Anger Management and Team Tools

Recently, I participated in an all-day workshop entitled Anger Management for Parents. I’m a little ashamed to admit it but my toddler pushes my buttons! Mornings are always mayhem and they often devolve into yelling battles with a crying baby, a screaming toddler, and a stressed out mama who loses her temper (that last one is me, in case you didn’t guess). I saw this workshop as a chance to do some self-reflection and learn some coping strategies that would help me stay calm in these situations.

Sitting in the room with other parents all who had varying numbers of kids and children of all ages, 0-18, the day ended up being applicable to much more of my life than just my role as a parent. I was amazed at how many strategies related to creating mutual agreements and buy-in and focused on the choices we make.

For example, the day started with an example of 3 scenarios. In scenario 1, you have new carpeting in the dining room. The rule is everyone eats in the kitchen but your partner, trying to get away from the noise and chaos, takes chili in to the dining room, trips and spills some. In scenario 2, your boss is over for a work dinner and spills some wine on the carpet. In scenario 3, your child is home while you run some errands. They eat some tomato soup in the dining room and accidentally drop the spoon. Thinking through each scenario, your reaction to each individual is likely different based on who they are. However, as you may be able to tell, the basis of the situation is the same… someone stains the new carpet, but your reaction is different. Your reaction is the choice you make.

This idea of choosing reactions and thinking about why you choose certain reactions with certain individuals can be applied to home and work life.

Another tool that jumped out as being particularly applicable to managing teams was reframing the problem. Every morning, we have issues leaving the house. It’s easy for me to quickly assign blame in this situation. My son doesn’t listen, doesn’t do things when I tell him to, and I need to ask him 5000 times to do something. But really, the problem isn’t solely his. It’s all of ours. The workshop suggests figuring out what the core problem is. Without assigning blame or talking about the who, what is going on. In our case, the problem is leaving the house in the morning. The next part is not trying to solve the problem when angry. We recognize that getting out of the house is a high-stress situation so you set up a meeting specifically to talk about it.

Now, what happens next… At the meeting, you start by stating the problem and that it needs to be solved. Then, everyone gets a chance to offer solutions. Solutions are brainstormed together and every idea gets written down. Once brainstorming is done, together, the involved individuals determine which solution(s) they want to try. This should be thought of as an experiment. There is a problem. There are possible solutions. Let’s try something and see if it works. The group decides how long the experiment will last. If the problem is daily, then often trying to stick to the solutions for a week or two is enough. If the problem happens less frequently, then a longer experimental period is necessary. And finally, the group decides how to keep each other accountable. What happens if someone doesn’t abide by the solution everyone (including them) agreed to? It’s important that this accountability doesn’t slide in to punishment and that it isn’t thought about in that way, it’s simply a reaction or action that will keep everyone engaged and committed to participating in the experiment at hand. And, of course, if the solution doesn’t work, then the group comes back together and determines a new solution to try out.

While this works for families (we very recently had our family meeting so I have my fingers crossed that our agreed upon experiment will work), it immediately jumped out at me how effective this approach may be with teams. Creating buy-in, encouraging experimentation, and including everyone in the discussion and decision are key components to successful teams.

Finally, a fascinating component of the workshop was a section called primary emotions. Anger is a secondary emotion. That means that you choose anger (I know. When I first heard this my reaction was, do I really choose anger? I’m pretty sure people make me angry, but stay with me here…). Anger often covers up primary emotions and when you dig deeper into anger, you can recognize what you’re really feeling. I thought about the situations when I’m most likely to yell, lose my temper, or feel angry.

For example, when I thought about it more, I realized that my anger in the morning trying to get out of the house is caused by the anxiety of getting to work. I do drop-off and then eat breakfast, get ready, and pump (until recently). All this needs to get done before I have my first meeting of the day. Thinking about it while watching the clock makes me anxious.

In a different circumstance, oftentimes when I get annoyed at my partner for something, I realized it was really because I felt exhausted or overwhelmed by the amount of things I feel I do at home and that manifests in me getting angry as opposed to calmly expressing the way I feel or removing myself from the situation until I can.

Primary emotions are things like exhausted, overwhelmed, devalued, scared, anxious, humiliated, inadequate, disempowered, lonely, ignored, etc.

There was more talked about in the workshop. Some other topics included physical responses to anger or frustration to recognize the early warning signs and understand how your body and brain work when you get angry, mechanisms for helping children of different ages deal with anger, the best strategies to use when you’re feeling angry, practicing I statements, and more.

While I was skeptical upon leaving the class, I’ve actually been working really hard to put these practices in place both at work and at home. The instructors told us we’d just need to keep practicing until these reactions, responses, and mind-shift became second nature. I still need to actively think and keep repeating to myself the lessons I learned but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how different our household feels, even just a few weeks afterwards.

Supplemental Links:
PEP, Parent Encouragement Program
Feelings List
Emotional API

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