Staying calm when you feel angry is a mental game that you can master.
Being able to stay calm and assertive regardless of your emotional state protects your character, and is a huge benefit to you in all types of interpersonal communication. When you stay in control, you will not allow yourself to do or say hurtful things which you later regret. And even if someone becomes angry at you, if you stay calm, you can learn to respond appropriately and ethically even under stress.
It is not enough to say that you can't help it when you loose your temper; you can, and only you are responsible for your own actions. Anger has been likened to temporary insanity. Do you really want to act temporarily insane? Staying calm is a behavior which can be learned through practice.
Anger Has A Purpose
Some people seem to mistakenly think that they should not be held responsible for anything that they do while in a state of anger. I am certainly not advocating such a thing. While I agree with the Zen or Stoic idea that no one makes you angry, you choose to become angry, I also see that the emotion of anger has its purpose in certain situations. It is not the emotion in and of itself, but the chronic non assertive and non constructive expression of anger which is destructive. Let's be clear; there are some situations where a controlled or assertive expression of anger may actually be appropriate. Legitimate anger arises from the need to protect ourselves or our loved ones from potential threats. It arises when our rights are violated, or when we feel someone has wronged us.
Uncontrolled, aggressive or chronic expressions of anger are detrimental to your character, and do not benefit you because other people tend to react negatively. It is in your best interest as a person of integrity to learn how to stay calm, and communicate assertively even if you feel angry inside. Remember that ethics dictate that you should treat people as you want to be treated. It is never ok to lash out, scream, call names, or initiate violence. I have detailed the difference between assertive versus aggressive behavior here.
Controlling Anger With the Time Out Technique
When you become angry, you need to detach from your feeling of anger momentarily, and examine the situation. This is difficult to do in the heat of the moment, but it must be done if you goal is self control. Ask yourself, is your anger arising from a legitimate need for protection, or do you feel angry because your ego is offended? You need to take a hard look at yourself and ask why you are feeling angry. It is totally possible to realize the silliness of being angry over a certain situation and just decide to let it go. Even if you are legitimately angry because someone is trying to harm you, you still need remain in control. Take a time out, and think rationally about it so that you can decide what the most appropriate response is.
Is It Ever Appropriate To Show Anger?
For example, let's say you have repeatedly told your child never to run into the street. Then your child runs into the street, while cars are coming. It is appropriate for you to sternly express your anger at your child, so that they know how serious you are about the rule of not running into the street next time. Obviously, it is never appropriate to call names or say harmful things, but your anger is protective of the child so long as it appropriately expressed in a controlled way.
Here is another example of how appropriately expressed sternness can be self protective. Recently as I was sitting down to lunch, I received a phone call on my cell from a private number. A voice recording announced a lower interest rate offer and that I should press one to speak to an operator. Once I was transferred to the operator, I immediately asked what account he was calling about, since he hadn't identified himself or used my name.
He said, “Mastercard.” I said, “I don't have a Mastercard.” I was thinking that either someone had stolen my identity, or that he was clearly trying to scam me in some way. Then he said “Visa or American Express.” I responded, “which visa, company x?” At which point he said yes, and made an offer for a 5% lower interest rate. He claimed that the lower rate would benefit me, as I owe over $4,000! At that point, I raised my voice to let it be clear how serious I was as I said, “I have a zero balance, why are you trying to say that I have a Mastercard, and that I owe over 4,000?” At which point the caller suspiciously hung up.
The call must have been a scam and not identity theft, as I confirmed that I have a zero balance on my Visa. I later learned that there is a type of scam called vishing, or voice phising, where a social engineer calls you and tries to get you to reveal your credit card or other private information. Needless to say, this guy wasn't very good at social engineering, although he did get me to reveal that I had an account with company x. I honestly think that if I had been more polite with him however, it may have made me an easier target. My displayed annoyance and raised voice at the inaccurate information he provided, probably protected me from being scammed.
(*Update, the scam targeted me again today (9-30-13), so I played along to get more information. I asked them several questions and I was able to find out that they were calling from "Card Services." They claim to work with major institutions such as Bank of American and Chase. If they really were working with your bank, they would already have your account information. Sounds like they are calling from India. This is a total scam. Beware.)
You Benefit From Staying Cool and Calm Under Pressure
It is especially inappropriate to become angry in a professional role. If you feel yourself getting stressed out at work, take a few deep breaths and calm yourself down. You can state your ideas better when you stay calm. I don't care how much you disagree with someone, it doesn't help you to become visibly angry or to yell at coworkers or customers. If someone screams at you, a good option is to leave the interaction.
There is also no reason to become angry during a professional or friendly debate. You will have the upper hand in debates if you consciously make an effort not to get upset when debating in the first place. If you feel yourself getting upset, take a deep breath, and practice the time out technique detailed above. Others are entitled to their opinions (even if their opinions are totally unethical). Make an effort to speak in a friendly and conscientiousness way. It is better to debate if you can find some common ground. For example, “I agree with point A, but not point B...” You may even convert someone to your point of view if you can stay calm and friendly during a debate. If someone else becomes angry, it might be better to gracefully exit the conversation.
By far the most harmful expressions of uncontrolled anger are directed towards your partner, family, or friends. You don't want to damage your most important relationships by becoming irate and saying things that you later regret. This is where the technique I propose comes in handy the most. If you feel yourself becoming angry with a loved one, take a moment to calm yourself and reflect on the situation before you respond.
What do you think? Do you use a similar technique, or have you tried the technique above? I'd love for you to comment!