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096: Dealing with Anger

🤔 U Mad Bro? 🧠 Dealing with Anger Productively 🖼 Reorgs (a TikTok video) 👉 The Happiness Lab (podcast)

Jason Shen
Jason Shen
7 min read
096: Dealing with Anger
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Cultivating Resilience is a newsletter that helps innovators navigate change and bring new product and ideas into world. It's published by Jason Shen, a resilience coach, product manager, 1st gen immigrant, ex-gymnast, and 3x startup founder.

🤔 U Mad Bro?

When was the last time you got angry? What was it about? What did you do?

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Reply back to this email with your response and I'll send you mine!

🧠 Dealing with Anger Productively

Many of us have seen the clip of Senator Ted Cruz badgering Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson about the children's book Antiracist Baby and whether she believed that babies were racist. Yes, it's as stupid as it sounds.

Elie Mystal writes in The Nation about how she responded:

Jackson started to answer. She said, “Senator.” And then she sighed. And then she paused. For a long time. As the silence filled the room, I felt like I could see Jackson make the same calculation nearly every Black person and ancestor has made at some point while living in the New World. It’s the calculation enslaved people made before trying to escape to freedom, or activists made before sitting down at the white lunch counter. But it’s also the calculation a woman makes before responding to the e-mail of the failson who was just promoted ahead of her, or the calculation I make when a white executive comments on my Twitter feed but not my published columns. It’s the calculation when black people try to decide: “Am I gonna risk it all for this?”

Our world is full of unfairness. Anger is an emotion we feel when we feel threatened or treated unfairly. It originates from proto-Indo-European word angh meaning "tight, narrow, painfully constricting". Our anger emerges from being squeezed.

Anger expert Faith Harper calls anger is "a secondary emotion", meaning it actually masks or emerges alongside another emotion. That might be fear, sadness, dissappointment, or even jealousy and is there to tell us something. Harper shares the acronym AHEN to explain: is the anger telling you you're Hurt or have unmet Expectations or are your Needs not being met?

Sometime ago, one of my coaching clients asked me about dealing with anger in other people—particularly women and people of color who have experienced some kind of systemic bias or injustice.

This client observed that while these angry people have a right to feel this way, it sometimes caused them to act defensively or lash out at work in ways that were counterproductive to their goals. Ancestry CEO Deb Liu talks about how Sheryl Sandberg once pulled her aside and told her that she could stop fighting after winning an argument at work and how that tough feedback helped her get better.

How do can we support someone in this kind of situation? How do we validate that anger, move through it, and channel it towards real change?

Here's an expanded version of some of what I shared with my client:

  1. Acknowledging and validating the anger. They have a right to be frustrated and have space to express and explore it. What is the other emotion they're feeling alongside the anger? What information do those feelings give us? Having a supportive manager, coach, therapist, or close friend who they can talk through about this is important.
  2. Finding community. Connecting with others is important because that allows for not just private, but public validation. It's not just in their heads or shared in just a 1:1 conversation. Attending a healing circle or even just starting a group chat with friends to hear about the experiences of others can be deeply meaningful. At work, some companies have employee resource groups (ERGs) that can be a safe(er) place or they can join industry organizations that might also facilitate that kind of conversation.
  3. Finding ways to make a difference. Validation only goes so far - it helps you contain your anger and hurt and feel like there are others that have your back. But taking action I think is how you transform that anger into something constructive.

Channeling your anger to make a difference

Ketanji Brown Jackson chose not to lash out at Ted Cruz's buffonery despite having every reason to want to. She knows that the biggest difference she can make to building a more fair and just nation is through her service as a Supreme Court Justice. So what can we do with our anger of injustice?

  1. Constructive responses to the aggressor. Just like job negotiation or press interviews, having the right words on how to share when someone has done something hurtful is important to getting the out come you want. I think a coach can help by offer mock practice sessions where they role play as the aggressor (it can even be helpful to then switch roles where the client pretends to be the other party to build empathy). This HBR article has some good tips on responding to microaggressions.
  2. Organizing your community. Last Lunar New Year in 2021, in the face of numerous attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, some of my coworkers were dissappointed when no one in our direct leadership chain (our director or VP) acknowledged the holiday or the pain in our community. One PM spoke up and got our director to organize an impromptu all-hands to where several AAPIs shared their experience including myself. We also then worked with our VP's comms person to craft a Happy LNY post to go out to our org. It didn't "change the world" but I think it helped other AAPI's in our org feel somewhat seen, even if they didn't participate themselves
  3. Sharing your personaly experiences publicly. I was talking the other night with someone who had gone to Stuyvesant high school and felt that the public narrative of Asian students taking opportunities away from Black students was inaccurate or at least incomplete, but he was also afraid to wade into such a contentious cultural issue. I encouraged him to share his personal experience as an Asian alumni of the school. Just like the #metoo movement or memoirs like Chanel Miller's Know My Name, or my work with the Asian American Man Study, sometimes you it's helpful to share your experiences more broadly - rather than to the person who hurt them directly. This can also be a tweet thread, panel discussion, or brown bag talk. You can't always directly "fix" the problematic person but you can still educate others on what not to do, and what's better.

Persevere

While I believe that 99% of the time, there's something productive we can do about anger, there are rare moments where we literally can do nothing in the face of hurt, bias, and disregard. Sometimes we have to attend to our own safety, our own survival. And in those moments, we can channel our anger towards simply staying the course and not giving up. As an anonymous black woman told Jackson on a cold day in Boston: persevere.


🖼 Reorgs (a TikTok video)

@resiliencerules

Just silly PM things #productmanager

♬ original sound - Jason Shen

Another way to channel anger is through humor. We go through a lot of reorgs at work and it can be infuriating. This Backstreet Boys meme template was too good for me to pass up, and since posting this internally at work, it's been viewed more than 14k times. Which means it struck a chord with the whole company. I got have a dozen private messages from employees across the company saying how they were going through a reorg right then and how spot on the video was. If you're going to suffer, at least don't suffer alone.


👉 Happiness Lab (podcast)

If you want to explore a full podcast on dealing with anger more effectively, look no further than this episode of The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos and guest Faith Harper called "How to Be Angry Better". In general, I'm a fan of this podcast as the host is a Yale psychology professor and has a very relatable way of exploring topics like burnout, wisdom from ancient philosophers, and road rage (which she admits to suffering).


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Jason Shen

Human(e) technologist on a mission to help build resilient teams and organizations. Former NCAA gymnast and three-time startup founder.