Anger can be a gift. When tracked to its source, it tells us something about what’s important to us and what feels threatened by the conflict. When I’m mediating, I don’t fear my clients’ anger because when I see it, I know we’re about to learn something really valuable together.
So, perhaps letting go of anger during conflict isn’t the right goal. To allow the gift of anger to help us unravel the conflict at its true source, we need to handle our anger so that doesn’t create debris or hurt anyone while we learn from it.
Here are seven of my favorite questions to ask mediation and coaching clients when they’re struggling with their own anger. I use them with myself, too. Print them out, put them in your wallet, post them next to your keyboard so you don’t later regret the email reply you’re about to send:
- Is my inner lizard calling the shots or am I? In conflict, you want to make sure that you’re managing your inner lizard instead of him managing you. Becoming familiar with your inner lizard helps you notice, in the heat of the moment, that you’ve been hijacked.
- What’s triggering me right now? There are six or so common types of triggers that will account for most button-pushing moments. Knowing your conflict triggers helps you manage your inner lizard, too.
- Have I fallen into the venting trap? It’s a myth that venting anger is cathartic and purges your system. Instead, venting actually fans the flames of your anger. If you realize you’re venting, do one of these things instead.
- Am I yelling at or yelling toward? In many cases, you’ll discover you’re really yelling toward the other person (and if you’re not a yeller, you may be crying toward, icy toward, ____ toward — you get the idea). When you realize you’re yelling toward, you give yourself the gift of realizing your anger is, in that moment, a cry of pain or a cry for help, not a club.
- How can I buy some time to cool down? Do not — really, DO NOT — continue in the conversation when you’ve lost your cool. Here’s how to extricate yourself temporarily so you can buy enough time to cool down.
- What’s the most important thing? When anger hijacks you, it’s possible to lose sight of the most important things. Once you’ve bought time to cool down, it’s time to remind yourself what is really important.
- What’s my centering question? Discover your own centering question, the question you can ask yourself in the heat of the moment and that will pause you, even for just a moment. Find that question and use it, use it, use it.
Do you have a favorite question for letting go of anger in conflict? Please share it in the comments.