What the Buddha Taught About Restraining and Dealing with Anger

Buddhist psychology identifies anger as one of the six root kleshas, detrimental emotional states that can cloud the mind, lead us to “unwholesome” actions, and cause our suffering.

Chapter XVII of the Dhammapada (ref. Max Muller’s Wisdom of the Buddha) compiles the teachings of the Buddha and his monastic community on the topic of restraining and dealing with anger:

  • “He who holds back rising anger like a rolling chariot, him I call a real driver; other people are but holding the reins.” (Verse 222)
  • “Beware of bodily anger, and control thy body! Leave the sins of the body, and with thy body practise virtue!” (Verse 231)
  • “Beware of the anger of the tongue, and control thy tongue! Leave the sins of the tongue, and practise virtue with thy tongue!” (Verse 232)
  • “Beware of the anger of the mind, and control thy mind! Leave the sins of the mind, and practise virtue with thy mind!” (Verse 233)
  • “The wise who control their body, who control their tongue, the wise who control their mind, are indeed well controlled.” (Verse 234)

As I’ve mentioned before, you will be at a marked disadvantage in life if you’re unable to perceive, endure, and manage negative emotions. And anger is the hardest of the negative emotions to subdue.

What the Buddha Taught About Restraining and Dealing with Anger

Investigating the nature of anger is important not only because it is such a destructive emotion, but also because anger often sums up many other self-judgments—sadness, powerlessness, fear, regret—that are entwined into it.

The Zen priest Jules Shuzen Harris advices approaching feelings of anger with awareness and mindfulness in his insightful article on “Uprooting the Seeds of Anger” in the Summer 2012 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review:

We must remember that we create our own anger. No one makes it for us. If we move from a particular event directly to our reaction, we are skipping a crucial awareness, a higher perspective on our own reactivity. What is that middle step, that deeper awareness? It is mindfulness about our own beliefs, our attitude, our understanding or lack of understanding about what has really happened. We notice that a given situation reliably provokes our anger, and yet somebody else can be exposed to the very same situation and not react angrily. Why is that? No one can tell us: we each have to find the answer ourselves, and to do that, we need to give ourselves the space to reflect mindfully.

We’re going to keep getting angry. It’s going to come up. It has come up in our lives before, and it will come up again. This practice is about becoming more mindful, becoming aware of how we are getting stuck. With care and work, we find ways to get unstuck. But we also know that the moment we get unstuck, we’re going to get stuck again. That’s why it is called practice—we never arrive. So when you find yourself upset or angry, use the moment as a part of your practice, as an opportunity to notice and uproot the seeds of anger and move into the heart of genuine compassion.

And as stated by the Chinese Sutra of Forty-two Chapters,

For those with no anger,
how can anger arise?
When you practice deep looking and master yourself,
you dwell in peace, freedom, and safety.
The one who offends another
after being offended by him,
harms himself and harms the other.
When you feel hurt
but do not hurt the other,
you are truly victorious.
Your practice and your victory benefit both of you.
When you understand the roots of anger in yourself and in the other,
your mind will enjoy true peace, joy, and lightness.
You become the doctor who heals himself and heals the other.
If you don’t understand,
you will think not getting angry to be the act of a fool.

Fight Ignorance, Not Each Other

Demonization in the Era of Hyper-polarization and Hyper-politicization

We live in a era of hyper-polarization and hyper-politicization. Studies suggest that we Americans have mostly devolved to two political groups that fervently believe that all wisdom resides in their particular standpoints and therefore care less and less to empathize with the other side.

People loathe the “other” ideological group with such visceral obsession that their hate pollutes their minds. Thanks partly to social media, self-organized tribes are isolating themselves into geographic, religious, ideological, educational, ethnic, and media bubbles of like-minded crusaders.

As I wrote previously, studies have shown that hanging around a group of likeminded folks can make people even more scornful of differing viewpoints, than they are as individuals. They demonize anyone who disagrees with them. They neither account for the case against their positions, nor find middle ground.

In the wake of the 2011 Tucson shooting (where perpetrator Jared Loughner shot and killed six individuals, and injured 14 others at a political gathering,) meditation teacher James Baraz of wrote a Huffington Post essay underscoring the ignorance that brings about the aforesaid demonization:

The real villain is in this story is not Jared Loughner. It’s not the media. And it’s not the gun rights advocates. The real villain is ignorance. Because of ignorance, people project their fear and turn those who are different into enemies—both in their minds and in actuality. Once you demonize the “other” they become less than human and you can inflict pain on them without guilt or shame.

Don’t Lead a Dysfunctional Team

The difference between functional and dysfunctional teams often boils down to effective team leadership. If you’ve been asked to lead a team, you’ll get more from your team members if you know what’s expected of the team, and manage your roles and responsibilities.

