Publisher's Letter

Anger: An Emotion with Many Faces

By Brian Rowland, Publisher

Every eight weeks I get the dreaded e-mail from Tabby, our editorial coordinator, telling me it’s time to turn in my editorial for an upcoming issue. I usually have a week until deadline and, without fail, have virtually nothing in mind to write about. So I turn on my radar, which prompts me to better observe things happening around me.

In the days that followed Tabby’s reminder for this issue, anger reared its ugly head several times. Allow me to share my experiences, my observations and thoughts on ways to deal with this challenging emotion.

My skills in coping with anger management came from my first “real” work experience.  After graduate school, I had the privilege of working in a state mental research facility on the campus of the University of South Florida. It was not much different from the ward that housed Jack Nicholson in the 1975 film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Every three weeks a group of challenged people, with a collection of almost every psychological diagnosis known, would enter a nine-week treatment program. It was a behavioral modification program based on a token economy system in which patients earned “points” for appropriate behavior and lost them for inappropriate behavior. It also cost points for TV privileges, snacks and trips to Disney World. It worked. During my two years, I learned a lot about the human psyche — others’ and mine — and I still use all those skill sets in my day-to-day journey through the world of business and life.

Within a week after getting Tabby’s e-mail, I had three different run-ins with anger. In two cases, someone else’s anger was directed at me. In the third, it was my own anger.

Let’s first deal with the others.

In one case, the person had every reason to be upset. The company and I had made an error and were clearly at fault. In the second situation, the company was in the right yet the individual was quite upset with the consequence of their own actions.

I am keenly aware that when people are angry they need to be able to vent. I liken this to taking a balloon and blowing it up just short of the exploding point. When you let go, it will fly around the room, making loud noises until it runs out of air and falls to the ground. People are similar. Allow them to keep talking until they get it all out. Then their ears begin to work and they are able to hear your responses.

In the case where we erred, I agreed and offered an apology. I think they were stunned, expecting me to make an excuse. Never works. When wrong, admit it without excuses and 99 percent
of the time the anger disappears immediately.

In the case where the company was right — and I could prove it — I just acknowledged the person’s anger and reminded the individual, with documentation, of the parameters and responsibilities in our contractual relationship. I would not change the company’s position. Is that person past the anger? I don’t know, but I just have to chalk it up to N.M.P. — not my problem.

Now, my anger. I had a big night out at the Wine Festival in downtown Tallahassee, including dinner with friends. For the past 15 years, I’ve parked in the post office lot after hours. But this time, when we got back to the car at about midnight, it was gone — towed away. The post office had begun enforcing limited parking in six spaces but I “didn’t get the memo.” So I had a minor meltdown and called a cab for my wife, Cheri, and me. But the next day I walked onto that dusty impound lot with a smile, because what had happened was no one’s fault but my own.

The lesson here is about the importance of the “cooling-off period.” Rarely do people make rational decisions when angry. Write the letter and don’t send it for two days. Think about things over a weekend or sleep on it. Bounce the anger issue off someone you trust and get some perspective. Your outlook, and the subsequent outcome, will most likely be different and better if you step back and analyze both sides.

And never, never angrily deal with sensitive issues via e-mail. There’s a 99.9 percent chance your intent will be negatively misinterpreted.

At this stage in my life, I’ve realized that most things are not important enough to risk my mental or physical health. So, next time you find anger surrounding your space, take time to think about it before you act on it. You’ll live longer.