We have all heard “don’t’ let the sun set on your anger” and “it is healthy to let off a little steam”. Both would seem to point to the fact that it is healthy to express anger.
Here is the ironic part- studies show that aggressively expressing anger doesn’t relieve anger but often AMPLIFIES it. So does that mean you should just hold your anger in?
1. Acknowledge the emotion you have in just a simple word or sentence. “I am frustrated we haven’t gotten farther on this.” This allows your brain to let go of the emotion rather than have it play in your Basal Ganglia where it festers and grows from “I am frustrated we haven’t gotten this far” to “I have the worse team because they never can accomplish things at a fast pace.”
2 Let the other person know you belief in them and be clear about what the frustration or anger is about. “I know this was caused by forces outside of our team, I am just frustrated that we haven’t gotten farther on this.” Now the person can address the “issue” rather than have their brain race to address what they feel is your frustration with them.
3. Avoid yelling or responding as what you really just do is TRANSFER your anger from your brain to the other person. This results in immobility for the other person while their brain tries to make them feel better.
With your kids this is what lands you in therapy years later! My daughter still talks about the time I threw the ice cream on the counter. It had been a particularly frustrating day for me- one where I took care of everyone else’s needs and put mine on the back burner until I was at the point of complete burn out. That night my husband was making the grocery run and picking up ice cream. I specifically stated the kind I wanted as I had just seen it at the grocery store when I was there the other day. When he came home he said, “I couldn’t remember the kind you wanted so I got this.” “This” was his favorite flavor, not one I liked. All that ran through my mind was “I asked for ONE little thing for me and that couldn’t’ even be done right.”
Consequently I acted like a spoiled child and tossed the ice cream on the counter and stormed out to get my flavor from the store. Well while the tossing the ice cream on the counter and marching out felt good for me, it transferred fear to my daughter who had watched it. So for a three second relief for me I caused a permanent brain reaction for her- not a good trade off. What I should have done is been open about how frustrating my day was so my husband would know my capacity for mistakes was low.
I bring this up because as a leader it is easy to “transfer” emotions and anger from one situation to the next without really addressing the key issue. How much better would I have been to just tell my husband “Getting the ice cream flavored I asked for meant a lot to me as I am emotionally drained right now having done everything for the family an nothing for me this last week. So I am frustrated that you would not even call me from the store to ask what the flavor was but instead just chose to get what you wanted.” Then he could have told me “I didn’t call because my cell phone was dead” (which it was). So my lack of stopping to share and find out facts left a swirl of negative emotions on all of us. Be clear about what you are upset about.