroundings for any threat that might hurt us. Anger tells us that we perceive a threat that we believe we can overpower if we throw enough force at it. This is the message of anger.

The other person’s anger informs you that he sees you as a threat. As you don’t know what it is that he perceives or if you are at risk, you need to think about your own safety first.

Steps 1 and  2 are about your safety.

Step 1 (Prepare to engage) involves two substeps.  First, you need to take a deep breath and second, you need to take a physical step back from the other person.

Taking a deep breath performs two functions for you.

Taking a deep breath calms you down just enough so that you can choose what you do next.  This will inhibit you from reacting to the person and possibly escalating the interaction.  Taking a breath also gives you some psychological distance between you and the other person.

Taking a step back from the person also performs two functions.

When you step back from the person, you provide yourself some physical distance between you and the other person.  You also signal to them that you are not an immediate threat to them.

Step 1 and its sub-steps can happen very quickly.  But, they are not automatic and must be “practiced”.  More likely than not, when someone “angers” (my word) all over you, you will want to react and “anger” back on them.  This is never a good idea.

Even if you are “justified” in reacting aggressively toward this person, the actions you take will most likely escalate, or aggravate, the interaction and will not move you and the other person toward resolving whatever issue is eliciting (not causing) the anger.  While this is not necessarily an issue if the other person is a stranger, it may be a very important point if the other person is a colleague, a boss, a co-worker, or a customer talking to you on a help line or at your business.

You “practice” your response to the anger of another person by rehearsing, in your mind’s eye, the actions you will take if you are ever in this situation. Actors, preparing for a part, rehearse, or practice their actions.  Maybe, you have rehearsed what you would do prior to a job interview or a meeting with your boss during which you plan to ask for a raise.  Same idea.  Think about someone getting angry with you and yelling at you.  When you do this, you might feel yourself reacting as if this situation were actually occurring.  If this happens to you, relax, this is normal. The mind often reacts the same to a vividly imagined event as it does to the event itself.  Have you ever gotten scared or cried at a movie?

So, create an angry interaction in your mind and then “see” yourself taking a deep breath and taking a step back.  You should do this several times for a week or so.  While rehearsing makes it more likely that you will do as you plan, I have to tell you that there is no guarantee.  The more you rehearse, the more likely the new action is to occur.

Step 2 (Insure your safety) also involves two sub-steps.  First, you need to assess your personal risk and second you need to assess the need for any immediate action.

Assessing your personal risk involves looking at the other person, their tone of voice, the actions they are taking (moving toward you as you move away), what they are saying (any threats) and so forth.  If your “gut” tells you that you are at risk, then your best course of action is to act as if you are at risk.  This gut feeling is your Amygdala sending you a message. Honor it.

Sub-step 2 involves deciding what you need to do in the moment based on what you feel following sub-step 1.  If you sense that you are in danger, leave.  If you have to, just walk away.  If you need to excuse yourself before you walk away, make an excuse and leave.  If you do not sense that you are in danger, then you can move on to step 3  and step 4 which we will discuss next week.

I welcome your comments.

It’s an emotional world: 3 rules for living in it with others.

If you are alive or you interact with others, you come into contact with emotions on a regular (even daily) basis.

In the course of living your daily life, you may get angry, anxious, sad, doubtful, jealous or envious.

In your interactions with others such as your boss, your spouse, a customer, or your kid, you may experience someone who gets mad at or impatient with you or who is sad or anxious.

How well do you deal with emotions (and the behavior that goes along with emotions) in yourself and others?

Information about what emotions are and how to master them is available both on the internet and from me in my books and my blogposts.

In my first book (Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings), I discuss what emotions are, why we have them, and the Emotions as Tools Model. I also discuss specific emotions of anger, sadness, anxiety, fear, guilt and shame.

In my second book (Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool)  I focus specifically on anger including the Anger Mastery Cycle, anger management verses anger mastery, the anger myths, what to do when it feels like anger but isn’t and both how to deal with other’s anger and when other’s won’t let you be angry.

