Dealing with Anger in Conflict (part 1 of 2)

April 19, 2012

Anger has had a variety of parts in my life. As a young boy my mom says that I often became angry and fought with my classmates in elementary school.

Anger in Conflict
At that time I seemed to express my anger at others, but as I have grown older I slowly shifted my anger expressions less towards others and more towards myself or alone by myself.

One event that has had a deep impact on me and how I deal with conflict is when I was a freshman in high school and I was engaged in a fight that caused me to be suspended from school for five days. (You should have seen the other guy!) If I was more calm, self-confident, and intelligent I would have dealt with the situation differently. However, when a Junior classman who outweighed me by about 90 pounds decided to push me I fought back. As a result, I was suspended and rightfully blamed in the matter.

After that event I started to direct more of my anger inward. Instead of lashing out in anger at others I started to spill out my anger towards myself while alone. If I was angry with my cell phone not working I would throw it against the dash board of my truck. If I did not play a good round of golf I would cuss and throw my clubs. It has been over 10 years since my fight in high school when I first realized I had an anger problem.

Now, at the age of 26 I am known as the even keeled guy who is always calm and under control. I know myself, I know what angers me, and I know how to handle it.

I have seen anger displayed when my dad would become angry at someone or something. Often he would express his anger with his verbal words in front of me or in a public place. Another setting I saw anger in was when playing golf in high school and college. I saw many kids display anger in healthy and unhealthy ways. Some kids were always even keeled, and even if they were frustrated, they did not express their anger in harmful ways to themselves or the people they were playing with. Unfortunately I witnessed some of the kids expressing their anger in harmful ways by yelling cuss words, throwing their clubs, being mean to spectators, breaking their clubs, and being mean to competitors.

I have seen anger dealt with negatively and positively at work between co-workers. At our office there is a tendency for coworkers to express their anger to a coworker who is not involved in the incident.

For example, if Jessica is angry at Jeff, Jessica has a tendency to express her anger to Janelle. The constructive way to share anger is to talk with the person directly about it.

I believe a good way to deal with anger is when the two people gather together one-to-one with a closed door and express their anger. This allows those people to:

  1. know who is angry;
  2. know what the anger is about;
  3. keep others out of the conflict who do not need to know about it;
  4. find a resolution.

I have been involved in both of these ways of dealing with conflict and anger at work.

In fact, just recently I was involved in a conflict at work when a coworker cussed towards me regarding a personal character quality that I have. The event happened when the coworker (who is not my supervisor, does not work with me on any projects, and who has no authority over me) used a cuss word to describe my eating habits. She expressed it to me in front of our Human Resources Manager and other coworkers. I quickly said something to defend my eating habits, then walked to my desk. Even though I had defended myself about my eating habits, I did not address this person about the disrespectful way she talked to me. It was the end of the work day so I was not able to talk to her about it, but the more I thought about the incident, the angrier I became. I started to rehearse in my mind what I was going to say to her. I had two ways I could have dealt with this anger: 1) tell my coworkers, girlfriend, and boss about it to share with them what I went through; or 2) talk to my coworker directly about it to resolve the conflict and my anger. So, the next day at work before doing anything else I went into this woman’s office and asked if she had a few minutes to talk. And that is what we did: talk about it. I asked her to remember what she had said to me the day before, and then I shared how that made me feel. I shared with her that it was disrespectful to be talked to like that and I that was not going to allow that to happen. We talked through it for a while, she apologized a few times and, then all was good. Because I took the time to express with her one-to-one what had angered and hurt me we were able to come to peace together on it (that peace happened mostly because she apologized for what she said).

Reflecting back on that experience has led me to realize that anger is not always present on the surface. In dealing with the hurt feelings I had of my coworker, most of the time I was angry when thinking about what was said and how it made me feel. 

Question: How do you deal with anger in conflict?

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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