DO YOU REALLY DISAGREE? Family history, life experiences, & mood can influence how we understand and react to what we hear.

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“Interesting. I’ll really need to think about that a little more.”  You’ve made a suggestion to your boss, and this was her response. So what do you think? Does she really find your idea interesting? Is this a polite way of letting you know your input was considered briefly – then trashed? Or something in the middle – an idea that really needs a little more thought, before you receive a response?

Your reaction is likely to depend on your understanding of what was meant by this statement. And that understanding might be based on lots of experiences other than your interactions with your boss. What you learned about life as a child, your previous challenges on other jobs, your mood at the moment, how safe you feel in your world, your social skills – all play a role in how we interpret what others tell us.

And the intent behind those words, if clarified by your employer, might be totally different than what you imagined. Since, of course, the way your boss communicates is also influenced by all those same factors listed above. The result is that you may each interpret that simple statement differently, leading to a potentially damaging interaction with your boss.

You may have been told that it takes two to have an argument. Perhaps, but in this case, all it might take is one person to misinterpret this statement and react in anger – without checking out the meaning first. Impulsively acting on an angry thought rarely solves a problem and is more likely to create conflict, when none exists!

The solution? Check it out, before responding. Try saying something like, “I’d appreciate knowing what your instant read on this is. Do you see my idea as something we could use?” Then be prepared for the honest answer. You nay not like the response, but you won’t be left imagining the worst, with your anger and distress slowly building.

We all, at some time in our lives, have to deal with the challenges that arise from misunderstanding what others have said. However, if you frequently find yourself in conflict, you might want to take a look at why that happens.

What influences in your life have made  it so difficult to have these conversations? Could it be that you’ve just never learned a few conversational skills? Has your view of the world been shaped by how things were in your family when you were a kid? Do others seem to instinctively know those communication “tools” that feel like a foreign language to you?

Books and Internet searches yield some helpful strategies and might give you some ideas to use when you feel stuck and don’t know how to react, what to say or why this keeps happening.  If you still end up angry and in conflict after all your self-help attempts, this might be a good time to seek professional help.

 

 

 

CATCH ‘EM BEING GOOD! Noticing what those difficult folks do right!

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Observed in a local store: Teen age boy with skateboard, shopping by riding that board up and down aisles. Store manager informs him that riding in the store is not permitted. Angry boy – ready to argue vehemently – steps off the board to have this interaction. What would you have done?

Here’s what that manager did:
Ignoring the brewing storm, he thanked the boy for getting off the skateboard. He expressed concern that the young man would be injured riding on those slick floors: “Don’t want you to get hurt here. Stuff happens, even though I see you’re really good on that board! Let me help you find what you need, then you’ll be outside pretty quick to continue that ride!”

The angry youngster suddenly smiled:
“Yeah… I’m on this all the time, so I get lots of practice. I know I won’t get hurt in here. But all I need is that notebook over there.” The manager helped him and the boy left, showing off his skill with some fancy exit moves – just outside the store!

Praise is easy to give – sometimes!
When you’re not angry or annoyed…… When you’re feeling supportive and generous…… When your boss, friend, child, partner, spouse, the kid in the store are doing it “right!”

But what about when you’re angry, irritated or inconvenienced?
When you really would rather just say what you really feel about that other person’s words or behaviors? After all, these days we’re all encouraged to share our feelings, aren’t we? Therapists, magazine articles, talk shows – all seem to promote the same concepts: be assertive …… set clear boundaries and limits…… say what you mean!

Those problem folks who sometimes seem to invade our lives, thoughts, and feelings?
Definitely tell them what you like and don’t like. Educate them on how they should  behave with you. Practice self-care by letting others know your needs and limits! Isn’t that what we’re so often told we should do?

Well…. yes!  Or maybe! Good boundaries, sharing of feelings, clarity of feedback – all good ideas.
And, it’s what I often help my clients accomplish. But sometimes that’s not what’s needed in the moment.

This manager caught that boy “doing good!”
After all he did get off the skateboard – even if he didn’t really intend to follow directions! And that little bit of praise was enough to obtain compliance, reduce the boy’s anger, and most likely prevent conflict, argument, hostility.

I invite you to spend just one day catching people being “good.”
And telling them about it – even if that “good” isn’t perfect, but is just an approximation. And substituting that praise for the complaint you’d really prefer to state. Then notice how those people react. And decide if this is a communication strategy you’d like to add to your anger management toolkit.