Both books are Amazon best sellers and you download the first two chapters of each book for free with no log-in required by scrolling up to the top of the page.

With that being said, let’s look at 3 general rules which will help you deal with another person who is emotional with you.

Rule #1: Assume that everyone (including you) does the best they can in the situation given a) what they know about what is going on, b) the assumptions they make and c) the skills they have to deal with what is going on.

My guess is that this rule doesn’t sit well with you as you know that much of the behavior you have seen in others (and in yourself) doesn’t qualify as either good or “best”.

True. In fact, what they are doing may be destructive, wrong for the situation, or just unacceptable.

Indeed, I not saying that what they are doing is the best that can be done or even what they should be doing. In many cases, this is usually obvious.

What I am saying is that, when you do not immediately judge the behavior and assume that this is the best they can do, in the moment, with the information they have, the assumptions they make and the skills they have, you have many different options from which you can choose to deal with this individual.

The other alternative is to judge the behavior and react by doing something that worsens the interaction and that you may later regret. This, by the way, is what usually happens when one’s feelings get hurt, misunderstandings occur, and the situation gets out of hand.

When you assume that what they are doing is the best they can, your next step can be to understand what underlies and has led to the actions they are taking with you.

Steven Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People notes that, in your interactions with others, you should seek first to understand and then to be understood.

When we react to others out of our own emotional state, we do the exact opposite.  We want to stand up for and defend ourselves to a perceived attack.  If you are interacting with a boss, a spouse, a customer, or even your kid, this usually is not an effective way to move the relationship forward.

In dealing with another person whose emotionally driven behavior clearly seems over the top or not fitting the situation and making the above assumption, you now have the opportunity to look into the information they have and the assumptions they are making.  Once you know this, you can begin to change the interaction by giving additional information and clearing up any misunderstandings they (or you) may have. With new information, the behavior they are displaying toward you can change.

Please note that you have not given up any of your options either in the emotions you feel or the responses you may choose to make. But, when they change what they are doing, you, most likely will also change what you choose to do.

And, this leads us to Rule #2.

Rule#2: Know what you want to accomplish in your interactions with this person.

In any interpersonal interaction, it is important for you to know what you want to accomplish because this will determine what you choose to do.

Interpersonal interactions cover a wide range of situations from wanting good service from your server in a restaurant, building a healthy (however you define this) relationship with your spouse or significant other, keeping a customer happy on a service call, through getting respect from your supervisor and so forth.

So, you can see that it is important to understand the nature of your relatioship with this other person, what you and they expect in the relationship and where you want the relationship to go (what you want to accomplish in the relationship).

Once you know this, you are in a better position to decide what actions you will take to get you where you want to go.

And, this takes us to rule #3.

Rule#3: Seek to get a win/win with the other person but settle for a compromise if you have to.

Most people think that compromise is the best you can hope for when there is a disagreement.  And, sometimes, this is true.

When you compromise, both you and the other person give up something you can do without to get something you must have. There is nothing wrong with this but, in one sense, it is a lose/lose proposition in that you both have given up something you would just as soon have if you could.

Someone once said that if you shoot for the stars and you miss you end up on the moon.  If you shoot for the moon and miss, you end up back on earth.  The moon is a compromise.

I am suggesting that you shoot for a win/win in which both of you get all that you want, whenever this is possible. If this is your goal in a relationship, you will work to find ways that meet all of both your needs.

This is often possible if you look for it.

If not, you can always compromise.

In an upcoming series of three posts, I will discuss in detail a six step process for dealing with someone who directs their anger at you.

I welcome your comments.

Sometimes you do everything right and still get the wrong results. A suggestion


The scenario.

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.

Another example.

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.

“What” is often a better, and more accurate, word to use than “Why”. Here is why.

