Let's talk about anger! In our culture, we're taught that it's "bad" and to be avoided. Naturally then, when we experience it - or worse, show it, not only do we have anger to deal with but close behind comes shame.

Despite what you were told, anger is just as acceptable an emotion as joy! Emotions are neutral, naturally arising responses to situations (and projections - but leave that for another time). All emotions are HUMAN expressions...arising neurologically. Some just get a bad rap. Why?

When you're told that anger is unacceptable - what is really meant is that certain actions that can result from anger, are unacceptable or dangerous or scary! That distinction is critical.

Generally speaking, if a human being never
shows anger, then I think something's wrong.
He's not right in the brain.

-Dalai Lama

An emotion is NOT an action! We would no more approve of love parading itself through the Board Room as kisses, valentine Power Points, secret looks and sighs, while conducting a business meeting. The actions associated with love might become just as dangerous and scary, for other reasons. Yet, we'd have little problem with the emotion, Love! And back to anger...

All great movements, all revolutions begin because someone got really, really angry. Righteous anger at injustice or inequity fuels and inspires to action...and if the actions are the right actions, things change. The activities that grow out of that anger, if they succeed, bring about necessary changes. Anger fuels energy to continue a struggle, long after weary, perhaps disheartened, people want to give up. And that energy is powerful when funneled appropriately and intelligently managed. So how can you manage your anger intelligently?

Anger is like a storm rising up from the
bottom of your consciousness. When you feel it
coming, turn your focus to your breath.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

The first step is notice. (Yes, it is possible to experience anger so subtly that it takes time to become aware of its existence!) You acknowledge to yourself that you are angry.

Next, you focus on your breathing - using it is a tool to work intelligently with the emotion, so you can experience anger fully without going into motion.

Allow your facial muscles to relax, your shoulders to come down from your ears, your hands to open slightly as you gage next steps.

Then you ask yourself some important questions like: What is unfair in this situation? What is unacknowledged? Where is the hurt? (Anger arises frequently from frustration and from hurt.)

Now you can begin to imagine options for action, options that don't include raging inappropriately. Some helpful ways to begin this process is to ask:

  • Who is responsible? And how are they responsible? (Check this out - don't assume.)
  • Are they aware of the fallout of their words or actions? (What sometimes seems obvious, isn't.)
  • Can I make them aware? What's the best way to do that? (Really think this through - creating various scenarios. There is some relief in making someone aware of the consequences of their speech or actions, regardless of whether they take corrective measures.)
  • If and only if they are open, offer specific suggestions on how they might "make it right."

What changes the game for leaders is reorienting themselves towards anger, thus creating the space for constructive ways of dealing with it - for themselves and when others bring it. It expands to include all of our common humanity, leaving no emotion out.

About the author

Annette Segal is the Chief Visionary Officer of The Valiant Group, a consulting firm at the intersection of leadership, values and embodiment.

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