Grrrrrrrrr! When Unfairness Gets Personal – Part 2 of 2

It’s startling to experience a sudden burst of intense emotion. It often feels like anger! Where did it come from? What’s it about?

It could be from unfairness, injustice or humiliation — all justified causes of anger. However, anger is often a “secondary” emotion that accompanies hurt or fear since we frequently experience more than one emotion at a time.

The amygdala in our brain helps us to survive by managing many automatic functions in our body. It remembers our experiences and assesses threats, physical and emotional. We all have experienced “triggers” — sudden intense feelings that seem to come from nowhere. Yep, that’s the amygdala working.

Here are a few examples of “triggering” experiences. I’m sure you can recall many of your own.

  1. A friend fails to keep an agreement, a promise or a secret.
  2. A child runs into the street after a ball without seeing a car coming.
  3. A family member forgets to include you in the picture of a family celebration.
  4. Your brother criticizes and belittles your daughter or spouse.

Any of these situations may cause us to feel hurt, angry or afraid. However, anger is often the first emotion we experience without recognizing the underlying feelings and, when triggered, our impulsive reactions often seem angry. This often provokes us to say or do things we later regret.

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When we react without thinking we may cause emotional harm to the relationship. Better to choose our reply once we understand the situation. This is exactly why the first rule of managing anger is to stop and think before taking action. It’s not what happens that matters so much. It’s how you handle it, and what it means to you, that matters most.

I know. Easier said than done! Intense emotions usually interfere initially with our ability to think clearly. Take time to differentiate between your feelings. Anger is different than fear. Fear is different than hurt. Trust me, it is possible, and necessary to regulate your behavior so you don’t act in ways that you will later regret. Just because you feel hurt or angry, you may not kick the cat or lash out at the policeman.

Triggered? Here’s help:

  1. Take several slow, deep breaths! Count to 10!
  2. Then, identify your feelings. General categories are: mad, sad, glad, afraid. If you are unclear about your emotions, ask yourself, “Is there a mad part about what happened? Is there a hurt or scared part? Because we often experience more than one feeling at a time, this will help you decide how to respond.
  3. Don’t assume you know the other person’s intentions or meaning. Be willing to engage to understand what happened. State what’s true for you along with the impact or meaning. “It seems to me that…” Then, state the impact or meaning for you. “I am disappointed, surprised, worried, hurt that…” Then, listen to understand the person’s meaning.
  4. Sometimes, misunderstandings and mistakes occur that can be quickly cleared up and dismissed. Start by giving the person the benefit of the doubt.
  5. When intense feelings linger, address the matter directly — sooner rather than later. When we feel vulnerable we may fear that the person will not recognize or acknowledge how their behavior affected us. When we avoid understanding and resolving issues, we diminish and disrespect the relationship.
  6. Trust that the strength of the relationship will allow for repair and recovery from mistakes and poor choices. When issues, large or small, are avoided, the relationship is compromised, thus causing distance that erodes affection, respect and trust.
  7. If you continue to feel upset about a situation 24 hours later, know that it will not simply evaporate. It will linger and fester, contaminating the relationship.
  8. If the person is important to you, take time to understand the transgression. Decide what you want to have happen and initiate contact. To have an argument? To prove you are right? To request or make an apology? To repair and recover? Let that decision guide your behavior. How you respond will be based on your values and principles.

Do not rely on someone else’s bad behavior as an excuse to be crabby, to rage or ruin your day. And, certainly, don’t allow another person’s bad behavior to control you.

The good news is that — with very few exceptions — willing attitudes and necessary skills can avoid or repair difficult interactions. Carpe diem!

 

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

Grrrrrrrrr! How to Deal With Unfairness (And the Anger It Triggers) – Part 1 of 2

Have you ever been on the losing end of nepotism? Or lost a position or promotion, that you believe you have earned, to a less-qualified person or co-worker?

Has a friend or professional colleague manipulated or lied publicly about you or something that caused you to feel humiliated or ridiculed?

If so, I expect that your immediate emotion was anger: a predictable and appropriate response to injustice or unfairness. Anger is triggered when you believe you have been wronged.

When things are not fair, we feel justifiably angry, vulnerable or maybe powerless. The intensity of our emotions and responses are dictated by the significance of the situation or the relationship. So, how can we deal with our anger in unfair situations?

When we have no control over an unjust situation or another person’s behavior, it’s not what happens that is key, it’s how we handle ourselves and what the situation means to us that is most important.

  • When life is unfair, perspective can help. Consider this: How important is this situation to you on a scale of one to 10? (Ten is the highest.)
  • If the situation ranks as a 1, 2 or 3 (relatively insignificant), you may decide to let it go, unless the behavior is a recurring pattern.
  • If the situation is a 7 or 8 (a big deal) as in the examples above, the injustice has impacted you adversely.

