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Anger is epidemic in today's society. While it is regarded as a formidable emotion, most people don't realize that anger makes us more vulnerable - not less so. It reduces our personal power and effectiveness. It sometimes obliterates our ability to apply reason or diplomacy to the simplest matters. In a word, anger is just one letter short of danger.

Many of us know that we must address and manage our anger in order to live more comfortably. The challenge is in how to achieve this without becoming anything from a doormat to a volcano to a heart attack risk. I look forward to hearing this month's feature story - The HIGH Price of Anger - assists you in not only identifying the sources and triggers for your anger but in putting into place some ways to address and successfully manage this normal - but challenging - life emotion.


Recent quotes from Coach Joyce K. Reynolds have appeared in The Wall Street Journal; USA Today;; Chicago Tribune; American Airlines Magazine, The American Way; Microsoft's; Cosmopolitan; Working Mother Magazine; Learning/Discovery Channel/; Sun-Sentinel.



While anger is generally viewed as a natural defense against emotional, psychological or physical fear or pain, when unaddressed, unexpressed or unmanaged, it can be a terrible thing. Anger can debilitate us. Control us. Warp us. In its worst form, on occasion make us unrecognizable to ourselves. Most of all, anger can keep us from experiencing genuine happiness or fulfillment for - in the words of Kahlil Gibran - "If your heart is a volcano, how shall you expect flowers to bloom?"

Identifying and dealing effectively with anger requires willingness, courage and honesty. We can begin with understanding:

1. Everybody's Got It.
Anger is one of the many faces of fear and no matter how much we mask or deny it, we all have it. It is one of the most common emotions known to humankind, yet few of us are skilled at reacting to this powerful emotion with complete effectiveness. Many of us rely on responses that were learned as children - some of which are inappropriate for us as adults. These learned responses can translate into either constructive or destructive behavior. The anger response can be triggered by many things - all of them customized to the individual. In other words, we each have our private set of 'hot buttons' - meticulously installed and reinforced over the years. Depending on our issues, we can react to being startled, feeling fearful or threatened by becoming angry. The same can happen if we believe that things around us are out of control, uncertain or unacceptable for our own personal reasons. It is important to note that anger itself is not a bad emotion - no worse than any other emotion that we deal with such as joy or sadness. However, if not appropriately managed, anger can lead to rage which invites violence. Conversely, if we turn anger inward, we put ourselves at risk of serious depression or fatal diseases such as cancer. Much better to get that we've all got it. And, deal with it.

2. Don't Deny It.
Despite the fact that anger is a basic and universal emotion, many of us prefer to act as if we are absent of it - using denial as a defense mechanism. Rejecting or suppressing this powerful emotion creates stress which will have to find some other outlet such as a physical condition. Another way of circumventing anger is through passive aggression in which anger is expressed covertly so as to prevent retaliation. Biting humor, sarcasm, chronic lateness, subtly uncooperative or disrespectful behaviors are forms of passive aggression. Unaddressed anger also shows up in a myriad of behaviors such as cynicism, underlying hostility, disgust or contempt. These are attitudes that lead to our mistrusting the motives of others, becoming paranoid by focusing on real or perceived injustices toward us, viewing people as incompetent, inadequate, inconsiderate, unfair or untrustworthy and going out of their way to harm or take advantage of us. As the root of so much potential harm, it is imperative that we acknowledge our anger and get on to managing it.

3. Anger Has Many Sources.
Anger is caused by the frustration of our attempts to attain a goal, by disturbing interactions such as insults or threats or by perceived personal restrictions. The sources of anger are different for people at various stages of their lives. Infants first experience anger if they are restrained. The adolescent moves into a more social mode and reacts with resistance or sullenness to restrictive rules, lack of attention or respect. Later, adult anger is often triggered by real or perceived deprivation, manipulation, betrayal or humiliation. We move from wailing and tantrums to fighting to more verbal and indirect expressions of anger such as swearing, smoldering, emotionally locking people out to sudden uncontrollable outbursts. Whatever the manifestation of past experience or training, anger is viewed as appropriate only when it is handled effectively and respectfully with its sources largely understood. For example, today most of us recognize that there are no perfect parents. No absolute protectors from the sometimes cold, cruel world. As a result, we can logically conclude that we have all experienced a degree of childhood injury some of which leads to and continues to trigger anger. We are all, in the mots du jour, dysfunctional. Whether intentionally inflicted or not, each negative life experience leaves its emotional scars. For our own good, we must focus on identifying the sources of our own particular angers so we can begin to address, dismantle and become free of them.

