Practical Ways to Manage Anger in Conflict

When you’re in conflict with someone there is going to be anger. Everyone experiences anger differently. You might go into a slow burn that leaves your neck tight and a knot in your stomach. You might get red-faced and burst at the seams by storming out and slamming doors. Maybe for you it comes out as tears of frustration and shutting down.

When it comes to sorting out a conflict you don’t want to be in any of these states. You’ll end up saying things you probably don’t mean, and reacting in ways that will likely make things worse. Destructive anger shuts down any constructive conversation and stalls your chances of actually getting your points across. But, it’s unrealistic to expect that you can completely get rid of your anger. Some issues are tough. Some people are tough. That anger is going to well up.

If you know an argument, or tense discussion is looming there are some very practical things you can do to mitigate your anger. I’ve recommended these to clients who are concerned about their anger ruining their mediation sessions. If you take the time to put even a few of these in place you’ll be in a much more likely to think clearly, act appropriately, and find resolutions.

  • Breathe. If you can only do one thing then this is it. Whether it’s full meditation or just 4 slow breaths, any intentional breathing will help you regulate your emotions almost instantly. This very simple “box-breathing” technique is a great start.
  • Get in some exercise. Even just a brisk walk around the block will help expend some of that nervous energy and anger.
  • Write it out. This is amazingly helpful. Write out all of the things that are making you angry – no-holds-barred. Get it all out. This can really help to dissipate a lot of your anger. When you have to take pen to paper you’re forced to slow down and regulate your thoughts at least to the speed you can write them. This will slow your mind too and give you some perspective on what you’re upset about.
  • Be well rested. Being exhausted will only make you more impatient and likely to snap. Do everything you can to have a good night’s sleep before an important talk.
  • Bring notes. Some people can get so triggered in confrontation that they lose their ability to articulate their thoughts. They either clam up and say nothing or burst out  with confusion. With a clear head write out your objectives and focus on these during the discussion.
  • Take notes. The act of note-taking can keep you focused on what’s important and gives you something constructive to do rather than stew about what’s upsetting you.
  • Don’t be pressured last minute into what’s likely to be a high-conflict talk. Don’t get roped in if someone calls or texts and wants to get into an argument right then. If things have usually gone south in the past they’re likely to again. Give them an alternate time when you’ll be available. Try this 3 step approach.

Try to use at least some of these strategies before you put yourself into a high-conflict situation. Some discussions are high-stakes. In mediation we’re often discussing issues that will affect lives for years to come. It’s worth it to be in the best possible frame of mind. You can’t stop that anger from coming in the first place, but there are ways you can control it.

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