It’s easy to be centered and spiritually-aware when you’re in the comforts of your own home, or in a friendly environment surrounded by like-minded people. The real test of our spiritual maturity comes when we’re out in the world and faced with a real conflict.
No one likes conflict and we understandably do our best to avoid it. But the fact is, unless you live in a monastery and have cut yourself off from the world, you’re going to occasionally encounter people who are angry or emotionally upset. You may face these conflicts in your home, office or within your social group.
What’s the best way to handle angry people and tense situations?
In the book Walking Through Anger, Christian Conte takes us through an exercise he calls the Yield Theory. It’s the idea that when we encounter someone who’s angry, instead of trying to stop their energy with force—by meeting their anger with our own anger or aggression—we attempt to defuse the situation, by redirecting the other person’s negative energy.
Conte compares the approach to the martial art aikido where the goal is to “maintain control of your own energy and redirect where others attempt to send you. If a person pushes you, instead of resisting and pushing back, you yield and pull that person.” It’s the same if someone tries to strike you; you redirect the energy away from you.
Using Conte’s Yield Theory, you deal with heated encounters in a similar way: “You do not resist the energy that others emote toward you in a conflict. Through nonresistance, you allow them to release whatever energy needs to come out.” Once this energy is released, you can then move on to finding a possible solution to the conflict.
The key to success in these encounters is getting people to believe that you can truly see what they see—or at least are trying hard to do so. It allows them to be more open and accepting of what you have to offer as a possible solution.
When two great forces oppose to each other, the victory will go to the one who knows how to yield. ~Lao Tzu
Fortunately, Conte breaks down his Yield Theory into 3 easy-to-follow steps. Now in the book, Conte goes into much greater detail, devoting entire chapters to each step, while adding helpful information about operating from your essence and overcoming your own anger. What follows here is the main concept in a nutshell.
Dealing with Anger in 3 Steps
Step 1. Listen. This is the most important step, because the angry person wants to believe they’re being heard. Conte tells us “to listen effectively is to lead with humility and genuine curiosity” without judgement. Realize that two people can look at the same event in totally different ways, so set aside your ego, the part of you that wants to win every argument or prove someone wrong, and “operate from your essence.” When the other person speaks, Conte advises us to “be present, open and attentive” and to “listen with your eyes.” Really listen to what they’re saying instead of just waiting for your turn to speak.
Step 2. Validate. This involves acknowledging the feelings of others and letting them know you understand what they’re communicating. Importantly, Conte says that “to validate is not necessarily to condone what others are saying or support what they’re doing, it’s simply to communicate that you understand, to the extent that you can, what they’re expressing.” Appropriate responses to what you hear can be “you seem really angry/upset/frustrated” or “that has to hurt,” even “that sucks,” said with concern and compassion. Conte tells us that “the goal is not to be right, but to understand.” When you let angry people get their emotions out, it’s much easier to try and move to the next step and find a possible solution.
Step 3. Exploring Options. Conte points out that we need to avoid taking the struggles of others personally. It’s important, once we acknowledge the pain of others and have allowed them to get their anger out, to lead with compassion. The next step is to discuss possible options that may alleviate issues and find the best possible solutions from the present moment forward, in order to avoid future conflicts over the same issue.
As a bonus, here’s an additional interesting tidbit offered up by the author, that may affect how you interact with others. It deals with what not to do when conversing with others.
The 4 Things You Should Never, Ever Say.
- “We need to talk.” As Conte points out, this sentence is never followed up by anything good. It automatically puts the person you’re talk to on the defensive.
- “Let me tell you why you’re wrong…” This statement telegraphs to the other person that you‘re not even considering their ideas.
- “First of all…” This lets the other person know you have a list of ideas of why they’re wrong, immediately putting them on the defensive.
- “You need to calm down.” This simply does not work. As Conte points out, “people don’t calm down because you tell them to.” People calm down because you’ve given them the opportunity to release their anger and move on. “Just as no one can tell you how to feel, you do not have the ability to tell others how to feel.”