On this blog, we have been discussing how we can move from anger to challenge. In one post, to help to move in the direction of challenge, I asked you to think of conflict as a great sea.
I explained that there is a region of the Sea of Conflict that is known as Anger. There, storms are particularly likely to churn up, and some of them have the potential to be very dangerous. It is for this reason that it is vitally important, whenever possible, to recognize when we begin to approach and enter into this region.
Challenge is a region of the great Sea of Conflict that is very close by to Anger. Because less experienced sailors are unaware that Challenge exists and where it lies, when they find that they are caught in an Anger storm they often succumb to the lashing of the violent waves. Great sailors, in contrast, know about Challenge. In fact, when caught in an Anger storm, just knowing that Challenge is just a knot or two away enables them to gather a sufficient surge of energy to carry out well practiced skills that give them a reasonable chance to reach relative safety.
In another post, I asked you to consider calling a timeout when you feel that things are getting a bit out of hand, kind of like they do in sports.
I went on, in that post, to suggest that in anger arousing situations you might want to call a time out in the following manner:
When you see that you are becoming angry, or the other party is, make a statement in a warm friendly manner indicating that you are very interested in what was said, you plan to think a little more about this over the next few days, and then you’ll be ready to discuss this further. Then, let the other person have the last words while you listen in a caring way.
And in yet another post, I described a technique to deal with anger arousing situations known as the Signaling to Back-Off Technique.
This technique works best in an ongoing relationship, although I have seen it work well with people who hardly know each other. The best way to set this up is to discuss this technique with the other person at a time when both of you are not in an angry mood. You might say to the other party something like:
Sometimes I begin to get really upset about something you are saying. I know that it’s important for me to hear your point of view and I do want to hear what you have to say. But there are times when I’m in no condition to give you a fair hearing on a particular topic. At such times, it would help me a great deal if I could give you a simple signal for you to back off for a while. I’ll make sure you’ll get your opportunity to have your full say on a topic before too long—almost always within a week. But I sometimes require a little time to get my act together first. Would you mind helping me out in this way?
Now once you have removed yourself from the anger arousing situation, I proposed that you consider using a two-step technique to move from anger to challenge. Today, we will look at a parable of someone using Step 1.
A Step One Example: You and your Friend, Eric
You and your friend, Eric, were discussing the upcoming election. Eric had explained why he was going to vote for someone in the upcoming presidential elections you thought would do an awful job. You both discussed the matter for awhile, and eventually it became clear to you that neither of you were going to change your opinions.
It was at this point that you had felt your anger toward Eric rising up within you. “Eric,” you said, “I think I understand your position. Let me think about the points you made today for awhile.” Then Eric restated a few of his points, and you listened in a caring way. Part of you strongly wanted to say some things once again to show Eric why you disagreed with him, but because you had practice using this “moving to challenge” technique several times over several weeks, you found that you were able to just give Eric a smile, and then you thanked him for his willingness to discuss this topic. Finally, you changed the topic, asking Eric how his job was going.
Later that day, you spent an hour thinking through what had happened using the “distancing” exercise we discussed in an earlier post (see DOES VENTING ANGER FEED THE FLAME). In brief, this involves imagining that you have returned to the time and place of the angry experience, and you are preparing to observe the scene just as it happened. As the unfolding of the event gets underway, take a few steps back. Move away from the situation to a point where you can watch the event unfold from a distance and see yourself in the event. Focus on what has now become a distant you. Watch the situation unfold as if it were happening to the distant you all over again. Replay the event as it unfolds in your imagination as you observe your distant self.
After you utilize the “distancing” technique, you come to decide that Eric had a right to his opinion and that you were going to let the issue drop. Moreover, if Eric brought the topic up again, you would smile, pat him on his back, and say, “Well Eric, by now you know my opinion about this and I certainly know yours. We obviously disagree. Nevertheless, I’m still very fond of you.”
Another day goes by. Again you spend a few minutes going through the experience from a few steps back from what actually occurred, observing your distant self in the event. Then you see if you can work up a heightened sense of determination to achieve your desire to resolve this conflict. You consider the twin beliefs that the stress you have been experiencing is normal and fulfillment is not found in easy comfort, security, and routine, but rather in the continual growth in wisdom through what is learned from negative and positive experiences of an active, changing life
Then, you take a deep breath and resolve to get down to the task at hand. Once again you consider the plan you came up with yesterday. It still feels like this obvious solution makes sense. You ask yourself, “If this plan doesn’t work out, are there any serious risks?”
As you consider this, you realize Eric’s opinion might influence a few other votes, but it is not at all likely he will alter the outcome of the election. You and Eric have had numerous disagreements in the past and it never led to any major break in your relationship. You therefore decide that your plan does NOT pose any serious risks.
Thus, you set yourself on carrying out your plan with charm, courage, and determination. Part of the plan involves practicing three times in your mind what you will say to Eric if the election topic does come up.
The next time you see Eric, he begins to tease you about whom you plan to vote for. You smile, and find that you have no problem telling him what you had practice saying. Eric replies by shrugging his shoulders and then both of you begin to talk about another topic.
Notice that in this step one example, after coming up with a plan, you take a day to “sleep” on it. If, on the day after you sleep on it, the plan still makes sense even after you use the “distancing” technique a second time, you then ask yourself, “If this plan doesn’t work out, are there any serious risks?” In our example, you decide that there are no serious risks, so you set yourself on carrying out your plan with charm, courage, and determination. At this point you have converted your anger experience to challenge.
But what happens if there are serious risks, or you just are not comfortable with the plan that you created? Then it’s time to go to step two for reaching the region of Challenge on the Great Sea of Conflict. We will take up this topic next week.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.