What to Do when Anger Strikes


3. As you calm down and your rational self returns, consider your options. If Jeff had done just that, he might still have chosen to respond to Denise. But by not acting in haste, he might have framed his response differently. For example, he might have asked Denise to explain her message, thereby gaining information that would have spared him his detrimental reply. In addition, having his conscious mind under control, he would have been careful to hit Reply instead of Reply All. For that matter, in a calmer frame of mind, he might also have noticed Ben's message and avoided his embarrassing response altogether.

4. Test your response in a safe setting. If you face a situation such as Jeff's and feel compelled to write a confrontational response, write it as a word processed document rather than an e-mail message and put it aside for a while. The very process of writing may diffuse your anger and allow you to think more clearly about the situation. Then you can make the conscious decision to send the message or not. Alternatively, you might tell a teammate—an anger buddy, with whom you've partnered when venting is necessary, perhaps—about your planned response. In relating your intention, the potential foolishness of your plan may become obvious. And even if it doesn't, your teammate will help you become grounded.

5. Give yourself time and patience. Remember the old saying "Time heals all wounds"? To that saying, I would add: "Time prevents new wounds." Unless the situation truly requires immediate attention, create distance from it. Put it aside for a while. Forget about it. Sleep on it. Even if the provoking situation doesn't change, the way you respond to it almost certainly will. Time helps nearly all situations come into clearer focus.

6. Prevent future overreactions by becoming an observer of your own behavior. Most people have triggers, things that push their rational selves aside and take control. If you can come to recognize what pushes your anger button, you can make a conscious effort to catch yourself before anger takes control. Catching yourself may take time and practice, especially if the tendency to overreact is a deeply ingrained habit. Some people benefit from reminders as they adjust, such as a trusted colleague whose reminders will help you become more aware of your behavior. Some people use small items as symbolic reminders, such as a trinket in a pocket or an item on the desk (a roll of duct tape?). Even a string around your finger may help you become more aware of your behavior.

When anger strikes, lashing out is the easy response. It takes a controlled mind to make your response a conscious, deliberate, and thoughtful choice.

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