Emotions are designed to come and go. Activate and deactivate. Just like a light switch that turns on and off.
Once you understand this, the next logical question is, “What causes an emotion to activate?” That answer depends on the specific emotion.
In the case of Anger, this is an emotion that activates when someone does something or something occurs which conflicts with your values and beliefs.
- If you believe meetings should start on time, and a co-worker is consistently late to your meetings, your Anger is likely to activate.
- If you believe contractors should do quality work, and your painter does a poor job, your Anger is likely to activate.
- Or, if you believe peers shouldn’t interrupt one another, and someone keeps interrupting you, your Anger is likely to activate.
These are examples of what can cause your Anger to activate. At first glance, it’s pretty straightforward. But there’s another layer to consider.
Emotions are Action-Requiring
In addition to emotions being designed to activate and deactivate, emotions are also action-requiring. This means once an emotion is active, it’s looking for you to take a suitable action. Once a suitable action is taken, the emotion can deactivate. That’s how emotions are designed to work.
Using the same examples
- If you believe meetings should start on time, when your co-worker is late, you could ask “Would you be willing to make it a point to arrive on time?”
- If you believe contractors should do quality work, when your painter does a poor job, you could ask the contractor to “…come and resolve the issues prior to making the final payment.”
- Or, if you believe peers shouldn’t interrupt one another, when someone keeps interrupting, you could say “Would you please allow me and others to finish speaking before you interject.”
If you choose not to take a suitable action, Anger is likely to remain active. That’s when you can end up wasting a lot of time and energy “brewing and stewing”…
Suitable actions are when you take steps to address the behavior that conflicts with your values or beliefs. Often times, when someone’s Anger is active, they don’t respond with a suitable action. For example:
Instead of asking the co-worker to try to arrive on time to your scheduled meetings, maybe you vent to someone else about how inconsiderate your co-worker is. That’s an example of brewing and stewing which leads to wasted time and energy, and lost productivity.
Instead of asking your painter to resolve the remaining issues, perhaps you spend time over dinner with your significant other complaining about the contractor. More brewing and stewing which takes time away from other topics that could be more important.
Or, instead of asking your peer to allow you to finish talking before s/he interjects, you keep quiet and resentment builds. More brewing and stewing which results in distractions and unease.
These are examples of actions that are not suitable because you aren’t addressing the issue that caused Anger to activate in the first place.
Emotions activate for a reason and emotions are action requiring. Once an emotion is active, it is looking for you to take a suitable action.
Before we wrap this up, there’s one more aspect to Anger to consider. And that has to do with Beliefs. That’s the last layer to peel back in this article.
Back to Beliefs
As mentioned previously, Anger is an emotion that activates when someone does something or something occurs which conflicts with your values and beliefs.
Perhaps the trickiest part about understanding Anger has to do with Beliefs. No two individuals share the same exact Belief System. What makes you incensed may not phase someone else. This isn’t because your Beliefs are right, and someone else’s Beliefs are wrong. It’s simply because everyone has their own unique set of Beliefs.
Circling back to the examples:
- Your co-worker who is routinely late to meetings may not believe tardiness is disrespectful, rude, or disruptive to others.
- The painter may believe efficiency is more important than quality.
- And the peer who interrupts all the time, maybe s/he grew up with 7 siblings and believes the only way to get a word in edgewise is to interject anytime you can!
As you become more skilled in engaging with Anger and taking suitable actions, the reality is everyone isn’t going to behave the way you want them to. That’s because everyone has their own unique Belief System. But when your Anger activates, it’s a great opportunity for you to communicate to others what’s important to you.
Next time someone does something or something occurs that conflicts with your values and beliefs, and your Anger activates, pause for a minute. Instead of brewing and stewing, consider taking a suitable action that aligns with Anger’s purpose! Start by identifying the specific Belief you have that’s in conflict. Based on this information you can identify a suitable action.
When you engage effectively with Anger, you won’t necessarily get your way. You will, however, have the opportunity to help people understand what’s important to you!