4. Recognize the Trigger Points.
Anger as a basic emotion acts as a primitive mechanism for physical survival. Some of the physiological changes that accompany anger include increased heart rate and blood pressure and muscle tension. Anger causes the secretion of adrenalin which accelerates emotional intensity often predisposing us to physical action. It is, therefore, helpful to pay attention to the body's reactions so we will be alerted to our level of anger by rapid heart rate, harder, faster breathing, tension in the neck, pains in the chest, headaches or stomach pains. When we familiarize ourselves with these anger cues, we can more readily learn to calm and bring ourselves under control so we can more maturely deal with the annoyances we are facing.

5. Anger Inhabits Us.
We may not know where but anger takes up residence in our bodies. It collects in our organs, tissues and muscles. It causes pain and disease and only when resolved can we live completely healthy lives. Studies show that if we write out our angry thoughts we can begin to feel better and, according to James W. Pennebaker, PhD, a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University, improve the body's immune system. On troubled days, he suggests exploring our deepest emotions by writing them down. This is not about blaming others but rather about recognizing and appropriately airing our anger. In fact, Pennebaker found that minor ailments, such as colds, were half as common among students who wrote about their emotions for 20 minutes each day for four consecutive days than with those who didn't. Further, in a Stanford University study of women with breast cancer, those who took part in anger and stress reduction programs lived about 18 months longer than those who didn't take such courses.

6. Anger Can Kill.
Anger is a killer," says Redford Williams a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center and co-author with his wife, Virginia, of Anger Kills. "I'm speaking not about the anger that drives people to shoot, stab or otherwise wreak havoc on their fellow humans. I mean, instead, the everyday sort of anger, annoyance and irritation that courses through the minds and bodies of many perfectly normal people." Researchers have found that heart attacks can be triggered by the sudden clumping together of platelets which happens when the fight-or-flight response kicks in. That the risk of having a heart attack is 2.3 times greater for those who had been angry two hours earlier according to a study of 1,623 men and women by Deaconess Hospital Institute for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. Even young men who responded with anger to stressful situations were more likely to develop premature heart disease and suffer earlier heart attacks than their calmer counterparts. Studies have indicated that men and women who conceal their anger because they are concerned about their public appearance may have rising heart rates, levels of stress hormones and blood pressure which have all been linked to thickening of the carotid arteries which predisposes us to heart attacks. In fact, women who bottle up their anger are more likely than other women to have a heart attack by age 60, according to a report in Psychosomatic Medicine once again pointing out that anger can kill and we must learn to manage it.

7. Don't Blame Others.
An article entitled "Understanding Anger" in The Counselor magazine, stated that anger is a basic human emotion which first begins at birth. "From the safe warm environment of mother's womb to a brightly lit and chillier room, surrounded by strange faces wearing masks, the first response to breathing air is a loud wail. Why does the new born cry? Because an unconscious expectation of continued warmth and security is violated through birth. Why does the seemingly happy business executive become a road warrior on the way home from work? Because the expectations that everyone drives as perfectly as he does and that everyone will respect his space on the highway have been violated." In other words, anger is often triggered because we blame the world for not doing it our way or for being less than perfect. The article further states that events do not cause feelings. Rather it is the individual's interpretation of the events that lead to feelings. Therefore, anger is the result of the importance and meaning placed on an incident. "As soon as you become aware of feeling angry, ask yourself three questions: Is this matter important to me? When I look at the objective facts of the situation, is my anger justified? Is there anything I can do to rectify the situation? If the answer to all three is yes, don't blow up," said psychiatry professor Redford Williams. "Sometimes it pays to take a few slow, deep breaths before you speak. On the other hand, if you get one or more no's as answers to the three questions, you need to reason with yourself or try thought-stopping or distraction to get over your inappropriate anger."

8. Deal With It.
"Poorly managed anger is at the root of many serious physical, social and emotional problems, from heart disease to neighborhood violence," said Suzanne Stutman, president of The Institute for Mental Health Initiatives (IMHI), a foundation established to promote mental health. "By teaching people skills to manage their anger constructively, we empower them with the ability to understand their own and others' feelings and resolve conflict in a non-violent manner." This translates to an important workplace imperative - that we have in place managers who are not only in command of their own emotions but have skills that enable them to assist their reports in keeping good emotional workplace balance. Angry employees must be dealt with and it is beneficial for supervisors to be able to help them recognize their anger and compel them to work on becoming more appropriate in expressing it. Each of us is helped by discovering the real reasons for our anger - perhaps a cover-up for fear, stress, fatigue or embarrassment - and being mandated to find appropriate avenues for dealing with such problems. When we try to see things from the other person's perspective - pausing to ask questions like 'Have I ever felt this way myself? - we more easily move from the 'I' to the 'we.' In short, we can begin to reduce our anger by focusing on better knowing ourselves, recognizing our own distortions, reassessing our views and, thus, making important improvements in our attitudes. Thomas a Kempis made the challenge clear when he wrote, "Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be."

