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Calming an Angry Personality

Lessons from a success story.

Key points

  • The effects of an angry personality can be profound. Impatience, rushing, and undue negativity can have their roots in an angry personality.
  • Anger can fuel action, passion, and accomplishment but often at the price of errors, fewer reflective ideas, and impeded relationships.
  • Sometimes, a zero-tolerance policy can help people change and keep a new goal, such as not getting angry, top-of-mind.
  • People with an angry personality might try getting their craved stimulation through lots of engagement but not allowing anger to seep in.
Geralt, Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Geralt, Pixabay, Public Domain

I had always thought of an angry personality as difficult to change, requiring a personality transplant, lots of effort, long-term, with no guarantee of success.

But I recently had a client who—no credit to me—went from being usually seething to quite calm. Here is his story.

As long as I can remember, anger was suffused through me. It was the core driver of who I am. In retrospect, it was partly genetic: I would secrete a lot of adrenaline in response to a given stress—if a loud buzzer would go off in a classroom, I’d jump more than did most of my classmates. But it was more than genetics. I somehow equated anger with passion, and because we tend to like and respect passionate people, I chose to often speak passionately, albeit tinged with anger. The ever latent anger also kept me stimulated, engaged. Anger also gave me an adrenaline rush, which kept me energized in the way that coffee affects people. That’s also why I always kept myself rushing, rationalizing that it was helping my productivity. But now, as I approach age 50, my rationalization that my angry Type-A personality wouldn’t hurt my health for decades is becoming ever flimsier. And as I think about my career and my relationships, whatever success I’ve had has been despite my “passionate” angry personality not because of it.

What changed me? I was talking with a friend and got passionate (with that angry tone) about something he had said. He then asked me, “I really like your passion but is there also anger in there?” I felt embarrassed, realized that was true, and suddenly, all the negative effects of my angry personality raced through my mind, including that I rarely have been able to convince people of much, which likely came in part from my angry pushiness. People don’t like to be angrily browbeaten. It makes people defensive, pull back, and be closed to an idea.

At that moment, I decided to make a 100 percent commitment to try to never get angry, not just hide my anger, but not be angry at anything. After all, anger rarely helps. For the rest of that conversation, I focused on staying calm, did not interrupt, looked for points of agreement, presented ideas that were benevolent, and noticed that the conversation felt much more pleasant and constructive.

After that conversation, I called another friend, with my zero-tolerance for anger top-of-mind. He, who is politically polar of me, usually triggers me into an angry rant. But I stayed calm, listening well and with no interrupting, and instead of jumping in as soon as he finished talking, I took a moment to think and then presented comments slowly, evenly, all of a neutral or positive nature. Not only was the conversation more pleasant, the ideas I came up with were better and better presented. He even seemed a bit more open to my ideas.

Next, my internet connection stopped working. Normally, I’d get red-faced, would race to try everything I could, and when that failed, call my internet provider's tech support, fume while waiting on hold, and then, with fury just beneath the surface, impatiently describe my problem, literally shaking. This time, my new policy kept me calm, breathing, and retaining perspective, recognizing that I would, before too long, get my internet connection back. My goal was to make the situation a pleasant problem-solving session for both of us. It took longer than I hoped and I can’t say I look forward to calling tech support again, but unlike after my usual such call, I wasn't drained, and both of us thanked each other: I thanked him for his successful effort and he thanked me for my, ta-dah—patience!

It's now been a while and I remain happier, more relaxed, and engaged, even passionate, without requring anger to get there. Being steadily engaged and stimulated is fine but using anger to get there is not. Being quick is fine but hurrying is not. I'm pushing less, for example, not trying to save a second by racing across the street before the car comes. I avoid rather than spur unnecessary conflict. I feel good about not pressing people unduly. I don't push to get credit or pity. I am committed to continuing to try my 100% calm mindset and behavior. I must remember to get my stimulation through engagement, even passion, but without anger.

The takeaway

My client’s story embeds ideas that may be of value to you:

  • Anger can be the foundational factor affecting much of one’s thinking, feeling, and interaction. Reducing anger can have a great ripple effect.
  • Yes, anger can fuel action, passion, and accomplishment but usually at too high a price: in errors, fewer reflective ideas, reduced persuasiveness, and impeded professional and personal relationships.
  • Impatience, rushing, anger, and undue negativity can all be rationalized but ultimately may not be defensible.
  • Sometimes, there's a sudden moment of truth when a person decides, "Now I am going to change," whether it's to stop substance abuse, laziness, or being an angry person.
  • Sometimes, although certainly not always, a zero-tolerance approach works.
  • Living without anger can be key to a happy and successful life.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

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