2012 - May

Dear AngerManagementSeminar.com

I used to think my husband was the one with the anger problem. Now it is clear we both have a problem. All we do is yell at each other constantly. Anytime we have a conversation that is more than “pass the salt” it is likely to turn into WWIII. We both know that things are bad, but we have lost the ability to communicate without hurting each other, and I honestly don’t know which of us has the biggest problem anymore. Maybe we both need to take anger management. HELP!

Worried in Washington

Dear Worried:

Sadly, one of the main reasons that people allow their anger to escalate to inappropriate, even dangerous, levels is because they feel they have no other options for being heard or understood. They are either afraid of being rejected, or they simply have no clue about how to say how they feel or ask for what they need. Effective communication is absolutely vital for practicing assertiveness and controlling anger. It is also one of the most uncomfortable, even scary, new skills you will ever try to learn. The concepts are not really hard, but the level of honesty it requires leaves many people with the same feeling they might have if they were jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. It just doesn’t always sound like a good idea. But, in the end, it is a great idea, especially if you have a bit of courage and a good plan. The courage must come from you, but here is an outline for a good plan.

Have you ever noticed that some people may be right about an issue, but they are just plain rude and thoughtless in the way they relate to others? On the opposite end of the scale there are people who are so afraid of hurting feelings or being hurt that they beat around the bush, minimize problems, and never say what the really feel. In the middle, there are people who have the ability to share feelings and talk about issues that are uncomfortable without either giving offense or being offended. This is the mark of a person with great communication skills. Most of these people follow some version of the following outline.

I. May I tell you how I feel?

When there are important issues at stake, it is very important to avoid starting the conversation by attacking, blaming or accusing the other party. Statements such as, “I have had it up to here with the way you waste money,” are not a good way to open a discussion. Such an approach will ALWAYS put the other party on the defensive. Their fight or flight response will leap into action, and they will quit listening to you and focus instead on protecting themselves. Personal attacks always produce retaliation, and that leads to anger, arguments and warfare.

A better way to begin the conversation is to say, “May I tell you how I feel about something?” This is polite, respectful, and, while it does signal that you may want to bring up an uncomfortable subject, your attitude makes it clear that you are not on the warpath. It also sends the signal that you are asking for help, which feels safer to the other party than simply demanding an answer. However, before you can approach the other party with this opening question, you must do some important preparation.

  • First, you must identify WHAT you are feeling – give it a name. Are you feeling discouraged, confused, disappointed, scared, rejected, betrayed, abandoned, hopeless, depressed, etc.? It usually doesn’t work to say, “I have a problem, I am upset about it, and you need to fix it.” Give this feeling as specific a name as possible.
  • Second, you must clearly nail down WHY you think you are feeling this way. Again, it won’t work to just corner the other party and declare, “I am depressed and it is all your fault!” Without preaching a sermon, briefly describe what you think the problem is. Here is an example: “I am feeling very alone and rejected, and I think it started when your hours changed at work.”
  • Third, have some idea in mind of what kind of remedy would help improve the situation. Again, it is important to be polite and respectful. Remember, the other person has needs and feelings, too. Plus, this person will be in the early stages of trying to understand and process your request. So don’t prepare some outrageous, punitive, pie-in-the-sky demand, and don’t deliver it with hostility. Calmly state your idea: “I am not really comfortable with us being on such different schedules now. Can we talk about ways to handle this?”
  • Now you are ready to approach the other party with your request. If at all possible, try to choose a time when there are no obvious distractions and little possibility of being interrupted for at least 30 minutes. When that opportunity is available, ask if this would be a good time to talk. If the answer is in the affirmative, get comfortable, face the other party, and present your case: “May I tell you how I feel? I am feeling very alone and rejected, and I think it started when your hours changed at work. I am not really comfortable with us being on such different schedules now. Can we talk about ways to handle this?”

Your next job will be even harder, but much more important. Now you must sit and listen very carefully to how the other person responds. This step is actually the key to avoiding an argument and controlling angry outbursts. However, we don’t have enough space left here to cover that in this article. I will wrap this up next month.

In the meantime, keep in mind that of the main reasons conversations collapse into angry confrontations is because too often both parties are only concerned with getting their own way and protecting their positions. So, they only listen to the other person long enough to find an opportunity to jump back in and defend themselves or make another point for their side. Even when they are “listening,” they are usually actually planning out what they are going to say next. This attitude guarantees that no real communication takes place at all. People aren’t talking to each other, they are talking at each other or over each other. Start focusing as much on really listening to and trying to understand the other person’s point of view as you have been on promoting your point of view, and that should help make your conversations more constructive.

About the Author

James A. Baker of Houston, Texas and the author of the best selling "Anger Busting Workbook" is the Founder of The Anger Management Training Institute and the founder and Chairman of Baker Communications. Jim combines over 30 years as a celebrated corporate trainer with over 15 years in the recovery movement which has helped him to create a set of powerful tools for helping anger addicts lead saner, safer, and happier lives. Jim may be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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