How many times have you been asked by someone, or you asked another person, “Why did you do that?” The most likely answer is: many times.

Well, when you were asked, “Why did you do that?”, what was your emotional reaction?

Probably, you became defensive, or maybe a bit anxious or angry, and you attempted to offer an excuse or a reason which would justify whatever you did and, at the same time, help you avoid getting in trouble.

If you felt anxious, you interpreted the question as challenging, or judging, what you did and as implying some sort of future negative consequence if your answer to the question was not satisfactory.

If you felt anger, you interpreted the question as inappropriately challenging. or judging, what you did and as intrusive. You saw this question as a threat to your autonomy, your judgement in choosing the action you took, or your competence.

Whether you felt anxiety or anger, your reaction was to defend yourself and you offered an excuse or justification for what you did.

The tendency of the word  “why” to elicit a defensive reaction is the reason you probably want to minimize using this word in your interactions with others. Especially, your kids.

I am not saying you should never use the word. Rather, I am suggesting you think about the reason for the question you are asking (Why you are asking it.) and the information you seek in the answer you receive.

When you ask a person, “Why did you do that?”, what you really want to know is:

  • What was the basis for your decision to (do what you did)?
  • What did you hope to accomplish (by doing what you did)?
  • What other alternatives did you consider (before you did what you did)?
  • What motivated you (to do what you did)?

Notice that all of these questions begin with “what” instead of “why”. The weakness of the word “why” is that our behavior is multi-determined.  In other words, there are many underlying reasons or motivations  for the actions we take. Consequently, when you are asked “why”, you may not, in most cases, exactly know why you did what you did.

Now, in some cases, you may know why?  For example, you can say why you chose to watch the football game instead of the cooking show or why you chose the iPhone over the google phone.  And so forth.

The word “what”, in contrast, focuses your attention on the choices you made or the reasons you used prior to taking the action in question.  If you think about it, this is the information you are actually seeking.

For the reason, the next time you question someone about an action they took, start your question with the word “what” followed by the information you want instead of the word “why”.

In so doing, you are mastering emotions because you are using your awareness of the emotional process to avoid eliciting an emotional reaction which may negatively impact your relationship with the other person.

If it is you to whom the question “why” is directed, master your emotions by not reacting to the implications of the question.  Rather, answer the question as if the word “what” instead of “why” had been used.

I welcome your comments.

Emotions As Tools – Seven Top Conflict Resolution Tips Using Emotions As Tools

If you have not done so, already, I encourage you to download the first chapter of my book Emotions as Tools: A Self-Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings  by scrolling back up to the top of this page and clicking on the “EMOTIONS as TOOLS TOC_Intro_Ch 1 PDF link.  This is not an opt-in.

If you have ever found yourself facing another person who is angry with you because of something you did (or did not) do something the other person thought was important, you have experienced conflict.

When this happened did your conflict resolution strategies include using your emotions as tools to gain valuable strategic information?

If not, the 7 step process below will teach you how to use the information provided by emotions to resolve conflict between you and someone else or between two other people.

So that we are all on the same page, here are some basic working definitions:

Difference of Opinion: A misunderstanding between two people that may involve some mild emotions and can be usually be dealt with through discussion, clarification, and compromise.

Conflict: A strong disagreement between two parties that involves some action that was taken or some action that was not taken. Conflict is always accompanied by strong emotions. With human beings, conflict is almost impossible to totally avoid.

Emotions as Tools model:

1. States that our emotions are created by our thoughts and how we perceive the environment

2. Every emotion has an underlying message which reflects the perception that created it.

3. By reading the emotion and understanding the underlying message, we can address how a person perceives his or her situation and help them change that perception.

4. When the perception changes, the emotion changes.

The three steps of conflict resolution:

1. Finding out what the presenting issue is by asking questions and actively listening to the answers.

2. Using the information provided by reading emotions to determine the real underlying issue.

3. Taking the necessary time to address the underlying issues and come to an agreement about how to best deal with the presenting issue so that both parties are satisfied (win/win) or at least agree to live with what is agreed upon (compromise).

