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Dealing with Anger

The Relationship Model

You Asked: At our Board meeting last week one of the Board members let me have it right in front of the rest of the Board. Was he ever angry! I’m the Chairman, but I just didn’t know how to deal with it. I just let him go on, but it really spoiled the meeting, and the others didn’t know what to do either. This person gets angry easily, but this is the worst it’s ever been in a meeting. And it was over nothing. How should we deal with anger like this?

Answer: Well, first of all, there’s a lot that you haven’t told me about this particular incident. Without knowing what was said, what the context was or what this history of this issue is, I’m afraid I can’t give you very specific direction. The most I can do is give you some basic information about anger, what it is and how to handle it in yourself and others.

Anger is expressing the pain of the soul. It’s part of our natural defence mechanism, warning us that our values have been violated in some way. Anger is healthy. It’s important to describe our anger when we feel it. Anger tells us we have to do something to protect what we value.

Anger is like the sound that a smoke detector makes to warn us of danger. We don’t like to hear the sound, but it might be a life saver.

The problem we have with anger is that we don’t always express it in a healthy way. Even when we do, others may prefer to deal with the anger instead of the underlying basis of the anger. Sometimes we give the impression that anger is wrong and any feelings of anger should be suppressed or avoided. That, of course, just makes things worse.

The first thing I would want to know in your situation is what value was violated in the mind of your Board member. Even if his expression of anger was “over the top” the basis of his anger might point to a problem within the organization that the Board really should deal with. As the Board Chair it falls to you to look past the unhelpful expression of anger to the cause and then to make an effort to process the issue, not the anger.

What you can do now is approach him privately. If you don’t already know the basis of his anger, what value was violated, then that is where I would begin. If the cause is obvious, then I would begin to discuss with him a process of dealing with the issue in a way the meets his needs and those of the rest of the Board and the organization.

Like smoke detectors that won’t stop making noise, the problem with anger is that sometimes we don’t know how to stop being angry. Once the sound has awakened everyone to the danger, the smoke detector should stop, but unfortunately seldom does. So it is with anger. At that point we have to deal with the anger before we can deal with the cause.

Your Director may have good cause for his anger despite the poor display in expressing it. When we are angry for a reason that we have identified, we can then turn off our anger and turn our attention to taking two very important steps, neither of them easy.

One is to forgive the person or persons who have violated our values or rights. But forgiveness is the gift we give ourselves when another person won’t. In other words, when we forgive someone, we receive the benefits. In fact, it’s very common that the person being forgiven doesn’t know we are forgiving and would be offended upon learning that we thought he or she needed forgiveness.

That’s why the second step is so necessary. As we are urged in Matthew 18, we need to confront the person or persons who caused the violation, first to determine that we properly understood the behaviour that offended us. If that has been established our forgiveness allows us to attempt to regain the relationship by asking the person to acknowledge the violation.

So, the process goes something like this: first there is an offence and a reaction of anger. Forgiveness and confrontation are next. Forgiveness may not come before the confrontation. Forgiveness takes time, but a successful confrontation in which the offending person does acknowledge the wrong may make the forgiveness come more easily. In any case reconciliation is the product of forgiveness and acknowledgement and the justice that flows from it.

Anger always signals some form of brokenness. It’s the cause of that brokenness that we need to deal with even more than the anger itself.

In the case you mention I would encourage you to give your Board member all the time he needs to vent his anger, privately with you, if that’s possible. Then try to focus on the cause of it and the process of reconciliation that hopefully will follow.

Aren’t you glad you were elected Chair?

Les Stahlke, President/CEO
GovernanceMatters.com Inc.