Managing Your Anger for Success
Emotions are a fact of life. Everyone has them. However, not everyone manages them so well.
The master project manager or business analyst cultivates both the analytical skills of scheduling, estimating, budgeting, process mapping and controlling, and the behavioral skills required to manage relationships. Healthy relationships are the key to successful projects, effective communication is a key to healthy relationships, and well-managed emotions is a key to effective communication. Well managed emotions boil down to the ability to be responsive rather than reactive.
The English word emotion has its root in the Latin emovere, meaning action. Emotions set the mind in motion; they stimulate action. “… an emotion is something that conditions the mind and makes it adopt a certain perspective or vision of things.”1
The positive emotions, such as love, kindness and happiness are relative easy to manage. The negative or destructive emotions, particularly fear and anger, are another thing. This article will focus on anger, though the approach would be the same for fear and other negative emotions.
Negative, Destructive Emotions
“Fundamentally, a destructive emotion—which is also referred to as an ‘obscuring’ or ‘afflictive’ mental factor—is something that prevents the mind from ascertaining reality as it is. With a destructive emotion, there will always be a gap between the way things appear and the ways things are.”2
These afflictive emotions result in thought chains that make us think, speak, and act in a biased way. They arise from attitudes of malevolence and egocentricity. They distort perception.
Imagine a person who is told that there is an infestation of poisonous snakes in his neighborhood. He hires someone to keep a watch on his yard. He steps out of the house in the evening and sees in front of him a long, thin coiled object. His immediate reaction is fear which turns to anger. He jumps back and runs away to get the guy he hired and give him a piece of his mind. When he returns with the snake handler, he realizes that what he had seen is a rope, not a snake. His fear, fueled by a heightened awareness of dangerous snakes, clouded his perception and led to reaction rather than effective response.
Anger is an emotion that everyone experiences to some degree. It appears with different degrees of intensity as annoyance, frustration, displeasure, rage and hatred.
In the work environment, as a PM or a BA you might be faced with a client who is constantly changing his or her mind. Your expectation is have definitive requirements. It is the only way you can hit your deadline and stay within your budget. If you express anger, even if it is just in your facial expression or body language, you risk damaging your relationship, maybe even being fired. If you suppress your anger, you risk getting an ulcer, yelling at your life partner, roommate or kid later in the evening or dumping it on a person on the bus, subway or road who crowds you. You don’t want your anger to burst out in behavior and you don’t want to suppress it. You want to choose a course of action that will work for you and the client.
Anger is a feeling of being unable to bear an object, or the intention to cause harm to the object, because it is perceived as wrong or bad. Anger clouds the mind, confuses and leads to aggression. At the same time, pure anger is an indestructible brilliantly lucid energy that you can experience without hatred. It is wrathful and war-like, cutting through doubt and confusion.
Working with anger means to mindfully acknowledge and accept its presence and moderate behavior to be responsive rather than reactive. You use the energy and clarity to do what is most likely to be useful and helpful to yourself and to others, including the person who “made your angry”.
Note that while you might think a person or situation made you angry, the reality is that you have to take personal responsibility. Some event has triggered your anger, but your state of mind, your expectations and your inability to accept what is happening are the real causes. Think about how the same event in one case makes you feel angry and at another time does not.
Physical Reactions and RAIN
Emotions appear as physical sensations in the body. Negative emotions tend to feel bad. Recognizing them and being able to accept them, without trying to get rid of them is a critical part of managing them.
Anger inspired behavior like yelling, obsessing about how you should have done or said this or that, or fantasizing about how you’d like to do something harmful to the guy that cut you off or missed a critical deadline are all means for escaping the discomfort that the physical sensations of anger bring up. As you rush to escape the feelings, you are more than likely to do unskillful things.
The RAIN technique is a simple method for learning to manage feelings. RAIN stands for Recognize, Accept, Investigate and do Not identify with feelings when they arise.
You sense the feeling and recognize it for what it is. You accept it, even if it is intensely unpleasant. Note that accepting the feeling is not forever, it is an acceptance of what is happening. You cannot change the present moment or the past. You can change your thinking and behavior going forward. To do so, first you have to accept what is happening and how you are feeling.
You investigate by asking yourself where in your body you are feeling the sensation, whether it is intense or dull. You might think about why you are feeling it, but don’t get lost in analysis, as that might suppress the feeling. Then, you choose not to be identified with the it; it’s a feeling, it is not you. By virtue of the fact that you are investigating it, you have already stepped back from the feeling to make some space between your thinking mind and the feeling. Now you are ready to choose the next step.
At first the technique is a set of mental steps, after practice it becomes an integral part of your response to feelings and the steps happen more or less simultaneously.
To be mindful is to be consciously aware of what is going on in and around you; to observe objectively. This quality enables you to manage your emotions. The more you cultivate mindfulness the more likely it is that you will become aware of your anger before it gets so intense that it takes over your mind.
Once an emotion takes over all you can do is ride it out and hope for the best. But, if you can sense it early in its life you can apply the technique and retain control.
What if you get lost in your anger and react? You recognize that and make an intention to apply mindfulness to become increasingly responsive so that you can avoid being driven by your emotions. If you see yourself obsessing or feeling guilty about having gotten lost, look for the physical feeling tones and apply the RAIN technique.
Homework – The Real Work
The real work is to integrate what you learn into daily life. Take it from the intellect and make it part of your way of life. Notice:
- When you recognize or become aware of your anger. How intense has it become? How long since the trigger?
- How you feel about it. Is it pleasant, unpleasant or neutral or some combination?
- How you label it. Anger, rage, annoyance?
- Where it is sensed in the body.
- What happened next What did you do? How did it feel? How did it work out?
Learn mindfulness meditation and do it every day, even if for five minutes. It is simple. Relax. Take note of your breath. Simply notice thoughts, sounds, feelings or anything that arises in or around you. Bring your attention back to the breath if you become distracted and keep noticing.
When you walk, be mindful of your walking; when you stand, be mindful of standing. Be mindful when you get dressed, wash, do your work, eat, drink, make merry, or do anything. If you find yourself distracted, bring your attention back to your breath or the body and begin again.
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 Goleman, Destructive Emotions, p. 75
 Goleman, Daniel (2008). Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama. Kindle Locations 1779-1781