To solve problems that can contribute to anger in a useful, constructive way, try these steps.
Step 1: Choose a problem that contributes to anger.
Your first step is to identify and name the problem. For example, ask yourself “what is the problem that is getting in the way of what I want?” or “what is the problem that is contributing to my anger?”
Choose a problem that is happening now (or will occur again soon) and that is fairly small (to increase your chances of success). You can work on bigger problems as you get more practice at problem-solving.
Also, be specific. For example “I get frustrated when someone parks in my parking space. I feel like kicking their car” versus “I hate ignorant drivers.”
Step 2: Think about the problem from different angles.
When you explore a problem from different angles or in different ways, you expose more potential solutions. Once you are clear about the problem you are going to work on, ask yourself questions such as:
- How is the problem getting in the way of what I want?
- What exactly is contributing to my anger?
- What am I doing that is making the problem worse?
- What are other people doing that is making the problem worse?
- What is happening in the situation that is contributing to the problem?
Step 3. List the advantages and disadvantages of possible solutions.
When you have decided on your specific problem, and looked at that problem from different angles, you need to look for possible solutions. The more solutions you come up with, the more likely you will discover something that is effective, practical, and doable.
Some of the best solutions come from brainstorming. You can also ask others to help you come up with solutions.
Make sure your solutions are stated as actions, things that you can do (e.g. “I can locate the person who has parked in my spot by looking at their visitor pass and go to that apartment to let them know that they are parked in the wrong spot and ask them to move their car”).
Think of three possible solutions to your problem:
- Possible solution
- Possible solution
- Possible solution
List the advantages and disadvantages of each solution:
- Solution 1: Advantages and disadvantages
- Solution 2: Advantages and disadvantages
- Solution 3: Advantages and disadvantages
Pick one or two of your solutions. Choose something realistic and manageable. If you are unsure which one to choose, check with other people or try predicting what will happen if you follow through.
When you take action, do so in an appropriately assertive way. This means:
- Be direct.
- Remind yourself of your rights and your need to respect the rights of others.
- Remind yourself to think clearly and reasonably.
- Use your calming skills to relax.
- Watch your behaviour. Be sure that your actions are appropriate and helpful. Don’t be forceful (e.g. shout) and do anything that escalates the situation to becoming more aggressive.
Evaluate your actions
Once you’ve selected a solution and put it into action, check how things went. Don’t expect that one or two actions will solve your problem. If it’s something long-standing, you may have to put extra effort into it, make more attempts at changing it, or try something different.
- How effective was my solution?
- Did I achieve what I wanted?
- What were the consequences of the action(s) I took?
What is a fair request?
Assertive action sometimes involves making a request for another person to do or change something. It’s important to be fair when making these requests. Keep in mind these tips from Matthew McKay and Peter Rogers, authors of The Anger Control Workbook:
- Make specific requests that are reasonably doable. (e.g. “I want us to take three weeks off this summer and go on vacation”).
- Make one request at a time. Don’t bring up a lot of issues all at once.
- Seek behavioural change. Don’t ask people to change their attitudes, values, or feelings (e.g. you can ask your husband to attend an office party with you but you should not ask him to “want” to go).
Move on to a new situation or try these steps again and change something.
If your actions resolved the situation to your satisfaction, you’re ready to move on to another situation. Think about your success and focus on what you did well.
If your solution wasn’t as successful as you would have liked, you can begin the steps again. Focus on the fact that you took action even if the problem didn’t completely resolve to your satisfaction. Change something about what you are doing, however, because simply trying the exact same steps again may not lead to a new result.
Problem-solving is an ongoing and effortful process. This means that it can take some time and it definitely takes some effort. But it is a skill you can learn, like any other in this course. With practice and persistence, you will become a better problem-solver and you will see some of your anger experiences change for the better.
What are the consequences?
Sometimes if you don’t get the result you want by communicating assertively, you need to add a more forceful component: consequences.
- Be specific. Make sure the person knows the behaviour that will trigger the consequence and what that consequence will be. For example, say “If you can’t pick me up on time I’ll have to call a cab” versus “if you can’t pick me up on time you’ll be sorry.”
- Be reasonable. Don’t use consequences that involve public humiliation or threats.
- Be consistent. If you are going to say you will do something, then do it. Always follow through each and every time the situation occurs. If you don’t, the person will not take you seriously.
- Be sure you can live with the results yourself. Don’t make the consequences something that you are uncomfortable doing or that will have an outcome you will be uncomfortable with.
For more information about anger and conflict, the following resources may be helpful.
- Understanding Anger and Anger Management. https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/understanding-anger-and-anger-management/
- Feeling Angry? https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/feeling-angry/
- Anger. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/anger/index.aspx
- Eight steps to effective conflict management. Government of Canada. https://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/gcc-bdm/8etapes-8steps-eng.html
- Preventing and resolving workplace conflict. https://canadabusiness.ca/blog/preventing-and-resolving-workplace-conflict-1/