Decision Quality Requires Understanding Storm of Emotions Underlying Anger
Red Diamonds Features is an interview-rich publication that converses on topics related to our professional and personal lives, such as communication, decision making, behavior, conflict, trust, courage, resilience, courage, reputation and crisis management.
Excelling in our professional and personal lives requires being able to assertively, skillfully, successfully navigate anger and not allow it to master us; a difficult life skill to master. The “how” can prove perplexing.
It’s important to realize that anger can be helpful as a signal to ourselves and in the right situations, when responded to with character and skill.
It becomes problematic to us however when its meaning and emotional drivers are poorly understood and doesn’t inspire and elicit intelligence, morality and decisions that reveal our best long-term interests.
“Unfortunately, many of us have not been taught how to express this feeling in the most positive way and if we have years of repressing it under our belt, then when something makes us angry it can trigger feelings that are totally out of proportion to the event,” says Wylde.
It is beneficial to learn how to ask questions, not only of others but of ourselves, listen better and interpret accurately. It also requires being honest with ourselves.
“For a clean and healthy expression of anger, we need to learn how to hear what our anger and other emotions are trying to tell us about ourselves or a certain situation,” Wylde says.
Doing this, she says, provides us with what we all want anyway — self-agency, or that power we have over our life.
“When we are able to step back and really understand our emotional responses we will have a lot more autonomy because we will understand what is going on for us and be able to separate that from the situation,” Wylde says.
That becomes a link to the smarter, more effective decision-making that can help our lives, professionally and personally.
“This leads to self-awareness and emotional maturity. We are the master of ourselves and we can make rational decisions, because we can honor our feelings whilst at the same time still see the facts clearly,” Wylde says.
If this doesn’t become the chosen plan of action, commitment and practice, there is increased exposure to risk for less optimal, poor or damaging decision-making. Emotional reasoning, where we assume because we feel something, that it therefore must be true, is a common problem to which we are unaware.
“If we get caught up in our feelings and believe them, as in emotional reasoning, allowing them to eclipse our more rational side, the facts or others’ opinions, we are much more likely to act rashly or illogically,” Wylde says.
When we do react in this type of manner, she says what is happening is not always what it appears.
“The part of us that reacts out of irrational or disproportionate anger is usually reacting defensively because it feels vulnerable, even if it looks aggressive from the outside. So decisions made in this state are fear-based, reactive, desperate and narrow-minded or short-sighted,” Wylde says.
That emotional state and corresponding reactions compromise our cognitive ability and clarity, making better or best conclusions and decisions unlikely.
“It is also very difficult to make a clear-headed decision while in this state because the parameters of the scenario have shrunk to being all about you personally, whether that is to do with your feeling of safety, status, income or other,” Wylde says.
This emotional reactivity, common, then leads to struggle.
“You will most likely feel a desire to control, flee or fight the object of your anger. This leads to difficulty with: nuance, seeking solutions in an open-minded state, communicating well, looking far into the future at possible consequences and opportunities and other more subtle qualities of reasoning,” Wylde says.
Making more intelligent decisions becomes difficult when we are triggered or overwhelmed (even when we wouldn’t assess ourselves as such).
“I encourage people to return to a baseline of rational clear-headedness by slowing and deepening their breath, moving to release physical tension and taking a moment to pause,” Wylde says.
If we can remind ourselves to do such and become practiced at it before we next become angry, there is an approach that she recommends that could help us create that “from the balcony view” in decision-making.
“Other useful tools include visualizing someone else in the situation you are in and imaging what they would do — to gain perspective,” Wylde says.
Replacing our current reactions, while uncomfortable, is possible. One way to examine ourselves is by looking back on when we haven’t been the ideal versions of ourselves.
“I am a big fan of asking clients to take a pause whenever they feel triggered or about to act or speak in a way that does not reflect them at their best,” Wylde says.
While dependent on individuality, she sees a social problem attributing to behavior in anger.
