How to Explain Yourself Without Anger

Anger makes it harder to explain your message.
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Anger can interfere with your ability to communicate effectively. It is natural to feel angry when you think you are being treated unfairly, and anger can be useful as a protective mechanism in that type of situation. However, when anger is expressed inappropriately, it can cause situations to escalate. When you become angry, listeners may become overwhelmed and defensive and withdraw before the incident is resolved and you may not be able to get your point across. Effective communicators study and practice assertiveness skills to manage their verbal presentation without anger.

1 The Fight or Flight Response

When people experience stress, their "fight or flight" response kicks in. If you react with a "flight" response, you are more likely to avoid conflicts by choosing passive communication techniques. If you react with "fight," you are likely motivated to try to win the argument and to communicate aggressively or with anger. For example, if your supervisor criticizes your work and blames you for a poor outcome, your first response might be to defend yourself with angry words, which can cause the situation to worsen because the supervisor will hear the anger rather than the explanation. Using relaxation techniques, such as taking a deep breath before you respond, can help you reduce your "fight" reaction, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure while giving you time to craft an assertive response that facilitates respectful dialogue instead of shutting it down.

2 Learn Assertiveness Skills

Even people who are shy or anxious can learn to speak up for themselves assertively. Perhaps the most important skill in explaining yourself without anger is the use of "I" statements. For example, "I feel frustrated when the customer blames us when the item is out of stock" will lead to a better outcome than a "You" statement such as "You always blame us when the shipments are late!" "You" statements lead to anger for both parties and do not help you articulate your frustration respectfully. When you use "I" statements, it shifts the focus to how you feel about it, rather than feeling like a judgement of the other person.

3 Practical Assertiveness Skills

According to Dr. Chris Williams, a psychiatrist with the University of Glasgow, the most widely used strategy in assertiveness training is called "The Broken Record Technique." For example, say that someone wants you to lend them an important book or get them a discount on something. This situation has caused you grief in the past and you wish to avoid it now without getting angry. The "Broken Record" technique has you calmly repeat, as necessary, that you are not able to meet the request. It is helpful to rehearse what you plan to say by repeating it to yourself beforehand: "I am sorry that I am not able to get you an employee discount because it is non-transferable and breaking the rules could affect my employment." As long as you stick to your rehearsed words, your stress level will remain manageable no matter what argument they present and you will be able to give your explanation without anger.

4 Self Awareness is Crucial

Assertive speakers practice respectful collaborative communication. They resist any temptation to retaliate, instead focusing on practical goals. A practical goal might be working together to ensure that a mistake or miscommunication does not happen again in the future. As an assertive speaker, rather than getting angry trying to explain that the mistake was not your fault, you should listen to the problem first and then explain your point of view and offer solution-focused ideas. Finally, remember to validate the other person's viewpoint even if you make it clear that you do not agree. This keeps you focused on respectful and collaborative dialogue, rather than on your anger and frustration with the situation.

Erica Gatz holds a Masters Degree in social work from Dalhousie University. She has worked in inner city locations and remote northern Aboriginal communities. Her experience includes community mental healthcare, HIV harm reduction, culturally relevant curriculum development, suicide prevention and early psychosis intervention. Her current interests are social justice and community development.