The 7 step process:

Step 1: View all disagreements as a difference of opinion NOT as a conflict.

With a difference of opinion, the presenting issue is what it is. Two people have differing opinions. Depending on the situation, the emotions that go along with misunderstandings or differences of opinion are surprised, confused, possibly frustrated, or maybe even amused. These tend to be milder emotions that usually do not get in the way of further discussion.

Differences of opinion can escalate into conflict if not resolved.

Step 2: Recognize a “conflict” by identifying the emotions (specifically anger) that are present.

If you notice that you or another person is getting angry about an issue, it is likely that a conflict has developed.

This is why.

The message of anger is that the angry person both feels threatened and believes that if he demonstrates his power through his anger, he can eliminate the threat.

When we are in threat prevention mode, we are not in problem solving mode.

The specific threat may be to his (or her) ego, to some goal, or to an ideal such as fairness. When you see anger, it means that, in addition to the presenting issue such as when a teenager gets angry when her parent sets rules for dating, there is an underlying issue of perceived threat which must be addressed first for successful conflict resolution to occur.

The presence of a perceived threat is what leads to a conflict.

Note: A future article will address the indirect anger shown by women in our society and the tendency of men to use anger as a substitute for hurt. You can, for now, assume that anger in a conflict reflects some underlying threat. You will not lose with this strategy.

Step 3: Keep your own head level.

Adopt a conflict resolution mind set.

This includes:

-Acknowledging and understanding your own perception of threat if you are angry.

-Having mutual respect for everyone and their position.

-Remaining non-judgemental.

-Being willing to actively listen to the other party and hear their story

-Expressing your own story without accusing the other party.

-Remaining open to possible solutions other than your own.

Step 4: Address the underlying issue of perceived threat.

In most cases, when anger is present, one (or both) party perceives a threat. Examples include:

(i) Threat to Autonomy

Strategy: Reaffirm the maturity and independence of the other person.

(ii) Threat to a sense of Fairness

Strategy: Reaffirm that any decision made will only be reached after all sides have been heard and an agreement reached that is agreeable to both.

Note: If the issue is between a parent and a child, a different approach may be needed

(iii) Threat of Loss

Strategy: Acknowledge their sense of loss and reaffirm that each loss also may involve a gain.

An example is when you give up some autonomy to do your own thing and gain cooperation and harmony in an office setting.

Step 5: Address the presenting issue.

Once the threat is addressed, the conflict becomes a difference of opinion and the presenting issue can be addressed.

Step 6: Resolve the conflict

Once the issue is addressed, a win/win solution or a compromise can be agreed upon. Or, you can agree to disagree. Always seek a win/win solution first.

Step 7: Finalize the agreement

State the agreement or write it down with information about who will do what by when and any consequences that will happen if “WHAT” and “WHEN” are not done by “WHO”.

As establishing that you understand the other person (empathy) can be very important in resolving conflict, I encourage you to scroll down this site and revisit my earlier posts on empathy.

I welcome your comments.



You Cannot NOT Communicate

The title of this blog post may look like I added an extra word.

I assure you, (no pun intended) that I did not..

The point I am making, and that most people miss when they interact with others, is that we are always communicating something whether we intend to or not.

Most people believe that communication is a fairly simple process. This is an unfortunate myth.

The process of communication, while I admittedly am simplifying the process, can be illustrated with two examples.

Example #1: Think back to the days of the telegraph.  If you wanted to send a message, you had to write out the message, the telegraph operator had to convert it to Morse Code, the wires had to be in place between you and the place to which you were sending the message, the receiving  operator had to get the signal, decode the message, and write it down so that your target person could receive your message.

The first example illustrates the verbal communication process.  Most of us can easily encode an idea into words, deliver the words, and expect the receiver to accurately decode the message and understand what we mean and intended to say.  And, in most cases, when it is factual information we are communicating, this process works.

