APPLYING ROSENBERG’S 4-STEP RESPONSE TO ANGER

 

Stevie:  Studying this book actually helped me this weekend when I flew to Colorado to look at schools and visit my friend.  My friend had a party. As everyone started drinking more and more, people got intoxicated.  I was sitting outside chilling with some kids I met and this really hammered kid comes up the stairs and rubs my hat like I was 4 and he was my uncle.  Then he knocked off my hat and said—“Oh, I’m sorry man, lemme get that for you.” He picked up my hat, put it on my head and tried to pull the front down over my eyes. 

 

Since I read this on the flight over I simply counted to 10 and then realized that I didn’t need to get mad over this.  The kid was clearly drunk and being a buffoon.  Maybe his need was to make friends.  My need that was unmet was for mutual respect.  So, I just looked at him and gave him a smile and continued on like nothing happened.  If I had not read this stuff, I might have been prone to fight or do something stupid, but since I was actively thinking about my nonviolent communication, I let it slide off my shoulder.

 

Jeff:  According to Rosenberg, the first step to fully expressing anger in nonviolent communication is to separate the other person from any responsibility for our anger.  This made me recall one violent incident in my life.  My girlfriend in high school cheated on me.  I ran into the other kid at a party, and after talking for several minutes, I decided he deserved to be punished, and I hit him.  This only caused more problems, including hospital bills and a lawsuit.  On top of that, it resolved nothing. 

 

I wish I had used Rosenberg’s four steps to express anger. 1. Stop and breathe.  2. Identify my judgmental thoughts: “This kid was a scumbag who thought he could do whatever he wanted.” 3. Connect with my needs: mainly an honest relationship with my girlfriend.  4.  Express my feelings and unmet needs: I could have told him how hurt I was that she had cheated on me and that he had participated, knowing we were together.  If I had used these 4 steps, I could have realized that he was not the focal point of my anger, avoided thousands of dollars in lawyer bills, and been able to move on with my life a lot easier.

 

 

ROSENBERG’S FOUR-STEP RESPONSE TO ANGER

 

      1.  Stop.  Breathe.

      2.  Identify our judgmental thoughts.

      3.  Connect with our needs.

      4.  Express our feelings and unmet needs.

 

 

1.  Stop.  Breathe.

 

Lucy:  When I am upset, annoyed or mad, I tend to say mean things.  I am currently in a long distance relationship.  At the beginning of the year I used to fight with my boyfriend over the telephone all the time.  We finally decided that any time either one of us is mad with the other to just end the conversation right there.  We take a step back and come back to the conversation when we have both calmed down and had time to think about what went wrong.  So far it has worked very effectively.

Nick:  Thanksgiving at my home is often very overwhelming for me.  This time there were 3 sets of grandparents, 10 cousins, 7 uncles, and 6 aunts.  They repeatedly kept coming up to me asking the same questions as the last person did.  I felt as if my brain was going to explode, but this time I did not.

 

 I took deep breaths whenever I noticed my temper beginning to creep in. I also did a lot of listening without jumping in with my thoughts.  I even sat down with my really old grandfather to hear what was on his mind.  Without breathing and listening more deliberately, I am sure I would have lost my cool as usual.  I learned some new things about my relatives and had a good time!

 

Stop.  Shut your mouth.  Breathe.  Jorge Rubio offered the colorful image of wishing for magnets in his lips that would automatically slam shut whenever he started to speak from anger!  Be with your feelings until you are ready to move to the next step (NYIRT, Binghamton, NY, 2009).

 

 

  •  Identify our judgmental thoughts.

 

JanIt has become clear to me that I have an attitude problem.  When I look negatively at a person before even beginning a conversation, that influences the way I respond to them.  I am very good at having an evaluation ready for people before I talk to them. 

 

Last weekend I was meeting my friend at Brooks.  I parked in front of him and then got on the phone.  All of a sudden I look in my mirror and see him driving away.  I got really mad, jumping to the conclusion that he left because I wasn’t giving him any attention.  I followed him to our next location and jumped down his throat and he started yelling back at me, big time.  When we actually talked, I found out he did not even see me in the parking lot, so he assumed I’d meet him at the next spot. 

 

Rosenberg says judgmental thoughts will be found in some form underlying all anger. I think this applies to quiet as well as explosive anger.  When you are able, gently notice the blaming thoughts you are having about the other:  “They should….”  “She deserves….”  If you are really steamed up, you probably also have some critical thoughts of yourself under all of your storm.

 

 

Are you crazy?  Of course I think “they should.”  They should stop killing, they should stop telling lies, and even they should be respectful to me.

 

I understand that you strongly object to some behaviors and would like to see the person change them.  I have similar thoughts.  The invitation here is to notice those thoughts and move away from this system of thinking in order to express your deep hunger for someone to change their behaviors in ways that are more likely to produce the results you want to see. 

