This blog post is the second in a series on anger. The previous post, “Damn, I just lost my temper again” delved into the difficulties of mastering our own anger. Below, I explore setting limits when others get angry with us or around us.
What do you do when someone gets angry with you?
Freeze, go into paralysis, and try to escape the danger as quickly as possible?
Or tense with adrenalin, your skin turning red, and raise your voice right back? Fight frustration with irritation?
Our usual responses do not work
In reviewing my own experience and the hundreds of leaders and employees, parents and children I have worked with over the years, our predominant reactions to anger tend to be flight or fight. Both of these self-protective responses are counterproductive.
If I shut down and play small, waiting for the storm to pass, I allow the other person’s anger to persist. There is no opposition or limit provided, and this can allow abusive relationships to form, whether physical, emotional and/or verbal.
If I “get emotional” in response, the conflict often escalates. It is rare that workplace anger goes beyond words, but it does lead us to say things we don’t mean. Relationships are strained, baggage forms, and months or years later, unhealed exchanges of anger linger.
Many of us do both, depending on the situation and the person. We are threatened, and the survival instincts of our brainstem take over.