9. Stop Being a Victim.
Professional counselor, Gary Gintner, said "People who are generally hostile, usually see the world as a very hostile place." Such attitudes promote the idea that we are powerless victims - that our situation is beyond our control. We reinforce this thinking when we allow negative self-talk or mental rehearsals to fuel our stress and increase the intensity and duration of our anger. Chronic cynicism and hostility are victim attitudes. If either becomes our way of looking at the world, our feelings of anger and being discriminated against will be enhanced. Once we can understand that it is often our own - sometimes past - impression or view that is causing us harm, we can begin taking command of our anger and make positive adjustments.

10. Anger Is a Source of Discovery.
We can begin to use our anger constructively when we recognize that it signals something in us that needs attention. In fact, anger is often a warning that points us to some hurt from the past that has simply been activated by a person or situation in the present. It may indicate that our needs, desires, rights or core values are going unaddressed. That we may be compromising something of ourselves or failing to attend to an injustice or prior harm. As we learn about the sources of our anger, we can begin to be more assertive about setting personal limits and maintaining healthy boundaries for ourselves that will guard us against anger-producing offenses. We can learn to reduce our irritations by more candidly informing others of our likes, dislikes, wants and needs. We can begin to positively re-channel the vast energies that we have been using to suppress our anger - using that energy, instead, as a catalyst toward addressing and solving problems. Keeping our attention on present events and alternative solutions prevents us from bringing up old grudges or revisiting ancient wounds. Often this means taking the risk of carefully becoming more vulnerable which opens the door to greater trust and intimacy. When we are willing, we can, instead of remaining angry, successfully redirect our thoughts and open our minds to other ways of looking at things. Taking long walks, listening to music, doing artwork, deep breathing or meditating are some of the methods for achieving calm and self-understanding. "Learning to control hostile feelings is an ongoing process requiring time and effort," said Redford Williams. Williams went on to say, "It does not mean ignoring injustice. "While anger is often inappropriate, sometimes it can be a signal that you, or someone you care about, is being mistreated. Your goal is to control your hostility does not require you to become insensitive." He suggests that relaxation is perhaps the most versatile anger-management tool. "It can reduce anger reactivity for people experiencing chronic stress and is useful for interrupting the long-term physiological responses." Or as Carl Jung said, "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves."



The Dance of Anger.
Harriet Lerner.

Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to. Our anger may be a message that we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right. Our anger may tell us that we are not addressing an important emotional issue in our lives, or that too much of our self--our beliefs, values, desires, or ambitions--is being compromised in a relationship. Our anger may be a signal that we are doing more and giving more than we can comfortably do or give. Or our anger may warn us that others are doing too much for us, at the expense of our own competence and growth. Just as physical pain tells us to take our hand off the hot stove, the pain of our anger preserves the very integrity of our self. Our anger can motivate us to say "no" to the ways in which we are defined by others and "yes" to the dictates of our inner self.

Anger is something we feel. It exists for a reason and always deserves our respect and attention. We all have a right to everything we feel--and certainly our anger is no exception.

There are questions about anger, however, that may be helpful to ask ourselves: "What am I really angry about?" "What is the problem, and whose problem is it?" "How can I sort out who is responsible for what?" "How can I learn to express my anger in a way that will not leave me feeling helpless and powerless?" "When I'm angry, how can I clearly communicate my position without becoming defensive or attacking?" "What risks and losses might I face if I become clearer and more assertive?" "If getting angry is not working for me, what can I do differently?" These are questions that we (should ask) with the goal, not of getting rid of our anger or doubting its validity, but of gaining greater clarity about its sources and then learning to take a new and different action on our own behalf.



Attack is an easier response than forgiveness, and that is why we are so tempted to give into it. Throughout our lives, we have seen more anger than examples of true forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean we suppress our anger; forgiveness means that we have asked for a miracle: the ability to see through the mistakes that someone has made to the truth that lies in all of our hearts. None of this "I'm too spiritual to be angry," for who among us is? Rather, we pray, "I am angry, dear God. But I am willing not to be. I am willing to see this situation another way." God heals through forgiveness and asks that we do likewise.

