Difficult Conversations: Anger = Cajoling and downplaying (Nicole's story)

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Anger is a common reaction to difficult conversations. Anger can look like defiance, complaining, criticalness. 

Anger's energy often flows in two directions: Inwards or Outwards (this occurs both in them and in you).

  • They feel anger and lash (outward) = You overcompensate and fake calm (inwards) --> Kai's story
  • They feel anger and blame themselves (inwards) = You get confused and try to cajole (inwards) --> Nicole's story

In a shared space, few people are given the time and permission to experience anger for as long as they need.  In each of the above situations, the goal is always the same. LET THEM FEEL THE ANGER

Note: The priority is always your physical, mental and emotional safety. Only engage and support another's anger if you feel safe.

Anger is a sign of a boundary being crossed. Any supportive moves you do need to validate this boundary. Validation reduces any secondary feelings of attack or isolation the other person experiencing.


Nicole's story is familiar to many women. Subtle sexism isn't always straightforward and, in those situations, there isn't one right thing to do. It is layered and complex.

Today's story exposes how individual biases and personal preferences can impact how women show up for each other. Moreso than ever, women are breaking the glass ceiling. With this comes a new expectation for women in the workplace to represent their gender. I think we, as a society, are still learning the nuances of all the different ways we can ally, endorse and support each other. Sexism and anger go hand-in-hand.

It is my intention with this story to show one example of how to find common ground to build stronger relationships when anger, different opinions and unspoken expectations are at compounding each other.  

In the face of anger, it's easy to be caught off guard. Your primitive brain takes over and goes into protection mode. Stammering is a common side effect. Instead of trying to logic and repress your way through anger, try mimicking it (just a wee bit). Go with what's right in front of you. I love using visualization here because it's easier to access for most people in a stressed state. Visualzing fiery, red energy is quicker than forcing your brain to think in coherent sentences.

Ally Strongly

Remember what I said above, anger is a sign that a boundary has been crossed and you want to validate that boundary while still holding your differing opinion. Notice how ally language validates Talia's boundary of "I'm not a hugger".


How and why to disagree lightly as an ally.

My heart goes to Talia in the left scenario. Downplaying someone's experience invalidates and makes them self doubt. Anger makes people uncomfortable and if you can't tolerate this discomfort, you will resort to unconscious behaviours that intentionally shut the other down and get them away from you. If you want to support and build a stronger relationship, you need to increase your window of emotional tolerance.

How long you wait before you disagree doesn’t matter much. Just disagree as lightly as possible after you've first shown that you ally with them. Nicole's disagree lightly sentence is "I didn’t notice Alfred’s hug..." followed by more ally/validation language "... but that doesn’t change the fact that this upset you!

If you truly want to support the other person, don't make this about you. I know I hate it when I'm angry, and the person I'm venting to turns the conversation into a righteous story about them. I don't care. I'm pissed. Let me vent. I'm not a bad or stupid person. I'll eventually calm down and be able to think clearly but I'm not going to get there faster if you short circuit me with telling me I'm wrong.

Leading with ally/validation sentences sends the message, "I'm here. Your emotions don't scare me. You are enough just as you are."


Additional resources:

The Anger Iceberg by The Gottman Institute 

Mindfulness and The Window of Tolerance by St. Micahel's Hospital



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