Not many people react favourably when told to “put a sock in it”. This euphemistic phrase is as offensive to most of us as the more direct “shut up” would be. But I’ll bet there isn’t one among us who at one time or another hasn’t wished that an extra McGregor Happy Foot had been chewed rather than chewing out a family member, service person, fellow worker, or former friend.
Speaking up when we should keep quiet is sometimes simply bad judgement, but the greatest prices paid in damaged relationships, ineffective communication, missed opportunities, lost income, wasted time, and regrets are more often the result of spouting off when we’re angry. Very rare indeed are the people who cannot trace paying each of these prices at least once because of losing their tempers. Sometimes the price is small, but all too often anger results in an enormous and ongoing cost. Friendships are damaged, employees become disgruntled, what should be pleasant outings are ruined, and probably even divorces are caused by unbridled anger.
There will always be situations and circumstances beyond our control that mightily try our patience, and there will always be people who will sorely test our ability to keep our cool. It would be naïve in the extreme to suggest even the possibility, forget the probability, of going through life without becoming angry. The key is to manage our anger and minimize the damage caused by what we say and do when we’re angry.
The first step in anger management and damage control is to know the triggers that set us off and recognize when we’re heading in a direction that is likely to lead to a loss of temper. We then have to develop control mechanisms. The adage that urges counting to 10 before speaking or acting when angry is more than just useful. It’s often valuable. When very angry it’s probably a good idea to count to 10 times 10, and take a stroll around the block while doing so. When you feel your blood pressure rising over something, ask yourself how much whatever it is that’s aggravating you will matter a year from now. Another good anger management technique is to imagine people whose respect you most want to keep, for example, your children or grandchildren are there with you. Of course, if one or more of those people happens to be the target of the anger, even more restraint is called for.
Have you ever noticed that the angriest people are those who know they are wrong? Anger is frequently the manifestation of having no one else to blame. The simple fact is that if you are right there’s no need to lose your temper; and if you are wrong you can’t afford to lose it. It’s impossible to be poised and angry at the same time and as a result a great deal of what we say and do while angry results in a great deal of regret. Anger is always best vented in private. You can’t unring a bell.
Our own anger is often triggered by the anger others direct at us. One angry person is bad enough; two angry people are a recipe for disaster. When the other person gets angry, that’s the time to end the discussion and take a leisurely stroll around the block. Angry people usually don’t cool down until they blow off their head of steam or enough time goes by for their bile level to drop back to normal. Only after you’ve given them the chance to do so should you try to reason with them. Until they’ve clearly gotten their aggravation under control, just let them be. The problem with fighting fire with fire is that you end up with a lot of ashes.
Although it’s often anger that gets us in trouble, it’s usually pride that keeps us there. When regret sets in, whether it’s right away or a week later, swallow your pride, sincerely and unequivocally apologize, and do whatever it takes to mend the fence. One of Dale Carnegie’s most important rules for winning friends and influencing people is: If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. He might also have added that if you’re right, and the other person doesn’t realize it, pick your timing carefully.
If you’re prone to losing your temper it might prove useful to put the following points on a slip of paper and refer to them often.
1. It may take years to build a relationship but a single angry moment can destroy it.
2. When right you can afford to keep your temper; when wrong you can’t afford to lose it.
3. When angry, count to 10 before speaking or acting; when very angry count to a 100.
4. Before getting angry, ask yourself how much this will matter a year from now.
5. What you say when you’re angry may be the best speech you’ll ever regret; get as angry as you want to, but vent it in private.
6. One thing to remember about moral outrage is that being outraged doesn’t necessarily make a person moral; just because someone’s yelling at you doesn’t mean you’re wrong.
7. Anger may get us into trouble but it’s usually pride that keeps us there.