The Upside Of Anger

“Temper is the one thing you can’t get rid of by losing it.” Jack Nicholson

The other night I ate in a real nice family restaurant. Every table had an argument going.

Just joking. But it could be a true statement … because anger is a real, common, and normal emotion in our lives.

And anger can be good. Family therapist, Virginia Satir said, “Anger is a brave attempt on the part of a person to survive. It is like a fire extinguisher in an emergency.” Anger helps us to defend our rights and protect our freedoms as individuals and as a society.

Of course anger gets a bad rap most of the time because people confuse anger with acts of aggression. But anger is not aggression. Anger is something we FEEL; aggression is something we DO.

And anger gets a bad rap because most people don’t know how to handle it. They don’t know how to transform their anger from a weapon that wounds themselves and others to a tool that promotes understanding and healthy change in our businesses and relationships.

Aristotle recognized that. Several thousand years ago, he said, “Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

Indeed, Aristotle cautions us about “doing” anger in the wrong way. I see four forms of destructive anger — and if you’re guilty of using any of them, I urge you to stop it — now. Nothing good ever came from such forms of anger.

=> 1. Passive Anger

Some people don’t even admit they’re angry. Even when it seems obvious that they’re angry, they deny it. “Oh me? I’m not angry. Of course not.”

Passive anger often comes out as martyr-like behavior. It’s done to make the other person feel guilty. For example, it may be the single parent that tells her adult children who want to go out of town for a holiday, “Now don’t you worry about me. I’ll just eat a TV dinner for Thanksgiving. And I’m sure I can find something to do all by myself.”

=> 2. Aggressive Anger

This kind of anger can be physical — hitting, slamming doors, or throwing things. But it can also be verbal, including such behaviors as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and sarcasm.

The comedian Phyllis Diller talked about this kind of anger when she said, “Don’t go to bed angry. Stay up and fight.” While there’s some value in getting things out in the open and resolving them, there’s no value in continuing the fight if you’re not getting anywhere.

Aggressive anger can also come out as a litany of the past. As one man said, “When I have an argument with my wife, she doesn’t get hysterical. She gets historical.” In other words, she brings up my mistakes of the past, not once, but over and over again.

That never works. In constructive conflict you deal with an issue; you resolve the issue, and you bury the issue. Period! It’s like burying the hatchet. You’ve really got to bury it. You can’t leave the handle above the ground … because that makes the hatchet all too easy to find and all to easy to dig up.

=> 3. Passive-Aggressive Anger

On the surface, this type of anger “looks” passive when it is in fact quite aggressive. It’s anger that is expressed in hidden, underhanded ways to “get” the other person. It’s meant to hurt … even though the angry person may not consciously realize or admit it.

For example, a salesperson may not want to follow the new pricing schedule at work, so he “accidentally” quotes the old prices to a customer — knowing his boss will have to abide by his quote. It’s the salesperson’s way of fighting the changes he doesn’t like.

If you see some really bad habits in the people around you, if those habits disrupt your life, chances are those people are trying to “get” you. They’re angry about something. But the anger comes out sideways. It comes out in such things as chronic forgetfulness, lateness, and overspending.

=> 4. Indirect Anger

Just like the other three forms of anger, indirect anger is equally ineffective. It doesn’t work either. And it happens when you share your anger with the wrong person.

A very common form of indirect anger comes in the use of “triangles.” Instead of leveling with the team mate you’re upset with, you talk to a third party or another team member instead. In fact, in some places where I speak and consult, I see lots of employees talking TO other employees ABOUT other employees — but no one’s ever talking to the person who could make the changes they desire.

Anger is real. And it can be real bad or real good.

Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, talked about how bad anger can be. He said, “The grudge you hold on to is like a hot coal that you intend to throw at someone, but you’re the one who gets burned.”

And Jesus, the foundation of Christianity, showed us that anger — done right — can be real good. Whenever Jesus got angry, it was almost always about injustice, evil and sin. Unfortunately, too much of our anger today is about our “rights” and “our wants” — which is often a cover-up for selfishness.

Come back next week and I’ll talk about the proper, healthy way to deal with anger.

Action:  Write down the four forms of ineffective anger. Write down two ways you have exhibited each of those forms. And write down two things you could do … instead … the next time you’re tempted to use one of these ineffective forms of anger.