   

   

THE UNEXPECTED STORM: Coping with that out-of-nowhere flash of anger.

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It appears like a shot out of nowhere. That sudden angry outburst arising from a seemingly cheery, pleasant conversation. “There you go again!” or “I knew it! You just couldn’t keep your mouth shut!” Or – some other expression of long-held, and possibly long-hidden anger.  Seemingly so sudden and unpredictable, the target of all that anger is left wondering just what happened, what went wrong. And, why didn’t I see this coming?


Many of us have been on the receiving end of such an angry explosion.
If you’re anything like me……….
well, it really doesn’t matter how much training you have in anger management, how good you feel about yourself, how clear you’ve always been that you can handle someone else’s anger.

When we don’t see it coming, that flash of anger directed at us can feel overwhelming. And it can take every ounce of self-control not to respond in kind. To remember that we really don’t need to respond immediately.

That fight or flight impulse might kick in, but we can choose to do neither. A deep breath, a physical step back, and a moment of silence……. That may be all it takes to defuse the moment.

At a later time, when all is calm, then take the opportunity to find out what happened, ask a few questions, and to possibly address the deeper issues that provoked that flash storm of emotion.

Too tough to do alone? That’s a great time to use your support systems to help you think things through. A good friend, a close sibling, a parent – anyone you can count on to understand and cheer you on.

If your support systems aren’t enough, you might consider getting some professional help to get you past the rough spots, help you understand what’s hapening and to help you develop some strategies for coping with the challenges.

 
   
   

IN A TRAFFIC JAM AND ANGRY? Does it work to honk and yell?

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I was in a hurry to get to a meeting. The drive that should have taken 5 minutes lasted 10 times as long. Detours were just as bad as the main route. My passenger was trying to have a conversation, but I was way too annoyed and stressed to be fully present.

People come to me for counseling, because they need help managing anger and stress.
And here I was, forgetting all I knew – just ready to let those other drivers know what I was feeling! But….. sometimes, just like everyone else, my own feelings overcome reason – and my  instinct is to just let loose!

At the moment when I was most annoyed – and when my almost-patient passenger was probably ready to kill me – I was distracted by a loud horn in the next lane.
This other driver was obviously just furious – pounding the dashboard, saying things I was glad I couldn’t hear, and blasting the horn – at traffic that couldn’t have moved any faster at that moment.

Wow! That was exactly how I was feeling!
But, of course, I wasn’t ready to act out the way he was. How humiliating that would be…….. and how useless!

That driver will never know the favor he did for me.
His rage was a distraction, giving me a chance to realize that my anger really wouldn’t make those cars disappear and reminding me to have a sense of humor. All I could think about, watching him, was a cartoon figure acting out frustration and anger.

As I took a deep, calming breath, my passenger started laughing, and I quickly joined in.
Soon we were watching all those other rageful drivers with humor and empathy, rather than distress. And suddenly, there I was at my destination! Late, but not nearly as angry and stressed.

We all have choices.
You could choose to remind yourself that humor, distraction, and changing the story you tell yourself can change your behavior – and your feelings.

Find something funny – then laugh about it – even if it’s forced humor. And – miraculously, you might find yourself less angry!

NOTICING WHAT WORKS: What would happen if we made a conscious choice to view some disappointments through a different lens?

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My college major was special education. I loved learning about and working with kids who learned differently. Kids who didn’t quite know how to do things “right.” My friends and I were full of pride and passion about our ability to accept and love our students as they were. We cheered on the small steps and explained to all who would listen that slow progress and and a bit of oddness were to be embraced without put-downs and criticism – and with lots of patience.

One day my parents arrived at school to take me to lunch
. My impatience with our rather slow and sort of inept waiter was clear. My parents heard my complaints for about as long as they could tolerate. Then my father asked a question I’ve thought about many times in the 40+ years since that day.

He said quietly, “I don’t understand something. How is it you are so patient with your students and so impatient with this waiter?”
My somewhat indignant response was along the lines of, “That’s not fair! He’s not my student. He’s our waiter and is supposed to be speedier, do his job right!” And the arrogance of all-knowing young adulthood won the argument for the moment!

