Williams' 12 Strategies for Controlling Aggression
Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. – Mark Twain, American author
All of us experience anger from time to time. It's a normal, commonly experienced emotion.
However, anger can be incredibly destructive if we don't know how to control it. Frequent or misplaced anger can hurt our reputations, destroy our relationships, limit our opportunities, and even damage our health.
In this article, we'll look at what anger is, and what its consequences can be. We'll also look at 12 strategies that we can use to control anger and aggression.
According to psychologist T.W. Smith, anger is "an unpleasant emotion ranging in intensity from irritation or annoyance to fury or rage."
Every day, we can experience things that could make us angry. Common causes include feelings of:
- Injustice, regardless of whether real or perceived.
Other causes include:
- Requests or criticisms that we believe are unfair.
- Threats to people, things, or ideas that we hold dear.
People experience anger in different ways and for different reasons. Something that makes you furious may only mildly irritate someone else. This subjectivity can make anger difficult to understand and manage. It also highlights that your response to anger is up to you.
To understand how well you currently manage your anger, take our How Good Is Your Anger Management? self-test.
The Dangers of Anger
An appropriate level of anger energizes us to take proper actions, solve problems, and handle situations constructively.
However, uncontrolled anger leads to many negative consequences, especially in the workplace. For instance, it can damage relationships with our bosses and colleagues; and it can lead people to lose trust and respect for us, especially when we react instantly and angrily to something that we've misperceived as a threat.
Anger also clouds our ability to make good decisions and find creative solutions to problems. This can negatively affect our work performance.
Frequent anger poses health risks too. One study found that people who get angry regularly are more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease, eating disorders, and obesity. Research has also found a correlation between anger and premature death. Further studies have found that there is a link between anger and conditions such as anxiety and depression.
We manage anger when we learn to defuse it before it becomes destructive.
Below, we've outlined 12 strategies that you can use to control anger when you experience it. These reflect an abridged version of 17 strategies that Drs Redford Williams and Virginia Williams described in their best-selling book, "Anger Kills."
1. Acknowledge That you Have a Problem
If you find it difficult to manage your anger, the first thing you need to do is to be honest with yourself and acknowledge that you have a problem.
You can then make a plan to deal with it.
2. Keep a Hostility Log
Do you know what causes your anger? Chances are, you don't understand why you react angrily to some people or events.
Download our hostility log worksheet to monitor the triggers and the frequency of your anger. When you know what makes you angry, you can develop strategies to channel it effectively.
3. Use Your Support Network
Let the important people in your life know about the changes that you're trying to make. They can motivate and support you if you lapse into old behaviors.
These should be give-and-take relationships. Put some time aside every day to invest in these relationships, especially with close friends and family. You need to be there for them, just as they're willing to be there for you.
You can alleviate stress when you spend time with people you care about. This also helps you control your anger.
4. Interrupt the Anger Cycle
When you start to feel angry, try the following techniques:
- Yell "Stop!" loudly in your thoughts. This can interrupt the anger cycle.
- Use physical relaxation techniques like deep breathing or centering .
- Count to 20 before you respond.
- Manage your negative thoughts with imagery and positive thinking .
- Close your office door or find a quiet space, and meditate for five minutes.
- Distract yourself from your anger – visit your favorite website, play a song that you like, daydream about a hobby that you enjoy, or take a walk.
Another approach is to consider the facts of the situation, so that you can talk yourself out of being angry.
To use this strategy, look at what you can observe about the person or situation, not what you're inferring about someone's motivations or intentions. Does this situation deserve your attention? And is your anger justified here?
When you look only at the facts, you'll likely determine that it's unproductive to respond with anger.
5. Use Empathy
If another person is the source of your anger, use empathy to see the situation from his or her perspective.
Be objective here. Everyone makes mistakes, and it is through mistakes that people learn how to improve.
6. See the Humor in Your Anger
Learn to laugh at yourself and do not take everything seriously. The next time you feel tempted to lash out, try to see the humor in your expressions of anger.
One way to do this is to "catastrophize" the situation. This is when you exaggerate a petty situation that you feel angry about, and then laugh at your self-importance.
For example, imagine that you're angry because a sick team member missed a day of work. As a result, a report you were depending on is now late.
To catastrophize the situation, you think, "Wow, she must have been waiting months for the opportunity to mess up my schedule like this. She and everyone on the team probably planned this, and they're probably sending her updates about how angry I'm getting."
Obviously, this grossly exaggerates the situation. When you imagine a ridiculous and overblown version of the story, you'll likely find yourself smiling by the end of it.
Angry people let little things bother them. If you learn to calm down, you'll realize that there is no real need to get upset, and you'll have fewer angry episodes.
Regular exercise can help you relax in tense situations. When possible, go for a walk, or stretch and breathe deeply whenever you start to feel upset.
You will also feel more relaxed when you get enough sleep and eat a healthy diet.
Dehydration can often lead to irritability too, so keep hydrated throughout the day by drinking plenty of water.
8. Build Trust
Angry people can be cynical. They can believe that others do things on purpose to annoy or frustrate them, even before anything happens. However, people often focus less on you than you might think!
Build trust with friends and colleagues. That way, you'll be less likely to get angry with them when something goes wrong. You'll also be less likely to attribute the problem to malicious intent on their part.
To build trust, be honest with people. Explain your actions or decisions when you need to, and always keep your word. If you do this consistently, people will learn that they can trust you. They'll also follow your lead, and you'll learn that you can trust them in return.
9. Listen Effectively
Miscommunication contributes to frustrating situations. The better you listen to what someone says, the easier it is to find a resolution that doesn't involve an angry response.
So, improve your active listening skills . When others are speaking, focus on what they're saying, and don't get distracted by formulating your response before they've finished. When they're done speaking, show that you listened by reflecting back what they have just said.
10. Be Assertive
Remember, the word is "assertive," not "aggressive." When you're aggressive, you focus on winning. You care little for others' feelings, rights, and needs. When you're assertive, you focus on balance. You're honest about what you want, and you respect the needs of others.
If you're angry, it's often difficult to express yourself clearly. Learn to assert yourself and let other people know your expectations, boundaries, and issues. When you do, you'll find that you develop self-confidence, gain respect, and improve your relationships.
11. Live Each Day as if it's Your Last
Life is short. If you spend all of your time getting angry, you're going to miss the many joys and surprises that life offers.
Think about how many times your anger has destroyed a relationship, or caused you to miss a happy day with friends and family. That's time that you'll never get back.
However, you can prevent this from happening again – the choice is yours.
12. Forgive and Forget
To ensure that you make long-term changes, you need to forgive people who have angered you.
It's not easy to forget past resentments, but the only way to move on is to let go of these feelings. (Depending on what or who is at the root of your anger, you may have to seek a professional's help to achieve this.)
So, start today. Make amends with one person that you've hurt through your anger. It might be difficult, but you'll feel better afterwards. Plus, you'll be one step closer to healing the relationship.
These strategies are only a general guide. If anger continues to be a problem, you might need to seek the help of a suitably qualified health professional, especially if your anger hurts others, or if it causes you physical pain or emotional distress.
Anger is a powerful force that can jeopardize your relationships, your work, and your health, if you don't learn to manage it effectively.
To manage anger, acknowledge that you have a problem, keep a hostility log, and build a support network based on trust.
Also, use techniques to interrupt your anger, listen, empathize, be assertive with others, and learn to relax, as well as laugh at yourself.
Finally, don't let anger get in the way of the joys in life, and learn to forgive people that who make you angry.
This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!