A fact of being human is that we experience a wide range of emotions including happiness, pride, jealousy, sadness, and frustration. One emotion that can be difficult to deal with is our anger. When our work involves serving others, we can sometimes encounter situations that make us angry. That’s when anger management becomes important. Anger, in itself, is not bad and, in fact, can serve as warning sign that something is wrong and it can be a positive catalyst for change. Anger, however, when it is expressed in hurtful or destructive ways can cause problems in relationships (both personal and professional) and can lead to debilitating health problems. When not managed effectively, anger is a flame that consumes its host.

Here are three actions you can take to help manage your anger when it comes up:

  1. Pause. As with dealing with anger in others, pause. Count to 10 before saying or doing anything. Think of the stoplight metaphor: Red means stop, yellow means consider your range of options, and green means choose the best one, based on a positive outcome for yourself, any other people involved in the situation, and your organization.
  2. Be Assertive, but not Aggressive. Express yourself constructively and assertively, but not aggressively. Write it down, but don’t mail it! The act of writing about how you feel is a way of taking action about whatever it is that’s making you angry. It also allows you to reflect on the source of your anger later when you’ve calmed down. The difference between expressing your anger assertively and aggressively is this: When you express it assertively, you make clear what your needs and objections are. When you express it aggressively, you hurt other people. An assertive expression sticks to facts. An aggressive expression might involve name-calling and value judgments.
  3. Breathe. Breathe deeply from your gut, not your chest. While you’re breathing deeply, try repeating a calming word or phrase such as “relax” or “be calm”.

If you find yourself getting angry frequently, consider some long-term strategies to learn anger management. Such strategies might include yoga or meditation, an active prayer life, or anger management therapies. In some of my training, I offer participants a “get out of stress free” card. On this card, you write things that give you a sense of peace or attach pictures of favorite people or places. When you feel yourself getting angry, you look at the card to help you calm yourself.

Remember, anger by itself is not bad and, in fact, can serve some very positive roles in our lives. It’s when we express anger in hurtful or destructive ways that it becomes a problem. The great news about being human is that every one of us is capable of change. We can learn. We can grow. We can become the person we want to be.

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