BAAM founder Mike Fisher was interviewed for this piece published in The Times newspaper earlier this month. Read the article below or on The Times website.
Every day we encounter situations that enrage us. The main causes of anger are hardly news: whether you’re feeling stressed, overworked or taken for granted, it comes down to not feeling valued, understood or respected.
So often we learn that anger is damaging and that we should minimise it. But anger is neither good nor bad, it’s simply an emotion, and often one that can be used for positive change.
So how can we negotiate rage effectively and, even, use it to our advantage?
We spoke to the experts about the best ways to manage anger in the workplace and elsewhere.
Learn emotional awareness
Emotional awareness is an important first step, says Sally Stabb, psychology professor at Texas Woman’s University and co-author of The Anger Advantage: The Surprising Benefits of Anger and How it Can Change a Woman’s Life. Many people, particularly women, are so used to suppressing anger that knowing when they’re feeling it is no simple matter.
You need to acknowledge and recognise it, she advises. What are the signs that you’re angry? Where do you feel anger in your body? How intense is it? Do you shout, stop talking or cry? Is it manifesting as sadness and frustration? Which types of situations trigger it? Becoming familiar with anger means you can better learn to regulate it.
Call it out
If someone is being disrespectful, you have the right to point it out without feeling guilty, Stabb says. Express what you need. Explain the problem. Try to be clear, specific and targeted.
Importantly, women should try to give a concrete external reason for their anger, according to the business professors Victoria Brescoll and Eric Luis Uhlmann. This works to undermine offensive stereotypes of overemotional women.
Soften the blow
If you struggle to assert yourself, try using a “both/and’’ strategy, Stabb suggests. Request something specific while also recognising something positive about the person you are addressing. Explain that you see their point but you have another point.
Say something such as: “Hey, we worked really well together on [eg project/deal]. But I’m also feeling angry about [problem]. Could you [then suggest what you want them to do differently]?”
Humour can also help you make your point while making light of the situation. According to Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey in What Works for Women at Work, humour “can help you maintain your equanimity in the face of things that seem infuriating or unfair”, while letting someone know “that their behaviour is unacceptable without coming off as, well, humourless”.
Never get personal
Don’t make broad assumptions or accusations about someone’s character. Mike Fisher, director of the British Association of Anger Management and the author of Beating Anger: The Eight-point Plan for Coping with Rage, recommends avoiding phrases beginning “you never” and “you always”, which will only make people defensive and less inclined to listen. Instead of “you make me angry,” say “I feel angry with you”, then explain why.
Furthermore, Stabb adds, having compassion and recognising that there may be something going on in others’ lives will help you to regulate your anger.
If you’re unable to express your anger, control it by breathing deeply and getting oxygen into your bloodstream; you’ll immediately feel calmer. Lessen the intensity by distraction, Stabb says, by inviting an opposite emotion, such as recalling a time you felt happy, or try mindfulness techniques, recognising that your emotions come and go.
Sometimes taking time out might be the best option. Fisher suggests waiting for five minutes. If it doesn’t matter after that, let it go. He adds, importantly, don’t take things personally. “A lot of us are more sensitive than we would admit, but in many cases, if someone has made you feel a certain way, it may have more to do with them than you.”
Fisher emphasises the importance of asking others for support. Talking through the reasons for your anger with friends or family offers perspective and affirms whether you are justified (or not).
In the workplace, if you’re habitually being talked over or undermined, Barrett advises women to enlist the aid of a supportive male colleague who can draw attention to this and redirect the conversation back to you. Or find out whether your workplace has mentoring schemes. A female mentor or champion could be an indispensable resource for support and advice.
Soraya Chemaly, in Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger, says: “Finding communities that validate and share your anger creates powerful opportunities for effective social action.”
Making your anger visible, whether by attending a protest or reaching out to people through social media or charities, can catalyse opportunities for action.
If you are angry at systemic or institutionalised injustice such as discrimination at work, Stabb suggests taking collective action, which is far more likely to bring about meaningful change.
Do what you love
Channel your anger into something you love, whether that is art, music, dance, whatever. “Our culture is all about doing, buying, acting out,” Fisher says. “We all have overstimulated cerebral cortexes. Anger management is about slowing down. The arts are an amazing way to switch off and disappear into the immediate moment.”
These techniques are never going to be a one-size-fits-all solution. Every woman must weigh up how best to express (or not) her anger.
One thing we can do, men and women, is re-examine our own biases. Note how you react when others express emotion. Does it vary depending on sex, race or class? Rather than dismissing someone and contributing to the problem, try to be part of the solution. If anyone, man or woman, is angry, the most meaningful thing to do might be just to ask why.
By Isabella Bengoechea