If ever there was a time to take a moment to pause, I think it would be now. Tensions have been escalating around the world and we have witnessed levels of conflict that many people have never seen before. Much of the language that has been used has been about "us" versus "them." The language has been divisive and has not contributed to resolving the conflicts. If anything, it has contributed to the divisions.
While we may feel helpless when witnessing wide-scale conflict that is occurring elsewhere, it is an important time to consider how we process conflict or tensions at an individual level. How do we relate to conflict in our personal or work relationships?
A number of years ago, I was in a work environment where many of the employees were unhappy with the leadership team and the tensions were rising. So much so, that an outside review team had been brought in to assess the situation and to make recommendations. The review team’s role was to meet with each staff member individually, with the goal being to hear our perspective in an environment where we would be safe to express our viewpoint.
I had never experienced this type of conflict before, so I was having difficulty preparing for my meeting with them. I decided to seek the advice of someone who was much older and wiser than I was, with the hope that he might be able to guide me through the process. He was close enough to the situation that he could understand the context, yet far enough removed that he could be objective in his assessment.
One of the very first questions he asked me was what was my intention for speaking up. The initial answer that came to me was that I felt that we (the employees) were not being listened to, that our concerns were not being heard. He understood that many of us were very angry, so his next question was this.
Are we hoping that the leadership team will be removed or are we hoping to improve the current working environment? In truth, I was hoping for both. I loved the work I was doing yet I was exhausted from the ongoing conflict that I had witnessed.
What his questions were pointing to was the fact that it might be very difficult to come up with solutions to a problem when we are looking through the lens of anger. We need to process our anger first if we are hoping to find a peaceful solution.
His questions stayed in my mind for many years. And his words completely changed how I reflected on my experience of anger in the years to follow.
We can all think of a time when our nervous system had reached its limit. When our emotions were at a tipping point and we could feel the anger rising. How many of us are able to clearly articulate our anger in the moment and express it in a calm manner?
I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen anyone be able to do that, myself included. When I’ve reached my limits, that’s a clear signal to me that I need to pause and take time to consider my response.
If I were to reflect on the situations that make me angry, it’s usually when I believe my sense of boundaries have been violated. When someone uses language that is disrespectful or crude. Or when someone’s behaviour is intended to shame or humiliate or put someone down.
The other quality that angers me is that of arrogance. When someone else believes that they are more knowledgeable about a subject and therefore know what is best for me.
On a personal level, I think it’s important to understand what behaviours are triggers for our anger. And then to pause. Because words that are written or spoken in the heat of the moment rarely contribute to the solution to a problem. And words that are spoken can never be unspoken. They are words that we may find ourselves needing to apologize for, with the hope of being forgiven.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Madiha Foundation.