Anger is the silent killer of many relationships, both personal and professional. If you want to avoid it, you must practice “understanding.” Doing so requires emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence allows you to develop calmer, deeper and more meaningful relationships. It means you understand your own emotions and feelings as well as the emotions and feelings of others.
In order to understand your own anger, you need to specifically identify it and make sure you are not confusing it with other emotions.
Scientists have found that even across disparate cultures, certain emotions make themselves felt in specific parts of the body. For example, if you feel tenseness or discomfort in your chest, head, throat or arms, that is probably because you are feeling anger. Other feelings manifest in other parts of the body, all of which have been identified and mapped in what is called the Body Atlas.
The beauty of the Body Atlas is that if you have any doubt about which emotion you are experiencing, you can check in with your body to see which specific area is reacting. Different emotions and their feelings require different responses, but for today, we’ll focus on anger.
I have found that the most effective way to deal with anger is to use a two-pronged approach, which, of course, incorporates emotional intelligence:
1. Be quick to identify and label what you are feeling.
Is it distance? Frustration? Use the Body Atlas or the Wheel of Emotions if you are in doubt.
You would be surprised at how effective it is to simply take a moment to label your feelings and the core emotions behind them. Once you have tagged a feeling as frustration, for example, and its core emotion as anger, an interesting shift takes place in the brain, and you will begin to recognize familiar coping patterns, both good and bad. This gives you the option to go with what worked for you before or reject what didn’t. In other words, knowing specifically what the malady is allows you to apply the appropriate remedy, or at least look for the remedy in the right “medicine cabinet.”
You can identify another person’s anger by observing their facial expressions and body language cues. The better your emotional intelligence, the more you will be able to do this.
2. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and try to understand exactly where they are coming from.
Most likely, the person who is making you angry did not act maliciously, and even if they did, trying to understand their motivation goes a long way toward deciding which coping mechanisms might be effective.
When you are feeling angry or dealing with someone who is angry, it’s helpful to remember your capacity for empathy. Through empathy, you can temporarily take another person’s perspective to lessen the grip that negative emotions have on you, allowing yourself and the other party to become more positive and constructive.
At the end of the day, you have to remember that only you are responsible for your feelings. Yes, some other person maybe have acted in a way that didn’t please you, but you are solely responsible for your reaction, anger or otherwise. So when you feel your temperature starting to rise and your fists beginning to clench, slow down, take several deep breaths and ask yourself, “Why did this person do this? What was their motivation?” If you don’t know, find out, either from them directly or by means of a third party.
Know that people who struggle with anger tend to explode when triggered. Their anger is the result of an over-stimulated amygdala, which — in what could be considered a bloodless coup — hijacks the brain and causes it to act in ways sometimes not rational or reasonable. Or, sometimes feelings are suppressed and are allowed to breed and fester.
To understand another person’s anger with empathy and help them defuse it, begin mirroring their anger by referring to it. Mirroring the information demonstrates that you have seen their emotion. It signals that you are paying attention and that you care.
Another way to improve your empathy is to validate other’s anger. This doesn’t mean admitting that the other person is correct to think or feel the way they do. Rather, it is about acknowledging their behavior and emotional state and showing that you understand. At its simplest, you might tell them that you would feel the same way in their place, given their interpretation of the situation.
Anger is often the result of one or more parties not feeling that they are being heard, understood or appreciated. Identifying and mirroring/validating emotions with empathy are two effective techniques in understanding and breaking spirals of anger, both your own and others’. Emotional intelligence is instrumental in aiding communication and improving relationships and team dynamics.
To make the most of these techniques, commit. Appreciate that the emotion of anger that you have identified is real, and that you understand or would like to deepen your understanding of the other person. While it can feel hard to do at first, you will soon see that out-of-control emotional spirals turn into mutually beneficial resolutions.
This article was originally published in Forbes.
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