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Justin Locke

People Skills 201: Anger Management

Four tips on how to control the monster in you.

October 3, 2011
by Justin Locke

When we talk about management fundamentals, this can refer to managing other people or it can refer to managing your own life. In either case, when you are talking about managing, you are really talking about managing emotions. Managing at the emotional level is a broad topic, but today we are here to discuss one single powerful emotion and that is … anger.

Anger is such a powerful emotion that it is essential to manage it properly, otherwise one risks considerable loss of control.

Feelings and expressions of anger are often rationalized — or even encouraged — as a state of feeling righteous and morally superior, not to mention deliciously powerful. Many people subscribe to this belief, but this is a dodge.

Anger does not exist by itself in some sort of vacuum. Anger is always, a reaction to and is a symptom of, a sense of powerlessness. Understanding this opposite underpinning is key to managing it.

Perhaps the best illustration of the dynamics of anger is the typical “anger indulgence” movie. In this terribly popular genre, there are always three main characters: an all-powerful bad guy, an average Joe protagonist (who “wants no trouble”) and a helpless child-victim.

Invariably, the rotten-to-the-core bad guy threatens the totally innocent child and now the average Joe is pushed past their patience limit and oh, boy, after 85 minutes of nonstop bad-guy nastiness, in the last five minutes of the movie we get to vicariously enjoy some serious bad-guy smack-down justice.

If the bad guy was not all powerful and the victim was not all powerless, then the whole thing would appear somewhat odd. Again, without the emphasis on a sense of vulnerability of powerlessness to justify it, anger makes no sense.

We relate to this story line because at some level, we have all felt like the innocent victim. Most of us are far more aware of our own vulnerability and weaknesses than those of others. We also tend to see others as being far more powerful than they really are. As a result, anger becomes a common part of modern discourse, communications and entertainment and is being more so.

Anger Is a Reaction to Fear

If you believe that a state of anger is the only way you can feel empowered, then you have to increase your fear to achieve that greater anger. Amplifying your sense of powerlessness and thus feeling empowered is somewhat contradictory. Anger promises power, but never really delivers. It’s a classic vicious cycle.

As a CPA, you may often find yourself in a situation in which you are delivering some bad news in the form of unpleasant or even frightening, numbers. Numbers can be seen as very powerful and immoveable and therefore people sometimes react with anger in response.

Anger Is a Symptom of Perceived Helplessness

Instead of taking anger at face value, see the underlying cause, i.e., the inflated sense of powerlessness and address this problem at its root. Point out what power it does have. Look past the anger and see the innocent victim beneath.

Anger Management Is Somewhat Machiavellian

Inciting anger in others is a handy management tool. Putting people into a state of fearful outrage is a great way of keeping them off balance and encouraging confrontation among them. Many people try to incite anger to advance their cause. They will present extreme cases of abusive absolute power abusing absolutely and righteous innocence. It’s easy to get caught up in this kind of thing without thinking, so it is important to see these things as what they are, i.e., manipulative ploys.

When someone is in a state of anger or if you are told of an extreme abuse of evil power and it makes you angry, always take a minute to think about it. It is tempting to indulge in the immediate easy fantasy of indignant righteousness. It is easy to automatically fly to a state of defending an innocent victim from extreme attack. But if you remain calm and objective, you will always be far more capable of coping effectively with the situation.

Anger Overrides the Real Power of Calm Reflection

Anger is neither noble nor is macho. Anger is a state of believing you are powerless and nothing more. No matter what the problem is, you are more powerful than you think, and calm reflection and persistence are always more effective, both in solving any problem and in drawing more supportive energy to you.

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Justin Locke is an author and speaker. He spent 18 seasons playing the bass with the Boston Pops, and he is the author of Principles of Applied Stupidity, an amusing look at how to be more successful by going against the conventional wisdom. You can find out more about his presentations on overcoming cultural inertia by visiting his website.