There are some underlying assumptions here.

  • Both of the participants speak the same language and can understand the words being used.  Words can be thought of as one “filter” through which ideas are processed. (One way to understand the idea of a filter is to think about what happens when you take a black and white picture with your camera or smart phone. The filter takes out the color.) Words can have a multitude of meanings and, therefore, can be thought of as a filter in that you choose the words you eventually use based on what you want to convey.
  • The message is clear, does not involve emotional issues in either party, and is not easily misinterpreted. (Emotions are another “filter” through which ideas are processed.)
  • Both participants are paying attention to each other, are not distracted by “noise” in the environment (think about having a conversation in a loud lounge), and are “actively” listening with the goal of receiving and understanding the message.  They are not  “passively” listening while engaged in some other activity such as texting or planning tomorrow’s schedule.

If we are dealing with issues involving emotions (or complex issues), the process becomes more complicated.

Example #2: Think about the last time you sent a text or an email thinking that you were being very clear only to have the person to whom you sent this electronic message get upset because they misinterpreted the message they received.

The second example illustrates a situation in which the message has several different “layers” but the only layer of information that is “available” is what is “written” down.

There are several possible complications here:

  • The message may contain implied emotional overtones. For example, you are upset with the person and have not directly expressed your feeling.
  • You may have directly expressed your feelings but the meaning of the emotional words you have used were misinterpreted when “decoded” by the recipient of the text.
  • You tried to use humor in your text or an emoji.
  • And so forth.

By the way, the above process is why we are frequently advised, and warn our kids, to be very careful about what they send in an email or a text.

There is a quote from the Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) literature that says: “The meaning of a communication (to the receiver) is the response that you (the sender) get regardless of what you intended to say.”

The receiver’s (upset) response clearly suggests that he (or she) viewed the message as “threatening”. This is the “real” meaning of the message to him.

If the communication process is to be successful, you will need to determine where the “disconnect” is. Perhaps, the misunderstanding occurred because the message contained implied emotional overtones that were included in the message (either intentionally or unintentionally) or the receiver read emotional overtones into the message that were not there.

When you are involved in a face to face conversation, there are additional complications that can take place because of the nature of non-verbal signals.

  • Non-verbal signals comprise a significant (perhaps, major) portion of the communication process and involve your tone of voice, the expression on your face, the way you are standing and so forth.
  • An important part of the emotional process is the constant scanning of our surroundings that our senses engage in, our Amygdala monitors, and our bodies unconsciously react to if there is a threat.
  • Our primitive brain is programmed to “read” non-verbal signals because they are often a more accurate (though not always so) indicator of possible threat. This is because humans are not very good at modifying their non-verbal signals (unless they are trained to do so).

Consequently, you are always communicating non-verbally and your listener is always tuned into your non-verbals.  Hence, the title of this blog: You cannot NOT communicate.

An example of this potential conflict is  the saying “Your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.”

Communication problems can arise for at least two reasons:

  1. The meaning of non-verbal signals is not always clear and can easily be misunderstood.
  2. The non-verbal signals you are communicating with your tone of voice or body language are not consistent with the verbal message.

You master your emotions (and the emotions of others) when you are aware of and utilize the nature of non-verbal (and verbal) signals.

  • In your own communications, take extra care to insure that the message you are conveying non-verbally is consistent with the words you are using.
  • Be aware of the non-verbal signals your receiver sends to you, the emotions indicated by those signals, and the message those emotions tell you about how he or she has interpreted your communication. Using this information, you can seek clarification if what you see in their response is different from what you expected and you can clear up any misunderstanding.

I hope this information is helpful and I welcome your comments.


Anger Mastery: Respond, do not react when using your emotions as tools

Think about the last time you got angry.

Maybe, you were driving and another driver cut in front of you.

