After the Webinar: Anger Management. Q&A with Jack Harris

Webinar presenter Jack Harris answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Anger Management: An Essential Part of Helping Keep Good People Good. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: When one is completely in denial of their anger, how do you help them become more self-aware without them exploding and becoming very defensive? 

Jack Harris:

Two things come to mind.  First, don’t have the conversation when there’s an issue on the table.  What I mean by that is find a neutral time, not when either of you is angry or defensive.  The second thing is, I would ask permission, “Hey, I want to share something with you if you’ve got a couple of minutes.” What I’m doing is inviting them into the conversation not be on the receiving end of a lecture.  I’ll give you an example, I was talking to somebody who was really angry and said, “I get it. You’re just furious, but I’m just concerned about being your anger is working out at home and how it is affecting your health?”  As the person started thinking, he became calmer, we were able to have a much better conversation and he begin seeing a different aspect of his anger.  If a person is in denial, my approach would be is say, “Let me share some observations with you,” and I would talk about some specific observations or concerns without being judgmental.  It might be something like, “When I asked you this question the other day, you screamed at me, shook your finger and the veins in your neck looked like they were going to burst.  I asked the question, because I just didn’t know the answer and I was hoping you could help me.”  When we “mirror” back what we see (without judgement, sarcasm, etc.) it can help people become more aware of what others see.  I have found that until people recognize the price that they’re paying, or at least entertain the thought they’re paying a price, denial is a powerful force to overcome.


Audience Question: Do you have any recommended resources such as books, workbooks, or online training for people, the want to know more about this or how to deal with angry people? 

Jack Harris: Now, I feel woefully unprepared because I had planned to have some resources with me, and I don’t have them. If you send me an e-mail, I’ll be happy to share some of these, and my apologies for not having them readily available.


Audience Question: How do you manage the angry outbursts of someone who’s struggling with mental health issues such as depression or trauma? 

Jack Harris: If I am understanding the question correctly, I think this is really about not getting pulled into the other person’s outburst (their sandbox).  I think the key is, “Never argue with an angry person because they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”   What I mean by that is when someone else’s emotions are high, we want to avoid getting pulled into and playing in their sandbox.  When someone is emotionally charged, we are not going to logic them into seeing things differently.  If I was having this “charged” conversation with Aaron, I would acknowledge the emotion and use “what” or “how” questions (not “why”).  It might sound something like – “Hey, Aaron, I know you are really upset, what’s going on right now?” or the second part may be, “Is there something I’ve done that gotten that you are  angry about?”   By acknowledging the emotion, being sincere when asking what and how questions, and not being judgmental or sarcastic we have a better chance of not getting caught up in the emotional outburst and coming to a better outcome.  This is not a game we are playing.  We are trying to create better outcomes and not get drawn into emotional outbursts that get out of hand.  When we do this with genuineness, empathy, and compassion, we are sending a message that, “I want to understand and willing to have a conversation with you.”  When people start answering what and how questions, their emotions start to ratchet down.

This is hard (requires skills, not just information) because it is easy to get pulled into the other person’s emotional state.  if I said, “What is it that you’re so angry about, Aaron?” and he responded, with great emotion, “What do you mean?  I’m just angry!” Instead of getting defensive, my default would be, “Hey I can see you are furious, but I am curious . . .  what happened? Did I have something to do with it? How did this develop?”  When done well, the logical part of the brain starts to think, and the emotional part of the brain starts to calm down.  This is not an instant process; you have to be patient and give it time.


Audience Question: One of the audience members had a book recommendation, wasn’t sure if you’re familiar with this one or not. The book is called “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High,” do you know anything about that one? 

Jack Harris:  It’s a great book to help people develop templates, tools, and skills (which require practice) to better navigate difficult conversations.  The key to having difficult conversations is getting over our discomfort and engaging in conversations that are in the best interest of everyone involved.  I would highly recommend Crucial Conversations and the workbooks that go with it.  The concepts apply to every kind of conversation, in both our personal and professional lives.


