A Way to Turn Anger Into Curiosity

Conflict Zen Blog by Tammy Lenski

Only people we love and care deeply about can make us so angry we want to blow a gasket, says famed Star Trek actor George Takei. When someone or something we care deeply about sparks big anger, here’s a way to turn anger into curiosity and use it positively.

Asked for relationship advice by others who admire his 30-year relationship with his husband, Takei says a simple truth has led him to a valuable question he asks himself when he’s feeling “mad as hell” at Brad:

Why am I this mad?

I’m drawn to this question because anger is a signal and this question helps us figure out its message.

When Takei answers this question for himself, he realizes the answer doesn’t lie in what Brad has done or said. It lies in the simple truth that he’s mad as hell at Brad because he loves him. And that realization is transformative in the moment:

A curious thing happens when you see it this way. All of a sudden, what was anger and bile is pushed aside, as a gentle reminder of our underlying love moves in and fills the heart. There simply isn’t enough room for other emotions once love sits itself down in the soul.

GEORGE TAKEI

We are angry, Takei rightly points out, because we care. When we can view anger from that angle, we can see our state coming not just from bitterness and darkness, but also from optimism and light. We turn anger into curiosity.

Takei’s question is beautiful and perfect when we use it with ourselves, as he does. The question is also useful when we’re talking with someone else who is very angry, though we may need to tweak the language a bit.

Helping others turn anger into curiosity

The keys for helping others turn anger into curiosity are the intention and the language with which we ask the question.

Intention

Picture yourself with your hands on your hips and a tone of voice that is accusatory or dripping with judgment. Why are you this angry? is apt to backfire when asked in this state because you’re not really asking a question, you’re dressing them down.

Now picture yourself calmly leaning forward, interested in uncovering the message their anger is trying to deliver. Asked with this intention, the question becomes an invitation to explore.

Language

Why are you this angry? asked of someone else can be heard as a challenge instead of an invitation, even if your intention is pure. Someone who is very angry may not be in full command of their best communication skills.

Here are some alternative ways to pursue the same line of reflection as Takei’s question, but in different language:

  • Anger usually signals something very important. What is it?
  • Your anger is trying to tell me something. What is it?
  • Thanks for trusting me with your anger, because it tells me you really care [about me, about our work relationship, about this project, about this cause, etc]. Would you say more about that?
  • When I’m seething about something I find it helpful to ask myself, Why am I this mad? I wonder how you’d answer the same question for yourself right now…
                        author

Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at https://tammylenski.com/archives/… MORE >

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