If you immediately got angry, gave him, or her, the one-finger salute, or used language you would not want your five year old to repeat, it is safe to say that you reacted to the situation.

The emotions as tools model teaches you to use your emotions to gain control over your life. In other words, your emotions are tools that inform you about your world and help you to become more effective in the actions
you choose to take.

The critical word here is “choose”.

When you choose what you want to do, you respond to what is happening.

There is personal power in responding.

When you act without thinking, you are reacting.

Reacting often leads to regret for having done something you later wish you had avoided.

As tools, each emotion communicates a message about how you perceive the situation you are in.

The message of anger, according to the emotions as tools model, is that you have perceived a threat that you believe you can remove, defeat, or eliminate by throwing enough energy at it to overpower it. You viewed the actions of the other driver as a threat and you IMMEDIATELY threw your energy into overpowering the threat. In other words, you reacted.

So, what was the threat you perceived? Was it to your safety, your sense of driving etiquette, your ego?

Even if there was a genuine threat, how much did the action(s) you took help to improve the situation?

A second example..

I was at the airport recently and there were long lines at the counter. I observed a man who was loudly complaining and becoming increasingly more angry every time he looked up at the screen announcing the flight information. When it was his turn, he focused all of his energy on the clerk. She apologized to him for his inconvenience and said that
there was nothing she could do about his cancelled flight.

This was an emotional reaction that reflected the degree of energy behind the anger but was totally ineffective in resolving the “threat” to his travel plans.

A few minutes later, this same clerk was approached by a passenger who effectively utilized her anger and responded to the situation. She acknowledged that the situation was not the clerk’s fault, stated her need to get home as soon as possible, and noted that she would appreciate anything the clerk could do. The clerk responded in kind by making
a few phone calls and securing a flight out of the airport.

This passenger responded to her anger and chose a course of action that was appropriate to the situation.

Responding-Not Reacting

* is acting impulsively
* does not involve any reflection upon or thinking about your situation
* is usually ineffective in eliminating the threat
* typically results in your doing something you later regret or need to correct (as in offer an apology)
* may often make the situation worse

* is acting effectively
* always involves thinking about your situation
* requires weighing your options
* allows you to choose the best action to take
* results in the threat being eliminated or at least weakened

The three important functions anger, as an emotional tool, performs for you:
1. Anger informs you that you face a threat.
2. Anger alerts you to the need to think about what action you can take to eliminate the threat.
3. Anger gives you an opportunity to choose the best response to handle the threat.

When you respond to your anger, you empower yourself and you effectively utilize your emotions.

I welcome your comments.

Effective Empathy- Step 2 and 3

In my last post, I talked about step 1 to establishing effective empathy and noted that you need to both be aware of and overcome the barriers to empathy which might exist between you and the person with whom you are trying to communicate.  These barriers act as filters through which what you say is interpreted and, often, misunderstood. Taking the time to interact with another person and find the common ground that you share begins to set up the foundation from which empathy is built.

Step 2 involves using your knowledge about emotions to provide you with a context for your interactions with the other person.  Step 3 involves showing the other person that you do understand their point of view.  You do this by communicating that you are aware of and acknowledge the barriers that exist between you. You also need to validate their feelings about the issue that both of you are trying to resolve.  This is what “understanding” is all about.

If the other person does not feel that they are being understood, you can’t establish that you care about them or that you understand them, both of which are critical to establishing empathy.

You demonstrate that you understand another person’s point of view when you address the message of the emotion they are showing you.  This is what emotional mastery is all about.

The emotion you see in the other person is based on their perception of the situation in which they find themselves.  This is the emotional process which I addressed in earlier posts. Each emotion communicates a different message.  When you understand the message of the emotion, you can address the concerns of the other person.

The message of the basic emotions are as follows:

  • Anger: I perceive a threat which I believe I can eliminate if I throw enough force at it.
  • Anxiety: I perceive a possible threat in the future that MAY hurt me.
  • Guilt: I have done something wrong that I need to make right.
  • Regret: I either did (or did not) do something that led to a negative outcome that I am powerless to correct.
  • Sad: I have lost something or someone who was very important to me.

