Anger

When things go wrong, it appears to be human nature to blame someone. This is the source of many problems. So, for instance, if the contractor makes a mistake and installs the wrong hardware on your door, and that hardware is cheaper and uglier than you had bargained for, you may leap to the conclusion that he is doing it to cheat you. You may know better than to say it, but if you call him up and angrily say: “The hardware you installed was NOT what I ordered,” he will hear that you are angry and are accusing him of something. Thus, it is my belief that when we are angry, the first thing we should do is question that anger. Is that anger based on something real and verifiable? Or is it based on the feeling that when something goes wrong, someone is at fault?

I don’t think most people examine their anger. Unless one is trained in conflict resolution or has been actively working on self-reflection, one generally feels that when one is angry, it is warranted. The anger feels real; it comes from the gut:  it must be valid.  Yet, in my experience, it is the very fact of anger that is behind the mistrust, the suspicion, the accusation, that often creates the hard feelings we need to get behind and unpack in mediation. When those hard feelings are based on something concrete that the other person did that is objectively “wrong”, the person may be moved to apologize. When the hard feelings turn out to have been based on misunderstanding, the person who was angry may begin to unwind that anger, and may begin to rebuild trust and warm feelings.

Thus, an important goal of mediation is to understand anger, to explore it, to get behind it and to help the parties both understand what led to it. Once they do understand, they will be in a position to decide rationally where to go from there.

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