A wise man once said to me: Be grateful when times are good and graceful when times are bad.”
Despite my tendency for forgetfulness, I always try to remember this. I get into positional battles with my 6-year old son, a rather formidable foe sometimes. He wants to watch videos. I say “No.” He says, “That’s not fair. You’re mean. I hate you” What I do next is integral to the rest of this interaction. If I don’t listen to the wise man’s words, things will escalate. If I do, we’ll quickly move on to another topic altogether.
A party in mediation is acting cagily, withholding information that could be useful for moving negotiations forward despite my non-threatening questions. Inside, I am feeling disrespected and as though my status as a mediator is being diminished. What I do next determines whether we will continue to build rapport or not. If I listen to the wise man, I’ll continue to remain calm, cool, and collected and gain the party’s trust. If I ignore the voice, I will lose the party and the mediation will end sooner than it should have.
This sort of thing happens regularly in life. Despite our best intentions, we sometimes feel flashes of anger that instantly put us on dangerous ground, and we must act quickly and strategically in order to remain constructive and keep things safe. As Aristotle said, “Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
How do we do this? Here are three simple tips:
- Reassess the situation – Instead of focusing on what is going on for yourself, immediately put yourself in the shoes of the other and ask yourself what might be going on for the other person.
- Listen to the quiet voice – Despite the immediate persuasiveness of the loud voice telling you to seek vengeance and capitalize on this moment of righteousness, wait the extra moments until your prefrontal cortex is activated to calmly tell you to stay involved in dialogue and see what develops. Cooler heads indeed prevail.
- Reflect instead of ruminate – When you have the chance to think about the recent unpleasantness, put yourself in a position of comfort—nice music while driving works for me—and, coming from a place of neutrality, go through the situation and examine your own behaviors, the behaviors that triggered you, and the places where you made critical behavioral choices. Forgive everyone involved and identify a key learning or two for the next time.
Anger is not to be ignored but acknowledged as an important data point. Use the information to grow instead of staying stuck in bitterness and resentment. Reassess. Listen. Reflect.