I addressed anxiety and anger in earlier posts and I will address regret in a future post.

If a person is angry with you, you “master” their emotion and establish empathy by attempting to determine the threat they perceive.  Are you the threat?  Is a new policy the threat?  Has something changed in the work setting?  You might say, “I can see that you are angry.”  This is the beginning of empathy but does not establish effective empathy.

To be effective, you need to add, “Can you help me understand what it is that you are so angry about?”

When they tell you the object of their anger and you realize that this situation is perceived as a threat, you can then work with them to eliminate the perceived threat in such a way that both of you get what you want.

This is exactly the opposite of what happened when professional women expressed anger about a situation in their work settings and the men in that setting demeaned them and marginalized them. The men appeared to feel threatened by the women’s assertive behavior.

I have tried to give you a basic foundation for establishing effective empathy.  If you would like a more indepth discussion of this issue or a point I have made is not clear, let me know in the comments section.

Barriers to effective empathy

Remember that effective empathy involves being able to understand another person’s world from their point of view.

Recall also, that there are three steps to establishing effective empathy. The three steps are: 1. Establish that you genuinely care enough to want to understand how the other person sees the world, 2. Use your knowledge of emotional mastery as a basis for your empathic communications. and 3. Take the time to let them help you understand how they see their world (and you, as part of that world).

Barriers to effective empathy include differences between you and the other person which could act as filters which prohibit you from understanding how they see their world as well as any “language deficits” which might distort the messages (either from you to them or vice versa) being communicated.

You may experience barriers as you attempt to establish that you genuinely care in step 1 and in step 3 as you attempt to be empathic.

In my last post, I mentioned some of the barriers to empathy that I had to overcome with the young incarcerated women including history and gender, race, and language. All three were critical.  As a white middle class doctor with no history of incarceration, I was clearly different from my clients in appearance, language, and experience.

Given the correctional setting in which I worked, my client’s (correct based on their experience) view of men as abusive, untrustworthy and, often, dangerous, and my graduate school based language, any words I used which implied that I either cared about or understood these young women would come across as empty, insincere, and unlikely. I overcame these barriers by clearly stating that I could not know their world, clearly stating that I wanted to help them and needed their help in order to do this, being consistent in the boundaries I set and the statements I made, and learning to communicate in a manner (using emotional explanations and examples and asking lots of questions) that was non threatening and easy to understand.

I was successful with these young women because I was able to establish that we shared a common interest or, at least, a common ground. The client wanted to get out and stay out of “jail” and I wanted to help them do this.  They needed my help and I needed them to help me be able to work with them.

Step 1 to overcoming barriers is to establish, over time, that you and the person with whom you are communicating either share common goals or share a common ground from which both of you can achieve your goals either as a “win-win” or through compromise and that you are interested in helping them achieve (as much as possible) their goals.

In a work setting, those goals might be to improve the office working environment, build a more successful business, improve worker satisfaction and productivity, be recognized for one’s contributions, and so forth.  Sharing common goals or a common ground does not mean that management and workers, or even co-workers, always agree or see goals in the same light. Indeed, the WSJ article notes the importance of “acknowledg(ing) emotions and hold(ing) employees accountable”. The implication is that a goal (perhaps improving accountability) might be obtained by empathizing with, finding out the concerns of, and ultimately helping the employee become more accountable. The manager wants more accountability and the employee wants to be heard and appreciated.  Accountability will follow being heard and appreciated.

If the goals of the employee are emotionally driven, you will need to understand what emotion, or emotions, are driving the individual and the message of the emotions being displayed.  This is the information of emotional mastery and it is this information that becomes the foundation of the empathic language you can use to overcome the emotional barriers that confront you. This is step 2.

I will continue this discussion in my next posting.