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.