This month’s Marie Claire magazine promises the latest and greatest in Fall fashions and a tell-all interview with Mary-Kate Olsen. Deep in the back of the mag, however, is a really interesting article looking at anger and its presence in our lives in what the author calls our “age of rage” where anger may be replacing sex as the thing that “sells”. She goes on to discuss the unintended consequences of electronic communication (email, text, facebook, twitter, chat, etc) which can all potentially serve as outlets for unregulated and impulsive expressions of anger. Things that we might never say to someone in person (or even on the phone) we “say” while we are angrily typing alone due to the “conversational blinders” these methods provide. We cannot see or hear the person we are “talking to” which may make us feel a little more free to say whatever we want, and also may help us ignore the other person’s perspective so that we feel angry and justified in our anger (and thus more likely to say whatever we want and the vicious cycle continues!)
Anger is a tricky emotion. As a therapist, I am constantly helping my clients and myself to be more in touch with all emotions including anger because I believe all of our emotions have something important to communicate to us about what we need. However, anger can sometimes serve as a mask for other, more vulnerable emotions because it’s just so darn exhilarating and empowering! In the moment, putting someone “in their place” over email can make us feel really in control and powerful when really, if we took some time to reflect often we find that our “argument” wasn’t really the true issue and now we’ve written things that we wish we hadn’t that we cannot take back.
Communication vehicles – just like the Fall fashions all have their time and place. You wouldn’t wear a fur coat with knee high suede boots to the beach (I’m looking at you Mary-Kate) so why use email to discuss a sensitive matter with someone important to you? It just doesn’t work very well. One formula that I’ve found helpful in making decisions about communication is the sensitivity of an issue multiplied by the importance of the relationship = the relative formality (in person) or informality (text message) that a conversation requires. I’ve learned the hard way, especially with co-workers and email, that not following this formula can lead to hard feelings between people and more anger than necessary.
How about you? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in communicating anger via text or email? What guidelines do you find it helpful to follow?
Thanks for reading!