Despite being exhausted from the cross-country flight, Sandra Crowe hurried excitedly out of Dulles International Airport expecting her brand new Acura TL 3.2 to be waiting at curbside. That was the dealership's promise when she purchased the car before leaving on the month-long business trip: A driver would chauffeur her home from the airport in her new Acura. A done deal.
The driver was there. Her new car wasn't. As the driver explained his instructions--to pick up Crowe andtake her back to the dealership--her anger grew. Crowe caught herself seething. A Rockville-based communications trainer and speaker who specializes in methods of offsetting ineffective behaviors, she knew she needed to practice what she preached. So she expressed her anger: "I said to the driver, 'I am really furious about this.' "
The driver told her not to kill the messenger. "I said, 'I'm not angry with you. I'm just angry,' " Crowe recounts, adding that the distinction is a key to practicing safe anger.
Especially now, when flying off the handle at undeserved wrongs and perceived injustices perpetrated by modern life has become a front-page story. Whether it manifests itself behind the steering wheel of a car or at the supermarket checkout line, people need to learn how to handle their anger effectively, says Crowe, the author of "Since Strangling Isn't An Option: Dealing With Difficult People--Common Problems and Uncommon Solutions" (Perigee Trade Paperback, $13.95).
"We have to take responsibility for our anger. There are two basic ways that we respond to our anger--expression and suppression. The problem with expression, even though it feels good, is it can have long-term damage to others. The problem with suppression is that it is damaging to ourselves down the line."
The trick is to find ways to express anger that free people from it rather than enslave them. Where to start? "Physically or verbally express your anger--but don't make it about the other person, make it about yourself," says Crowe, explaining that when we are enraged it is always about ourselves. "Nobody can make us angry without our permission."
Crowe believes that taking the emotional high road when angry is also the path of least resistance. "Let's say the same thing happens to the Dalai Lama," she says of a fender-bender example that theoretically involves the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. "My guess is the Dalai Lama doesn't experience anger. It doesn't mean he doesn't show it. He might get out of the car and address the situation. He would probably look at them and ask if they realize the consequences of their actions. But he wouldn't get angry."
Crowe doesn't want people to feel wrong for experiencing anger. "I'm just pointing out that there are realistic ways of reacting and channeling our anger that have benefits and get to solutions."
For a sense of how her approach tames the rage within, check out the article on Crowe's Web site--www.pivpoint.com--"10 Steps to Winning Every Argument." There you will learn that one certain way to win any argument is by not having to win the argument. Get it? If "winning" it isn't predicated on winning, you can't lose for winning.
Crowe likens her ways of defusing anger to aikido--the modern martial art that uses an attacker's own aggressiveness to gain control of him or defeat him. Sometimes called "moving Zen," aikido largely de-emphasizes the combative element of martial arts in favor of self-improvement, harmony and peace. Crowe refers to her anger-resolving techniques as "verbal aikido." She compares how they work to one of her first aikido experiences--a "ki," or "life energy," exercise in which she sat on her heels in a kneeling position. When relaxed and focused on centering herself at the energy point above her midsection, no one could push her over.
"You don't use force, you use energy to do that," she explains. "That's the whole basis of my book: How do you keep yourself firm and strong, and in your own world as much as possible so that you are unaffected or less affected no matter what the other person is doing?"
All anger actually is a desire to take action to compensate for an injustice you have felt, says Crowe. So the simplest solutions involve taking positive action. Besides saying "I'm angry about this," she recommends physically shaking your hands and arms: "You shake the anger and anxiety off of your physical body." Otherwise, she relies on asking herself or the offending person: "Tell me what I can do."
Crowe recalls a client who worked with a man she categorizes as "a hostile ape." He was rude, angry, aggressive and impatient--and never failed to make her angry. "Every time he walked into her office, she would fold her arms, look down and wait impatiently for the interaction to end," she says of the emotional rut the woman had dug for herself. Realizing the office oaf wouldn't change himself, the woman altered their equation. Next time, instead of folding her arms and looking down, she stood up straight, looked directly at him, and asked "How can I help you today?"
"The man was flabbergasted," says Crowe. "He has been more open and patient with her ever since. It is almost like our interactions are like a Ping-Pong game. Depending on how we hit the ball, it will be received and returned to us in a like manner.
"The most dangerous problem is getting stuck. When people 'go postal,' it is because they can't see any alternative, any way to take action."
Crowe believes how people handle anger ultimately comes down to how they view the world. "The belief system I hold is that everything that happens to me happens for some higher learning." She gives an example: "If the guy in my office is a real jerk, it means I am being tested to see what my reaction will be. If I hold that vision, everything comes out more positive."
When Crowe arrived at the auto dealership that evening, she still had a few choice words to express. "But when I got there," she says, "the guy who was helping me had this huge smile on his face." She turned the angry moment into a learning experience: "After interacting with him, I decided I wanted to adopt his reality instead of being upset."