Audience Question: I seem to have a pretty good handle on my anger at work but any little thing at home sets me off, why is it that some of us can manage our anger in one setting, but not another? 

Jack Harris:

Sometimes we think the stakes are too high at work to show our anger and we end up suppressing it, which is not a good way to manage/handle it.  If we work 8, 10 hours a day, and are suppressing our anger, by the time we walk in the front door at home we already have a lot of pressure built up in a closed container.  Then some “little” thing happens, and we overreact or lose it.  It’s like a pin that pops the balloon.  The pin creates a very small hole, the built-up pressure inside the balloon causes it to pop.  As much as some people think they can keep the pressures and demands at work separate from home (and vis versa), realistically they intertwine with each other and unfortunately home is where the balloon often pops.  Another thought is, we are often more emotionally invested in things at home, and when emotions get higher, it becomes more challenging to manage and create better outcomes with our anger.


Audience Question: How does one deal with their own hot thoughts? 

Jack Harris: The first thing is to recognize and identify what they are and be aware of situations that trigger our own hot thoughts or anger.  Let me give you an example, let’s assume one of my hot buttons was congested traffic and I knew that today I had to drive through heavy traffic at three o’clock.  Knowing traffic was my button and I had to be in to today, I would play a little mental gymnastics with myself long before I got in the car.  I might, “At three o’clock I have to drive to the other side in heavy traffic.  I wonder how long it’s going to take?  It’s only four miles, but I’m guess it going to take more than 50 minutes than the 25 I know it should take.”  I might also, decide to leave an hour early with the idea that if I get there sooner I’ll grab a cup of coffee before my meeting.  What I am trying to do is to recalibrate my brain so my expectations about how long the drive will take and how bad traffic will be are more aligned with how things will really be, not I would like them to me.  Before going into a situation where I typically get triggered, I would ask myself ahead of time, “What could I do differently? How can I better prepare myself?” Maybe have a strategy to help change my focus i.e. turn on some music, or book on tape.  It all starts with knowing our triggers and having a strategy to not let our triggers control us and create better outcomes when we are triggered.


Audience Question: How do I stop replaying what made me angry in my own head?

Jack Harris:  If we just keep asking the question, it’s like being on a hamster wheel going round and round and getting nowhere.  If you find yourself doing this, I would (sooner the better) suggest getting a piece of paper and start writing down the answer to the question, “What am I so angry about?”  If you find yourself writing things like, “I’m just annoyed, just furious, outraged” etc.  You have to dig deeper and peel back that onion asking yourself and writing down the answers to the logical questions, “what,” “when” and “how.”  Some of them may be, “What happened?”  “When did it begin?”  “Who was involved?” “What is it that got me so fired up?  What it is about the situation?” etc.

If you think about the iceberg slide, which I showed earlier and is in the handouts, peeling the onion means getting below the anger tip of the iceberg and identifying what the underlying issues are.  Writing things down helps create a better understanding of what is really going on.  When we can identify the core issues and separate the emotions from the logic we will be in a position to find better solutions.  But we have to be patient with ourselves.  Getting things out of our head and on paper has a way to re-engage the thinking part of the brain and help clarify what’s behind the anger.

An example might be, “ I am furious that my son ran into the street and didn’t look!” When, lying below the surface is – “The truth of the matter is, when my son chased the ball into the street, I was really scared!  I thought he was going to be hit by the car that was coming down the street.  When I screamed at him, I wasn’t mad at him, I was just terrified.”

When you create a better understanding in yourself you will be in a position to have a much better conversation with your son and explain what was really going on.


Audience Question: Then, our last question for today is, what is the relationship between anger management and emotional intelligence? They seem to be related, but I’m not quite sure how. 

Jack Harris:  There’s a great correlation between the two. When you look at the idea of emotional intelligence, it’s about being aware of your emotions and the impact they have on yourself and others, and one of those emotions happens to be anger.  If you read about emotional intelligence, you will get a much broader perspective and will see some important parallels to what I have been talking about. The difference today is that I was specifically focused on one emotion.


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