The workplace example describes a situation that is a fait acomplis, finished, done! We feel powerless. Anger, aggravation or resentment are completely normal when a decision is unjust, especially when we are surprised or caught off-guard. We may react with fight, flight or freeze behavior before we can even think.

Assuming that whatever has happened has had a significant impact on you, your career or reputation, it’s important to:

  • Objectively assess the situation; make no assumptions.
  • Understand how the situation impacts you, personally.
  • Ask yourself: What exactly is the unfair or unjust aspect of the situation? This will help you to respond effectively.
  • Determine the specific outcome or remedy you desire, even though none may be available or even seem possible.
  • Feel and express your emotions by talking with a few appropriate people, writing about the situation, or writing letters, but not sending them, to the offending individuals. It’s important to avoid destructive acting out!
  • If you have reacted impulsively or inflicted damage of some kind, repair or make necessary apologies, sooner rather than later.

The manipulation example above involves a personal relationship that will need to be addressed. Being wronged in this way is more complicated and more difficult to manage.

Being a true victim of injustice is one of the most difficult events to handle because we are rarely able to change the outcome. We are stuck and have essentially only two choices: be crushed or become strong and learn. My advice: don’t suffer for nothing; learn something.

With the first, we can continue to invest emotionally in our anger, rage and resentment, making our lives miserable. By taking the second road, we process our thoughts and feelings, coming to terms with the reality of a horrible situation and deciding to move through and, ultimately, release the anger so we don’t perpetuate the torment. Which will you choose?

Of course, we most likely will never forget the experience and the recovery process takes time. Usually the most helpful choice is to learn how to deal with life’s unfairness and manage our anger constructively. That way, we have the freedom not to be defined or destroyed by something over which we have no control.

Be on the lookout for “Angry! When It’s Personal” where I will address how to handle the hidden emotions that ignite anger.

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful: TED Talk by David Steindl-Rast

I first posted this wonderful TED Talk by David Steindl-Rast a few years ago. Given the current climate in our country, I thought it would be a good time for a “return engagement.”

A monk and interfaith scholar, Brother David believes that the one thing all humans have in common is the desire to be happy. Given my experience working with folks in all walks of life, I wholeheartedly agree.

In this TED Talk, a case is made for the need to be grateful, in order to be happy, rather than the other way around. What each of us imagines will make us happy might be different, but the desire for the feeling is universal.

How often have you heard someone say, “If only that would happen, I know that I would be happy?” Perhaps as Brother David “strongly suggests,” happiness is born from “the gentle power of gratefulness.” Slow down, look around you.

The assumption is that when we are happy, we are grateful. However, isn’t it possible that those who practice gratitude are the ones who are truly happy?

We all know people who seem to “have everything,” but they often profess to be unhappy and are constantly searching for something more. And, there are people who experience significant misfortune yet they somehow radiate happiness. Perhaps it’s because they feel gratitude for the opportunity to discover unrealized strength and learn important lessons from unexpected situations.

Gratitude can stem from being mindful of and seeing the value of something or some experience — especially when it is not acquired or earned. When we take the time to notice and acknowledge the inherent value in something (even a beautiful sunset), happiness and appreciation can result from our gratitude.

Taking it a little further, by becoming aware that each contains an opportunity to do or experience something, it becomes a gift within a gift.

“We cannot be grateful for everything,” says Brother David. “Certainly not for war or for oppression or for exploitation.” On a personal level, we cannot be grateful for the loss of a friend. However, However, even when confronted with something that is difficult, we can rise to the occasion and learn from the situation and our experience. We are then grateful for the opportunity to enhance our understanding and self-learn from the situation and our experience.

Although the explanation of grateful living seems a bit confusing at certain points, listening to the talk and reading the text is well worth the effort. It takes commitment to pursue a path of grateful living. I recommend it and wholeheartedly believe in its ability to enhance the quality of our lives.

Take a moment to check it out. I think you will feel grateful that you did — and happiness may be close at hand!

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

Three Magic Words: “Great Job, Self!”

We all have internal conversations. Take a minute and think about what you’ve said to yourself today. Was it critical? Was it helpful? How did you feel after this experience?

Because our thoughts are the source of our emotions and mood, the conversations we have with ourselves can be destructive or helpful. Their influence on how we think and feel about ourselves results in choices and actions we take and how we respond to the events in our lives.

Self-talk is universal and is something we do naturally throughout our waking hours. The messages that we receive — whether from others or self-generated — impact how we view ourselves. Positive self-talk therefore can increase our confidence and dispel negative feelings. Although we can’t control the comments we receive from others, the good news is that we do have choices about how we speak to ourselves.