But, that conversation comes back to me often these days.
I’ve been eating in restaurants fairly frequently  lately. Some servers are excellent, others just do the basics to get the job done. Some get confused easily and mess up the order, while others provide extraordinary and efficient service. And a rare few seem to want to be fired!

It’s human nature to notice and remember those people in our lives who mess up, the  ones who make more mistakes, seem not to understand quickly, have shaky  social skills.
Those who do a good or great job often fade into  the background. They don’t disturb our world, so we tend to forget they exist – except when they aren’t quite as perfect!


I wonder how  different life could be if we could  manage to change perspective.
Note and try to remember the folks in our worlds who respond to us appropriately, who take care of our needs, who may not be perfect, but who are doing the best they can in the moment. And who really don’t intend to do us harm. Pay attention to the waiter, friend, colleague who is ok most of the time. Know that we will all mess up from time to time, and we can choose how we react to those who do.

In my personal and professional experience, I’ve noticed that anger often tends to build when the focus is on what went wrong – no matter how small an issue. What could be different if you made the choice to attend to your anger later on – but for now, focus on and acknowledge the things you like about someone, the positives that have occurred, the small things that didn’t go wrong?

 

IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT YOU (OR ME!): Avoid the trap of assuming insult when there really is none intended!

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Have you ever noticed that some folks just seem to breeze through those challenging moments that would make you just want to explode? Have you ever wondered how they manage to do that?

I suspect that these “Teflon people,” who let so many things just slide off, have really just learned to view their world through a different lens.
When I’ve asked colleagues or clients how they’ve managed to avoid conflict, avoid getting angry at a particularly irritating or insulting behavior, one or two responses stand out as most often stated.

The most frequent is some version of “pick your battles.”
In other words, these people have decided that some things just aren’t worth arguing or getting upset about. So they’ve figured out responses that are non-combative and serve to calm or avoid a potentially difficult situation.

The second explanation I hear is a form of “I know it’s not about me.”
We all know people who just “lose it” sometimes – when life is too stressful, when feelings are overwhelming, when whatever just happened feels like the last straw, and those feelings end up heaped on you – way out of proportion to the situation at hand.

What both of those explanations have in common is that the low-responder has decided not to get sucked into or trapped by another person’s upset and anger.
And, they’ve also been confident enough to understand that personal self-worth isn’t defined by self-defense, when none is really needed!

   
   
   

IT’S NICE TO KNOW OTHERS ARE CONCERNED ABOUT YOU! But, too much concern might make you want to fight or flee!

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Someone in your life is concerned about your well-being. For the umpteenth time, that person has inquired about your well-being. At this point, what you’d really like to do is just say “STOP!” And you might just start feeling like a rebellious kid again – complete with eye roll and angry response! “I’m fine!” “Leave me alone!” “Get off my back!” The angrier you get, the more creative your response might be.

Probably all of these are very understandable responses to someone who just can’t take a hint.
And they’d be fantastic responses – if they actually worked. But, most likely, nothing changes and you just get more annoyed and angry. And the cycle keeps on being repeated. As do your stress, frustration, and anger.

I’ve developed a 5-step response template that actually works – most of the time.
Well…. it can work if you can actually calm down enough to use it. And you’ll be able to do that, if you practice first.


Try  this (after taking a few deep, relaxing breaths):

1) Make a wondering statement that is really a question:
I’m wondering why you’re so worried/concerned about this…… (said with real concern).

2) Validate concerns:
I do understand that you are worried/concerned about me …….. (tone of voice counts here!).

3) Reassure:
I’m really fine – and I can handle this. (Said with assurance and confidence.)

4) Express gratitude and reassure again:
Thank you so much for caring about me – but I really am fine.

5) Change the subject to something of interest to the other person:
“Did you hear the news about Aunt Sally?”  Or something like that. (Again tone of voice and confident presentation count!)

There’s no guarantee that this 5-step approach will work the way you want it to. A lot depends on your ability to convince yourself that you really could mean it. It’s nice to have people concerned about you. It’s also terrible annoying when those same people invade your space with their concern.

Your air of confidence + maintaining some good boundaries can make the difference. And being a good actor, learning your part and keeping in character – can be quite effective in convincing those annoying folks to just lay off!

If you try this approach, I’d love to hear from you. Was this helpful? A total bust? Or somewhere in between?  I’ll respond to all comments, either on this blog or through my email:
karen@karenwulfson.com.