[Advice] The Container is not the Water

Anger is a secondary emotion, or so we have heard.

It exists below the primary emotions of either fear, frustration, grief, disgust, shame, anxiety and more.

When those underlying emotions are not addressed, they become a problem for other people, and for ourselves.

In the conflict process, where disputes between people are a part of the mix, sometimes anger manifests and parties use that anger as a weapon against each other.

Anger is only used one of two ways: either as a way to manipulate the other party, (in the form of passive aggressive anger) or to overwhelm and emotionally flood the other party (in the form of attacking anger).

The way to defuse all of this in the conflict process is to focus on two basic, immediate tactics:

  • People have emotions and emotions may influence and direct interests, and serve to harden positions in a conflict process, but people are not their emotions. The container is not the water.
  • The process of conflict engagement means moving into the anger and through it with the other party. This may mean walling off your own emotions—for a while—but keeping the other party focused on the higher goals of the process, rather than the presence of unresolved anger, can serve to move them away from manipulation and attack.

The long term strategy is to get the other party to agreement. The tactic is to look at people and the process, independently from the situation immediately in front of your face.

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-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
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