“I find that in our fast-paced culture many feel resistant to not speaking or acting quickly as if it is a sign of rudeness or weakness but actually taking a short break to breathe and reconnect with your physical sensations can help you to center yourself and return to a balanced state,” Wylde says. “It is very helpful to practice this whenever you can.”
Wylde also advises to pause within anger and exhibit poise and curiosity.
“Try to notice any time you feel annoyed or triggered and do not push the feeling away; ask yourself why it happened,” she says. “Is there a boundary being crossed or a need that is not being met?”
This can act as a catalyst for the brain to reevaluate an experience. Wylde uses an simple example to educate.
“Learn to ask these questions and increasingly take healthy action to ensure that you are taking care of yourself emotionally. For example, if your partner always loads the dishwasher wrongly and it annoys you, look more deeply into your feelings. Does it remind you of something from your younger years, are you drawing a certain conclusion about their actions, or is something else coming up? Starting to express yourself more will help you to discharge some of the pent-up emotion that may be part of the cause of your anger and its ferocity,” she says.
Another helpful approach she recommends is implementing safeguards as risk prevention.
“Aside from taking a pause to breathe and reconnect with ourselves, and learning to listen to the feelings around our anger, we can also put more practical systems in place to stop us doing something irrational,” Wylde says.
She provides a workplace scenario to illustrate.
“For example, if we had an assistant we could ask them to delay sending any correspondence from us if we look furious. We can check in with a best friend when making a big decision when we think we might be triggered. We could create a rule where we only make decisions a certain amount of time after something has annoyed us,” Wylde says. “Try and make it simple and easy to put into practice.”
The amount of effort it takes to replace default decision-making habits in anger could vary depending on the person.
“It can take quite a bit of effort to stop making decisions out of anger because while we are in that state we often feel completely justified and even energized and the simplicity and power of that feels good,” Wylde says.
Why this becomes unlikely or painful to change is clear, she says.
“So essentially, we are trying to stop a behavior that feels good to us while we are doing it,” Wylde says.
This becomes increasingly problematic as it reinforces a habit that can be destructive and self limiting if not also self destructive.
“The negative consequences and feelings that follow really take us out of that high and may lead to feelings of shame or disconnection. Logically it might seem that that would put us off from acting angrily again, but no one likes feeling this way and it can trigger an anger — shame cycle,” she says.
The reality is the work might be much greater than is realized.
“For some of us it is not about changing one behavior, but about interrupting a whole cycle. Our key allies here are self-awareness and self-acceptance. If we can accept ourselves as we are then we give ourselves the space we need to change,” Wylde says.
She believes society sends a message in this process that is unhelpful.
“And while in our culture it seems like identifying the problem, judging it and solving it is the most direct way to address an issue when it comes to changing ourselves we just need to feel like we have worth, we are good and we are lovable,” Wylde says. “So, for many of us the real work in addressing our anger is to love and accept ourselves fully, which is not something our culture excels at.”
Her remedy for this deficiency is kindness, directed inward.
“By balancing that with a self-compassionate, clear sense of our personal responsibility we will have a much greater chance of creating a deep change within us that is authentic and lasting. From that point most of our actions will naturally be proportionate and healthy and have a big-picture perspective,” Wylde says.
This can manifest itself in positive ways across all parts of our life.
“The work we put into addressing our anger will have deep and long-lasting benefits on the quality of our life, relationships, career, reputation, health and even personal fulfillment. So I would say that it is effort well spent,” Wylde says.
She mentions why this is important to remember.
“I work with a range of people from corporate clients to entrepreneurs and creatives. They all have to learn to manage their emotions in order to make the best decisions for them and their businesses. Whatever your job title or rank, making decisions while angry can damage your reputation, burn bridges, limit your options and generally lead you down a path that is not right for you,” Wylde says.
Michael Toebe authors and publishes the weekly Red Diamonds Newsletter, Red Diamonds Features and Red Diamonds Essays (all on Medium) and hosts the Red Diamonds Podcast. He is a specialist for reputation, professional relationships communication and wiser crisis management.