In this lesson, we will discuss the role of anger in conflict.
The specific areas of focus include:
Anger is a very powerful emotion, and it can also be a scary emotion; therefore, many people are uncomfortable with exactly how to deal with anger.
We all know what anger feels like; we've all been angry, and had that feeling of adrenaline pumping through us when we react.
We’ll often react in a couple of different ways that may not be constructive; this is because anger is an emotion associated with aggressive behavior that is related to a triggering event.
One way that the aggressive response might manifest itself is in blaming behavior, or attributing a negative condition for oneself to another's actions or inactions.
Something's happened, you are experiencing it negatively, and you consider it the other person's fault. You may say things like, "You always do this," or "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?" If you've ever been on the receiving end, then you know these statements can really feel like direct punches.
There’s another non-constructive, but less direct way that we express anger. This is called being passive-aggressive, and it’s a category of interpersonal interactions characterized by hostility or attempts to obstruct or frustrate another person.
Oftentimes, this is an expression of aggression in a very non-assertive, subtle, passive, indirect way.
You have probably heard or even said things like, "Well, if you're so smart, then why don't you just go do it?" or "It's not my problem. Why should I care?" You can hear the anger in these statements, but it’s indirect, which can be very frustrating for a person on the receiving end.
Thus when anger is expressed this way, the person on the receiving end typically responds in a defensive manner, and the conflict escalates.
Consider the last time you were angry. You may or may not have made a blaming or passive-aggressive statement. It's very easy to do; we're all human.
Now think about being on the receiving end of a statement like that:
You probably felt like you were being attacked. The original topic of the conflict disappears, and suddenly it’s about you personally.
Most people are uncomfortable with anger because it can quickly escalate a conflict; however, anger is an emotion that needs expression, and it can be expressed in a constructive way.
One constructive way of expressing anger is venting. Venting is the acknowledgment of the emotion of anger, and its causes and reasons, in a non-blaming way.
You can do this by using “I” statements because “I” statements really take ownership of the emotion.
You come home to find that your roommate has left a mess. You feel like your wishes don't matter, so you acknowledge that by saying, "Okay, these are feelings that I have. Seeing the mess is what caused me to have these feelings." You didn't blame; instead, you simply reported your feelings. That’s an example of constructive venting.
In the conflict resolution process, it's important for the conflict resolver to acknowledge anger regardless of how someone expresses it.
We don't have control over how people express their anger, so we need to acknowledge that the parties have anger, and agree on some strategies for handling the anger so that both parties feel safe.
When anger is being expressed during the conflict resolution process, the mediator needs to acknowledge both the anger and the feelings behind it.
Anger is thus called a secondary emotion because even though it may be expressed and displayed as the most prominent feeling, many times it's not.
A secondary emotion is present when two or more emotions are felt; it's the emotion that’s less important to the experience, though it may be the emotion most prominently displayed.
Underneath that emotion, there is a primary emotion, or the emotion that is most important to the person experiencing it.
A person may come into the resolution process expressing anger, but underneath that anger is a primary emotion, maybe a stronger emotion that isn't being expressed quite as loudly or prominently.
This emotion could be hurt, sadness, embarrassment, etc. By first acknowledging the anger, the conflict-resolver can get to the primary emotion by asking questions such as:
This way, the mediator is both acknowledging and asking questions that go beyond the anger.
It's important to uncover primary emotions because they are at the heart of what the real conflict is about. Until you get to the real feelings, you won’t be able to solve the conflict or come to an agreement that satisfies both parties.
In this lesson, you learned that anger can be expressed in non-constructive ways (such as blaming and passive-aggression) as well as constructive ways (such as venting).
You now understand that anger is often a secondary emotion; even though it can be the emotion most prominently displayed, there is usually a primary emotion beneath it that is more relevant to the conflict.
Source: Adapted from Sophia tutorial by Marlene Johnson.
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.
When two or more emotions are felt, the emotion which is most important to the person experiencing the emotions.
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.