How to be Mean…

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Mar 30th, 2011

Ever loaned a friend a book, only to have it not returned? Better yet, when you finally ask them about the book, they casually tell you they lost it and they don’t even bother to replace it?

Better still, ever been flat out promised a promotion, only to see it put on hold? Or, given to someone else? And, when your boss comes into your office to deliver the bad news, you coolly take it in stride and say, “No big deal. These things happen.” Then, you go home, yell at your spouse, kick the cat, sulk over dinner, and eventually end up falling asleep on the couch in front of the television watching re-runs of Everybody Loves Raymond.

If my friend, you have seen yourself in any of these examples, you are repressing your anger. Quite possibly with disastrous consequences. Face it — there comes a time in everyone’s professional career when they have to show some teeth. I myself prefer to be a nice person, but sometimes I must rise to the challenge of my anger. If you’re one of those nice people that has issues expressing your anger in positive ways, I will share with you a few suggestions and one tool that has helped me immensely.

A key to expressing your anger is getting past the feeling that anger makes you a bad person. Anger is not BAD. Duke Robinson, author of Good Intentions: The Nine Unconscious Mistakes of Nice People teaches us that anger is simply the discomfort we experience when we think others have threatened, exploited, or abused us in some way. Anger is a natural response when you combine feelings of mistreatment with a natural desire for justice.

Anger is what happens when someone steps on your toe, fails to apologize, and you want to smack them! Although your anger over an unacknowledged toe slight is natural, knowing how to appropriately address your anger is not. When you’re a nice person, rather than risk an inappropriate response, you say nothing and completely repress your anger. Remember, anger is not bad; but, repression is. What is another consequence of constantly repressing anger? How about the perception that you are a SUCKER! If we don’t express our anger, we NICE people encourage others to continue violating us.

If you’re a NICE person, accept that your anger is meaningful and commit to expressing it. Anger has positive transformative properties. Think of recent expressions of anger in the world — Egypt, Tunisia, Libya. Citizens of these countries recognized injustice and used their anger to protest unjust powers. Out of anger, beauty and social good can be achieved. We can use our anger to transform our relationships.

Need another consequence of repressing anger? Inappropriate responses. Supressed anger does not go anywhere. The urge to retaliate — no matter how deeply we bury it — is always right there, just beneath the surface. And, if left unaddressed, it can rise to the surface in unexpected and embarrasing ways.

To unearth your buried anger — you need a tool. There are plenty of tools out there, but I only want you to focus on one. Before you can start using this tool, Mr. Robinson encourages us to take a few preliminary steps. An easy way to remember these preliminary steps is with an acronym — ABCD. First, accept the fact that you are angry. Borrow some time to collect yourself. Create distance between you and the subject of your anger. Then, decide.

First, accept the fact that you are angry. Borrow some time to collect yourself. Create some distance between you and the subject of your anger. Then, Decide.

Decide what you are going to say and write it down. Once you’ve worked through these preliminary steps, you have the leverage to calmly and appropriately direct your anger at the person who violated you.

When you direct your anger at the person causing it, establish a foundation by first telling them about your fear — not your anger (another great point I scored from Mr. Robinson’s book). This may sound silly to you, especially if you’re a MEAN person. But, truth is, it works! If you’re among the ranks of NICE people, such as myself, we don’t express our anger because we’re afraid of the cost. Will this person stop liking me? Will my boss fire me? Will they think this is stupid? I urge you to explain that fear to the person angering you. Your explanation will probably sound like this, “Hey Boss, I need to tell you something you did that made me angry, but I’m afraid you’ll fire me” — or whatever it is that’s got you all worried. Exposing your fear in this way makes it easier to express your true anger because you are giving yourself permission to be yourself. You are communicating authentically.

Once you have discussed your fears, your next task is to tell the person what they did that angered you, how it made you feel, and why. And, finally, you want to tell the person what you need from them in the future.

So, there you have it. Nice people don’t have to suppress their anger. By recognizing anger for what it can be — a righteous tool for creating positive change — we can accept our mission and go forth with the realization that we must express our anger. Only then, will the cat be safe.

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