Marianne Williamson



The story is told of Buddha being approached by a stranger with the objective of provoking Buddha into becoming angry. After the stranger had spent several minutes piling vindictives against Buddha, in a calm tone Buddha said, "Let me ask you a question. When a person is offered a gift, and he chooses not to receive it, to whom does it belong?"

"It remains the possession of the person offering the gift," replied the stranger.

Buddha then said, "I choose not to accept your anger. Therefore, it belongs to you."

No matter what people say of you, it isn't true until you accept it as truth. You can be told you're fat, ugly or stupid. Once you say, "I accept what they say as true." You are fat, ugly or stupid. You must not accept other people's trash.

Conversely, when you're told you're smart, handsome or good at your work that also isn't true until you say, "Thank you," and graciously accept the gift.



I manage a staff of eight people in the marketing department of a large corporation and am getting very frustrated with the increasingly angry mood of my group. I think it's coming from one person who really seems mad all the time but it feels like it's catching on in the whole department. There have been some layoffs and everyone is stretched pretty thin but these people are professionals and lucky to have a job. I'd like them to act like it. Am I being insensitive? How do I handle this?

First, you are entirely correct in suggesting that anger is 'catching.' This is a powerful, toxic force which - when promptly and properly addressed - can move an organization toward improvement or - left unaddressed - can seriously impede a company's ability to fulfill its purpose on an everyday level. As a manager, you play a critical role in determining how this situation can be corrected or eliminated. In fact, the way you handle this problem can positively reset the climate for your entire department.

Angry situations become more destructive when they are not dealt with promptly and effectively. When they are out in the open they are actually easier to correct than if hostility goes unexpressed and digs in at an underground level. It is fortunate that you have been alert to cues that indicate there is anger in your department that needs to be resolved and that you are taking steps to do so. Addressing this matter in a timely and professional manner will offer a better chance for the team to get stronger and better.

As you move in a corrective direction, keep in mind that while an angry staffer may want a specific issue addressed, he or she may also be looking for something bigger to be handled. In many cases, that means simply being heard and that giving the person such a forum will go a long way towards alleviating the problem. Addressing the key individual's issues will allow the staff to observe your handling of anger in the workplace - the things that led to it as well as the solutions that will eliminate it. This also means creating accountability for the entire department - making sure they know they are responsible for rising above any negativity - focusing on healthy, positive ways of working.

While you can approach this delicate situation in a number of ways, it is important to avoid stimulating the 'fight or flight' reaction. This gut reaction can easily result in a fire-back mode that will not draw you closer to a solution but rather separate you further. The next time this employee expresses anger, you might calmly stop the action and ask the individual to step into your office so you can resolve the matter on the spot. Impress on this person that you are offering concern and privacy in which to have a discussion about the problem.

Once you've made the invitation to hear the employee out, allow the person to talk as you listen actively. If the staffer is hesitant to tackle the subject openly and honestly, add encouragement through a concerned, non-defensive manner and politely-phrased questions. Respond to the employee's feelings first rather than the issue underlying the feelings so you can reduce any active anger or inability to discuss and listen. Attempt to get yourselves on the same page, perhaps, by establishing a point or two on which you agree before tackling any bigger issues. Once you've gotten to the heart of the matter, work towards creating a resolve that includes the staffer's accepting responsibility for his or her own attitudes and actions. Check on the person's thoughts and feelings as you go through the process to determine whether or not the individual is open to change and correction.

If you have determined that this is an employee worth keeping but you are unable to successfully move towards a mutually satisfactory solution in the moment, it may be worthwhile to give it a little more time then do a follow-up. If things begin to move in a favorable direction, you can create opportunity from the situation by pointing out how influential this person is in the department. How much it would mean to the team to have such personal and professional power used positively instead of destructively.

If, on the other hand, the employee is still upset or angry and unwilling to proceed on a workable basis even after a 'time-out,' you will have to move in another direction. In other words, unless there has been some major shift in attitude and a display of willingness to work on anger which is inappropriate and appears to be chronic, it's quite likely that you will have to exit this individual for the sake of the entire department and the organization at large.


2002 by Joyce K. Reynolds. Duplication with credits only please. Click here for easy access to all books referenced. For complimentary 20-minute Coaching session e-mail or visit Click here to send this newsletter to a colleague. Executive Business Coach on Click here to Unsubscribe. Newsletter maintained by Web Factum, LLC.