 

A judgment always implies that there is a rulebook somewhere, that these people are violating a rule, and that it would help them improve their behavior if we informed them of the rule or punished them for failing to follow it.  Unfortunately, when you start a conversation about the “wrongness” of another person, they have a strong invitation to shut out everything you say, and become defensive and hostile.  There are more connecting ways to share your values.

3.  Connect with our needs.

 

Kate:  In class, we worked on a time when we became angry at someone’s comment.  I chose when someone told me I was a shallow person.  I kept thinking, “He doesn’t even know me.” As I told my small group and they kept listening, I made the realization how hungry I was to be understood for who I am.  I began to feel the tension I had been holding about the situation release from my body.  I am impressed with the difference it made to express my anger in that process rather than to suppress it and let it eat away at me. 

 

Tom:  I am working on stepping back and refocusing on what are the feelings underneath the anger, so I can get a better understanding of the situation.  I observe that often times I have trouble admitting when I’m wrong so even if someone is talking to me with no anger involved about how they disagree with me, I might get angry because I’m embarrassed at the possibility of being wrong.  I want to change that. 

 

What feelings are under your anger?  What needs?  Some people prefer to look for feelings first and then find needs.  Others reverse that.  Some find judgments after this process rather than before.  All help us clarify needs.  Once we understand these needs, our perspective shifts.

 

I am angry that you aren’t here.

 

I am furious because you invited those noisy kids.

ê becomes ê

ê becomes ê

I am lonely and I want comfort.

I am afraid that my need for a quiet time will not be met.

 

 

4.  Express our feelings and unmet needs.  Hmmm.  Rosenberg adds “You may need to offer empathy first.”  My summary of all this = Make a decision whether to express our needs, listen to the other person first, or withdraw from the conversation. 

 

 

Topher:I work at a gas station.  I am a fairly confident worker and tend to take my work and reputation seriously.  On Easter Sunday I showed up 15 minutes late to work and got told off in front of the whole store by the girl I was replacing.  At first I was pissed off and frustrated by the incident.  Although the other employee and I had never really gotten along with each other, I tried to put myself in her shoes.  She had a kid and she had to work 10—5 on Easter.  Me being late was that much longer her kid had to spend it without her.  Seeing this I realized I understood.  The next week I approached her and told her that I recognized her position and why she got mad.  I also told her I did not agree with how she talked to me about it and requested more respect in the future.  After that conversation we have gotten along much better. 

 

Sharaz:  Last Sunday, I attended a wedding reception in a small town near Burlington.  Everyone got along, but as I drove home, a truck was tailgating my girlfriend and me.  I came to a Yield sign and the individuals in the truck pulled aside my car and shouted, “Hey, nigger, get out of our town.”  After driving away, I stopped to breathe and give my girlfriend a hug.  I identified my judgments (internal cursing) and reminded myself they are young and probably not educated enough to understand racism.  I knew my need was for safety and to be heard and comforted, which my girlfriend did.  I don’t think of any way I could have handled it better.

If you have gathered yourself by this point, decide whether it is time to share your feelings and needs, to listen for theirs, or to withdraw from the conflict.  If you guess that the other person is not yet able to listen, do not start by sharing your feelings and needs.  When your intention is to connect with the person who stimulated / invited—not caused—the anger, you will probably choose to listen to them for a while until they feel heard and calm down.

 

Remember that if their mouth is full of words, their ears are not working well, especially if you shout!  When no one is listening, there is little point in talking and a lot of reasons for silence.

 

After their tension lessens, they may be ready to listen.  At that point, it may be connecting to tell them about your experience focusing on your underlying feelings and needs (not on your smog of judgments.)  There will also be situations when your best option is to withdraw.  Some people stay in relationships wherein they are abused or in danger because they keep trying to explain to the other person why they want to / will / might leave and then wait for the other person to understand!

 

 

ANGER WORKSHEET:  Refer briefly to the two situations you described earlier in the chapter or describe two more situations that invite your anger. 

Situation in which I got angry  (Use observations, not evaluations) 

a.  The woman in the office locked the exercise room without giving a reason

b.

 

c.

 

My blaming statements about the other person (enemy images)

a.  She is a dip, she is stupid, she is rigid

b.

 

c.

 

My underlying feelings and unmet needs

a.  Fear and frustration; ease in getting to exercise; autonomy—do not enjoy extra rules

b.

 

c.

 

What I did in this situation

a.  I was quite sarcastic with her

b.

 

c.

 

What I would I like to say or do in a similar encounter in the future  (request of myself)

a.  I would like to ask for more information and to share my concerns respectfully

b.

 

c.