Overcome anger in negotiations and mediations

A fist punching through a glass hole

When involved in a negotiation, mediation, a conflict, or a dispute a natural response is to become defensive, angry, and/or frustrated when things do not go well. A question arises as to how you can remain focused on the problem, remain calm, confident, and competent without letting anger take over. When you are angry you are not thinking as clearly, you may make poor decisions, and the ramifications may be extremely consequential. Knowing this, the commentary in this article addresses how to prevent anger from taking over, and how to overcome anger should it surface in a negotiation or a mediation.


What is anger?


Historically, anger was thought to be an amygdala hijack. The amygdala is at the top of the brainstem. The amygdala is made up of two items about the size of an almond or your thumb nails that if activated you have 6 to 10 seconds to maintain control or you will flood your body with adrenaline, cortisol, and other chemicals and hormones.  This is great if you are being chased by a lion or tiger, but not very helpful in a family relationship or at work. However, more recent research indicates there is more to it than that.

More recent theory indicates that with the theory of constructed emotion that all of our senses are involved and that past experiences impact and address fear and anger.

What we see (high definition with an immediate sensation to the brain), hear, taste, smell, touch coupled with a history of past events causes us to react out of fear and anger.  In her book, Seven and a Half Lessons about the Brain, Lisa Feldman Barrett, points out that your brain is a network, not three parts in one. The amygdala hijack is an out of date concept. Our brains predicts almost everything that we do and likes to reinforce what we know from the past.


Anger and society


There is more anger now.  Politicians and media formulate anger as a means to an end to promote their perspectives. We are increasingly bombarded with these messages. We fall victim to misinformation. Studies indicate that concerns over COVID, being forced to stay home,  virtual meeting fatigue, stress of kids and parents at home trying to  learn and work, and a host of other issues have increased anger in our society. In short, we are living in a time with an anger incubator.

Our stress response is active when we feel a sense of loss of control, cannot predict things well, and feel that we cannot accomplish things.

With our current situation, COVID has taken over our sense of control to a large degree.  Many people lost their jobs. As a country we are polarized, and we are bombarded with misinformation. We are ready for COVID to end, but it appears it never will really end.  Will the AB2 COVID virus be setting us up for another potential surge? We pray and hope for the best, but need to anticipate the worst. Our children attended school the last two years but is unclear if they advanced academically. The feeling of accomplishment is mixed in various environments.  All totaled stress is up, and we need to take actions to address stress.


Anger management


In an article from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley Jull Suttie offers insights from Dr. Raymond Navaco, PhD, who coined the term “anger management” to help you.  Dr. Navaco comments that we are “hard wired for anger.” This is a natural reaction for fight, flight or freeze when we sense danger. Politicians have seized upon this, and speakers reinforce this to us because it sells, and it speaks to our need to rise up against attack. When this happens, we are blind to understanding the other side or perspective. It is much easier to demonize views different than our own. With the constant bombardment and encouragement towards violent or physically aggressive behavior this is unhealthy.

By turning down the volume or even turning the volume off to sources that make you angry or reinforce making you angry, this can help.

Mindfulness in the form of meditation, prayer, reflection, and yoga can all help. Knowing this, appealing to others to not lose their cool has a certain appeal too. Asking open ended questions regarding anger may help the situation according to Dr. Navaco. For example, during down times asking questions like:

  • When you lose your cool where does that take  you?
  • What effect does losing your temper have on you?
  • How does becoming angry impact relationships, your perspective, and your attitude towards others?

Clearly answers to these kinds of questions point out why anger is not a healthy way to go forward. How someone sees things and addresses their attitude has a major impact on their emotions. So, what can you do? Here is a top ten list for consideration.

  1. Breathe in and breathe out and concentrate on your breathing with slow contemplative breaths and then pause, reflect, and respond without anger
  2. Build connecting relationships, listen actively, and educate judiciously
  3. Realize what you control and can change
  4. Realize what you cannot control and change and let those elements go
  5. Develop predictability with your schedule, routine, and rituals
  6. Break bigger tasks into smaller tasks to gain a sense of accomplishment
  7. Take on one task at a time and don’t multitask
  8. Give yourself a break and take frequent breaks
  9. Limit interruptions to give yourself a chance to focus
  10. Eat right, sleep right, and commit to regular exercise

Now think about working with a difficult person. Where are they coming from? What is going on in their lives? What can you do help them with these same elements? If they work for you, what can you do to help them? How does this tie into productivity and the stress response?


Productivity and overcoming the stress response


Productivity and overcoming the stress response actually have a lot in common. In a recent article by Selina Chapman she offers 15 ways to be more productive at work. Explore her commentary. This commentary will not only make you more productive at work,  but  will give you greater control, predictability, and a feeling of accomplishment.  In addition, Dr. Terry Wu shares in this educational and fun video that the stress response is triggered by a lack of control,  a lack of predictability, and a lack of a sense of accomplishment. By maintaining a sense of control, predictability, and a sense of accomplishment this will help reduce the stress response and increase productivity.

Let me know what you think. Was this helpful?

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com 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, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]