A reader of my recent blog on anger management in the workplace told me that while he agreed with the importance of giving expression to one’s anger, he noted that what often challenges him is the when and the how.
These are difficult questions since all of us are unique individuals in so many ways and what works for each of us individually, may not work for another. Still, unless you have simply instantly “lost it” in an emotional outburst with uncertain consequences, then the when and how of expression are both “pieces we can control”. Accordingly, I believe there are three rules of thumb worth considering.
By and large I have always believed that the closer the expression of one’s anger is to the event that precipitated it, the better. The longer the interval, the more likely the target of the anger — assuming it is a person or persons — will have difficulty recalling precisely why you are angry or worse, wonder what took you so long? While cooling down a little is always worth considering, tucking it away for later increases the risk that your anger may never get expressed. Moreover, for all parties concerned, the more a precipitating event must be remembered, the less reliable the recall of what actually happened becomes. Every remembering of something alters the recall somewhat in light of our present situation and state of mind.
As for the how of expression, I believe the more important question is to what end? This is why immediate emotional explosions are generally of little avail; they have no clear end objective in mind regardless of how good they may feel. Do you believe you were treated unfairly, wrongly accused of something, the victim of some avoidable negative action, or offended/insulted in some way? Do you just want to let someone know you are upset, do you seek justice or corrective action — like “don’t do that again, please” –or an apology, is there a record you wish to set straight? Pondering cause and desired outcomes will help you shape the type of conversation or course of action you intend to pursue, especially your opening remarks if a face to face conversation is in order.
Finally, be cautious concerning ascribing intent to the cause of your anger. Your assumptions may be accurate but irrelevant to your objective in expressing your feelings. All you know is what you perceived to have happened and how it affected you. That is always a good place to begin a discussion; “this is what I observed and this is how I feel about it”. Accusations concerning intent imply you are a mind reader and invariably elicit a defensive response. You want your listener to hear you, consider what you have to say, and hopefully respond in the desired way.