You may believe that you cannot control your anger. You may believe that conflict and disputes are fixed in our brains. However, our brains are unique in that they are the only organ that has the ability to change and adapt. This is called neuroplasticity. Some interesting research has found how our brains can adapt even when up to half of the brain is missing. Now think about this from the perspective on how your brain can adapt and change when addressing conflict or a dispute.
An interesting article on missing a chunk of brain
In an article entitled “She Was Missing a Chunk of Her Brain. It Didn’t Matter” a woman grew up without her left temporal lobe, but she adapted and was able to function normally. The left temporal lobe controls language. Interestingly enough she has a graduate degree, has had an impressive career, and she speaks not only English but Russian. She also has tested at the 98 percentiles for vocabulary. In reality scientists know little of how the brain is able to adapt like this. For most people language processing takes place in the left hemisphere and for some it takes both hemispheres. In extremely rare instances language processing takes place in the right hemisphere. For some reason if you are left handed there is a tendency to process language in the right hemisphere. In her case it appears that not having a left temporal lobe, language simply moved over to the right temporal lobe.
Neuroplasticity is stronger with children. The brain is more flexible in earlier life. Drawing conclusions from this person may seem premature, but additional studies with other individuals form a basis of understanding. So, what can you take away from this and similar research?
The brain indeed has the ability to change.
So, what can be done to change our brains relative to anger?
Here are six specific ideas to help you curb your anger
Anger takes place when we feel fear. Out brain cannot differentiate real fear (an actual attack) from a psychological fear based on previous experiences or other triggers. Knowing this what can you do to help prevent your anger and what can you do when you find yourself being triggered towards anger? Here are six specific ideas to help you curb your anger.
You can prepare yourself ahead of time by practicing various forms of mindfulness. For example, by practicing meditation, prayer, reflection, and /or yoga for at least 10 minutes a day for as little as three weeks can help you remain calmer, more relaxed, and less prone towards anger. The benefits of meditation are well documented. Consider doing this at the beginning of your day, during your lunch break, or at the end of the day with what makes most sense to you with your schedule.
2. Take a time out
That is walk away. Suggest a break. Realize that you are being triggered and do not let the trigger take over. By taking a break and allowing yourself to center yourself before you engage in the dispute you can be more thoughtful, be ready to listen first, and allow yourself time to say what will help the situation. If during a discussion something starts to trigger your emotions, speak up and suggest a break for a few minutes so that you can focus and come back to the discussion in a calmer mode.
Besides a time out, exercise can be extremely helpful. Go for a walk. Consider incorporating regular walks, or other forms of exercise to give your mind a break and give your body a chance to release stress constructively. For the more ambitious consider going for a run or heading off to the gym. Any form of exercise will help. Many view exercise negatively as a way to really push yourself. You can but that is not the point here. By exercising you are giving your mind and body a break from the stress associated with the situation.
4. Listen actively
Listen to the other party first. Yes, this is hard. However, a person who has been listened to is for more apt to listen to you. Ask open ended questions. Have an attitude to help. Be positive. Suspend your own judgment. Do not offer advice. Yes, it is hard to suspend judgment and not to offer advice. The more you practice this the better you are able to do this going forward. Summarize, paraphrase, and empathize with the other party. Talk to yourself to give yourself encouragement using your name. For example, I might say to myself “Mike, make a point to listen, suspend judgement, and empathize. You can do this”
5. Think before you speak
Pause, and think before you speak. As someone prone to speak up and offer my ideas, I have found that counting to ten to allow others to speak has helped me not only to address the situation with better emotional intelligence, but also to help me control my own anger. By pausing and thinking this may encourage others to speak up and generate ideas you had not thought of yourself. Be humble and open to other’s ideas. You do not know everything. You may be surprised what you may learn.
6. Educate with compassion
Once you are calm, feel confident, and you are ready to express your thoughts and concerns, share them in a constructive manner. How would the other party prefer to hear your ideas in a nonconfrontational manner? Consider practicing this ahead of time if possible. You may want to role play this with someone else or discuss this with a mentor. As with anything worthwhile it takes practice. Being open as to how to educate the other party may cause you to reconsider your entire approach.
As an additional source check out the Mayo Clinic that offers 10 tips to tame your temper expanding on the commentary presented here.
About the author
Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]