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Anger in Conflict

Anger in Conflict

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand means of dealing with anger in conflict situations

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Video Transcription

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Two people are in conflict, and one person is angry. Perhaps the other person is also angry. Anger is a very powerful emotion, and it can also be a scary emotion. And many people are uncomfortable with exactly how to deal with anger. Well, I'm Marlene, and in this tutorial, I'd like to talk with you today about dealing with anger in a conflict resolution situation.

So, let's start by defining anger. I don't think I need to explain to anybody what anger feels like. We've all been angry, and we know that feeling of adrenaline pumping through us where we react. Now, oftentimes we'll react in a couple of different ways that may not be constructive. And that's because anger is an emotion associated with aggressive behavior, associated with a triggering event.

Something has happened that triggers this aggressive emotion. And one way that the aggressive response might manifest is through blaming behavior. Now, blaming behavior is attributing a negative condition for oneself to another's actions or inactions. So something's happened. You are experiencing it negatively, and it's all that person's fault.

So you may say something like, you always do this. You never do it right. Or you may label. Look at this mess. You're a pig. How can you live like this? I can't imagine why you did that. How could you be so stupid? Wow, that feels like a direct punch. If you've ever been on the receiving end, you know what I mean, that kind of blaming statement.

There's another way that we can express anger that's not quite so direct. Call it a little more indirect. We come around sideways. It's below the belt. It's called passive-aggressive, passive-aggressive. Now, passive-aggressive, is a category of interpersonal interactions characterized by hostility or attempts to obstruct, frustrate another person. Oftentimes it's an expression of aggression in a very non-assertive, subtle, passive, indirect way.

So passive-aggressive behavior or reaction may look like this. Well, if you're so smart, then why don't you just go do it? No, no, that's OK. That's OK. If it's too much trouble to come for the holidays, you just stay there. We'll be fine. We'll be fine. We'll just spend the time alone. We'll have a quiet time.

Or I told you once. I'm not going to tell you again. It's not my problem. Why do I care? Woo, there's anger there. You can hear the anger. But the anger is indirect. It can be very frustrating for a person on the receiving end because it's indirect. So think about the last time you've been angry. You may or may not have made a blaming or passive-aggressive statement. It's very easy to do. We're all human.

But now I'm going to ask you to step back into the role of a person who's received a statement like that. Chances are at some point in your life you've been on the receiving end. I know I have. How did it feel? Well, it probably felt like you were being attacked. Your own character, your integrity's under attack. So what happens to the issue at hand? It disappears, and suddenly this is about me. This is personal.

So when anger is expressed this way, the person on the receiving end typically responds in this defensive way, and the conflict escalates. I think this is why we're all so uncomfortable with anger because anger can quickly escalate a conflict. But we're angry. So what do we do with it? Is there a healthy way to express it?

Well, there is, and anger is an emotion that needs expression. It can be expressed in a constructive way. We call that venting, and let me talk about that with you, venting. So, venting is expressing the feeling of anger in a non-blaming way, acknowledging the emotion of anger and its causes and reasons. So, notice what we're doing here is we're acknowledging anger and what caused it without the blame.

So, one way to do that is to use I statements, because I statements are really owning the emotion as your emotion. So I might say, when I come home and see a mess like this, I'm really upset. I feel like my wishes don't matter. OK, so these are my feelings. This is what caused it, the mess. And I didn't blame. I simply reported my feeling. So that's an example of constructive venting.

Now, in the conflict resolution process, it's important for the conflict resolver to acknowledge anger however someone's expressing it. And we don't have control how people are going to come in and express their anger. I will say that it's important in the process to acknowledge with the parties that anger may be present and perhaps to agree on some strategies for handling anger, how you will speak to one another so that the parties feel safe.

But when anger is being expressed, it's important for the mediator, the conflict resolver, to acknowledge the anger and the feelings behind it. Now, we call anger a secondary emotion because typically even though it may be expressed and displayed as the most prominent feeling, many times it's not. So a secondary emotion is when two or more emotions are felt. It's the emotion less important to the experience, though it may be the emotion most prominently displayed.

So a person comes in expressing anger, but underneath that anger is a primary emotion, maybe a stronger emotion that isn't being expressed quite as loudly or prominently. It could be something like hurt, embarrassment, sadness. So by acknowledging the anger, acknowledging it, the conflict resolver can get to the primary emotion.

When two or more emotions are felt, this primary emotion is the emotion which is most important to the person experiencing the emotion. So oftentimes simply acknowledging, it sounds like that was very nerve-wracking. What did you do? Well, you were really at the boiling point then. What happened? Tell me more. Is it what he said that caused you to react that way?

So you're acknowledging and asking questions to go beyond the anger. So it's important to uncover these primary emotions because they are at the heart of what the real conflict is about. And until you get to the real feelings, to the heart of it, you are not going to be able to solve the conflict and come to an agreement that satisfies both parties.

So, I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial with you today, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

An emotion associated with aggressive behavior associated with a triggering event.


Attributing a negative condition for oneself to another's actions or inactions.


Category of interpersonal interactions characterized by hostility or attempts to obstruct/frustrate another; expression of aggression in non-assertive, subtle (i.e. passive or indirect) ways.

Primary Emotion

When two or more emotions are felt, the emotion which is most important to the person experiencing the emotions.

Secondary Emotion

When two or more emotions are felt, the emotion less important to the experience (though may be the emotion most prominently displayed).


Expressing the feeling of anger in a non-blaming way, acknowledging the emotion of anger and its causes/reasons.