Positive Self-Talk

Constructive self-talk that focuses on the positive aspects of a situation can help us deal with tough times by providing encouragement to persevere, improve and recover, it can increase our self-confidence, improve a healthy life style, promote financial freedom, overcome fear and doubt, reduce stress, and deal with loss. Think of positive self-talk as a way of coaching yourself through a challenging situation. And, most importantly, treat yourself with respect and kindness.

Negative Self-Talk

Destructive self-talk focuses on the negative aspects of challenging situations, brings you down and engenders a pessimistic attitude. If it’s something you wouldn’t say to a friend, don’t say it to yourself! Giving a name to a critical inner voice can help short-circuit the emotional hold of our negative thinking. Author Brene Brown calls her critical voice, “The Gremlin.”

Challenge Your Self-Talk

  • Listen to yourself. Be aware of your self-talk and notice whether your message is helpful or critical, positive or negative. Think about and feel your pattern of self-talk.
  • Test reality. What would you say to a friend in a similar situation? Is there a more positive way of looking at this?
  • Challenge the message. Listen to your voice and replace the negative or unhelpful thoughts with positive ones. For example, if you are thinking, “I’ll never be able to do this,” ask yourself “is there anything I can do that will help me to conquer this task or project?”
  • Seek perspective. Ask yourself, “Is this situation as bad as I imagine? Is there anything good about it? Will this matter in five years?”
  • Your inner voice includes conscious and unconscious thoughts, assumptions and beliefs. Some self-talk is positive and reasonable – “I’d better study for that exam.” Some is negative or self-defeating – “I’m sure I’m going to fail.” Practice messages that are uplifting and validating. Say aloud what you would like to hear.
  • Is this thinking helping you? If not, what can you tell yourself that would make an immediate positive difference? What can you learn from the situation that will make it better next time?

Words matter! The life you have now is the result of your thinking and your self-talk. We do not have to be defined by others — by their critical opinions or judgments, or even by their positive opinions of us. Because we take action on what we think, self-talk is a powerful way to create a life that is meaningful, fulfilling and joyful.

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

A Search For Common Ground – Part Three: Conversations That Work!

A Search For Common Ground – Part One: Authentic Discourse

A Search For Common Ground – Part Two: Overcoming Resistance

None of us wants to be judged or criticized, especially for our thoughts and beliefs. We want to feel safe before we’re willing to talk openly and share our opinions, especially about “hot” topics. Because uncertainty induces fear, we want to trust in each other’s good intentions.

If you’ve decided to tackle a tough topic with someone and desire to have a constructive conversation rather than an adversarial debate or a conflict, recognize that there are always (at least) two sides in any situation.

TO PREPARE, ASK YOURSELF THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS

1) Are you emotionally ready to resist the temptation to judge, criticize, denigrate or attack the person with whom you disagree in order to pursue mutual understanding?

2) Is your true motive for engaging in a tough talk about a social or political issue, to learn, to understand, to persuade the other person, or to win?

3) Are you ready and willing to listen in order to understand, without interrupting or judging?

4) Are you willing to be civil and speak with care and respect?

READY TO PROCEED WITH AN INVITATION TO CONVERSE?
1) Determine whether the other person would be interested in establishing clarity of purpose and a spirit of collaboration. Is it someone who would make the same kind of effort that you are prepared to make? If the person declines, accept the response.

2) Establish “ground rules” for how to proceed: one topic at a time, a time and place with no distractions or interruptions, no acting out (yelling, walking away, bad language, attacking), and shared speaking and listening time.

3) Bring your best self to the conversation. Manage yourself so you have no regrets about your behavior.

4) Listen actively — seek to understand with no interrupting. Paraphrase the meaning you hear and show respect by responding to the points made and affirm your understanding. This helps to avoid misunderstandings and ensures that you are both discussing the same thing and not talking past each other — a common problem with challenging conversations.

5) Speak only for yourself, from personal experience, not defending or representing an ideological approach or an entire political party.

6) Maintain a positive spirit of dialogue; a learning attitude. Avoid a critical or dismissive tone or other negative non-verbal communication— lack of eye contact, deep sighs, crossing your arms. This is important because the most powerful and credible communication is not the actual words we use.

7) Engage to comprehend the other person’s perspectives and beliefs, not to persuade. You cannot change people. The only person you can change is you.

8) Seek first to understand (facts, issues, perspectives, priorities), then to be understood. Assumptions are deadly and are usually wrong. Paraphrase the person’s meaning before you disagree.

Most of the time, discovery of common ground results from mutual understanding and regard for the hopes, fears and values that underlie individual perspectives and beliefs. For example, while we enjoy and value the liberties and freedoms assured by our Constitution, we may disagree about how to achieve and sustain them. Such are the challenges and opportunities of free speech provided by the Founding Fathers and protected by many wars. Freedom is not free.

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.