  1. Define the charter. Find out what your customers want. Find out how much latitude your team has—decision-making, reporting procedure, access to resources and information. Make sure there’s organizational support for these matters.
  2. Build on strengths. If team members are selected for you, determine what each person can contribute to the team’s effort. Ask members to identify their strengths.
  3. Set ground rules. Discuss how the team will operate. Be clear about performance expectations. If necessary, write down the rules agreed upon by team members.
  4. Develop a mission and goals. Get your team talking about what needs to get done, by whom, and when.
  5. Group Polarization: Why Like-Mindedness Is Dangerous “Herd the sheep.” Part of your job is to be a sheepdog. Keep people together and herd them toward goals.
  6. Break up conflicts. Disagreements are fine, even healthy, but outright hostility or anger is counterproductive. Stop the discussion, clarify positions, and try to find areas of agreement.
  7. Avoid groupthink. Don’t compromise too much for the sake of consensus, harmony, and “esprit de corps.” Don’t settle on the lowest-common-denominator decision upon which everybody agrees.
  8. Build bridges. Keep your sponsor, your manager, and each team member’s boss informed of the progress of the team’s assignment.
  9. Be visible. Any crisis calls for constant, candid communication. Knowing how to step up your communications efforts to the right levels during confusion is a powerful tool in managing a crisis.
  10. Captain the ship. You’re responsible for your team’s every outcome—good or bad. You are wholly accountable for everything that happens under your authority. Never pass the blame should things go wrong.
  11. Make the work fun. Give your team lots of recognition. Celebrate the team’s accomplishments.
  12. Establish freedom and autonomy. Empower team members to innovate and make decisions. Encourage all ideas and make sure that they are respected, no matter how strange they may sound. Micromanage only when you must.
  13. Assess performance. Periodically, ask the team to rate its performance. Resolve any problems as quickly as possible.
  14. Get stuff done. Don’t lose sight of your goals and your mission. The only thing that matters is the relevant results.

Think of a Customer’s Complaint as a Gift

When managers become comfortable with the idea that complaints are gifts, they do not hesitate in responding to them.

'A Complaint Is a Gift' by Janelle Barlow (ISBN 1576755827) According to A Complaint Is a Gift: Recovering Customer Loyalty When Things Go Wrong, the idea of complaints as gifts must be reinforced at every staff meeting and training session. The company’s policies must be aligned to support this philosophy. A Complaint Is a Gift‘s authors, management consultants Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller, restate some fundamental techniques for handling complaints:

  1. Don’t get defensive. When managing complaints, managers can be their own worst enemies! Instead of taking complaints personally, managers should focus on the particulars of a problem. Then, complaints become less disruptive and constructive.
  2. Say “thank you” and explain why you appreciate the complaint. Say something about how hearing the complaint will allow you to better address the problem. You create a more powerful rapport with customers by saying “thank you” than apologizing.
  3. Apologize for the mistake and empathize when appropriate. Acknowledge the customers feelings You do not have to see eye to eye with the person to acknowledge how they are feeling. Saying “I can see you are upset,” or “I understand why this ordeal has been frustrating for you,” will go a long way toward diffusing any complainer’s anger.
  4. Listen for what the customer wants to happen next, because it’s often easy to accommodate requests, as long as they’re not totally unreasonable. Promise to do something about the problem immediately. Then do something to fix the situation.
  5. Ask for necessary information and correct the mistake promptly. Look at the problem from all perspectives and ask the customer to explain his or her expectations and the reality of what he/she experienced. Ask what it will take to meet their needs or to satisfy them. Rapid responses disclose you are serious about service recovery and customer service.
  6. Check customer satisfaction. Call your customers back to find out if they are satisfied with what you did for them.
  7. Initiate changes to prevent future mistakes, make the complaint known throughout the organization so this kind of problem can be prevented. Fix the system without rushing to blame staff or policies.

Idea for Impact: Managers who ask for complaints will find that customers express their concerns more openly and objectively. Inviting complaints reduces the likelihood a customer will be upset or emotional. It is a way to nip problems in the bud and solve problems before they can aggravate.

How to Respond to Others’ Emotional Situations

People Tap Into Their Support Systems to Gain Perspective on a Challenging Situation

When people get unhappy, they need a shoulder.

When they get vulnerable, they need a hand.

When they get upset, they need an ear.

People approach their loved ones when they get emotional and want to convey the pain they feel.

Above all, under the direct influence of their anguishes, people like to rant and rave. Once they come to terms with whatever caused their aggravations, they’re ready move on.

Contrary to normal assumption, human nature is such that people are not always looking for others’ advice. Even when patients go to a shrink, they tend to already know the answer to the question they are posing. They just want their shrink (or any interlocutor) to agree with their decision and support them whether the shrink shares their judgments or not.

How to Respond to Others' Emotional Situations

To Respond to Emotions, Stop Trying to Fix Problems and Just Listen

When a friend, coworker, or employee approaches you when he is upset, use empathic listening to understand his emotions.

The University of Florida’s Dr. Richard Rathe recommends a technique he calls BATHE (Background-Affects-Troubles-Handling-Empathy) that he says has been effective in handling conflicts with staff, family, and friends:

  • Background: Ask questions about the situation. Don’t ask for details at this time. Try to understand the different expectations and feelings at play. Steer clear of trivializing the situation.
  • Affects: Ask about how the situation affects your friend and how it makes him feel. Remember that people are often not entirely aware of their own emotions. Strong emotions often set off knee-jerk reactions that people come to regret later.
  • Troubles: Ask what agitates your friend most about the present situation. Try to explore the symptoms and causes of those emotions even as you withhold your judgment. Suppress your instinctive emotional reaction, stay open-minded and sensitive, and hear out the full message before you respond. Bear your friend’s foibles by reminding yourself that perhaps he has entirely valid reasons for feeling, acting, and speaking as he does.
  • Handling: Ask how your friend is handling the conflict or the crisis. Broach similar circumstances in the past. Skillfully ask questions that encourage him to focus on actions. Mention options he may have not yet considered. Even baby steps can strengthen your friend’s sense of self-worth and turn out positive emotions.
  • Empathy: Express sympathy, understanding, and support for your friend’s position and sentiments. Tell him you understand what happened to him from his perspective, even if you differ with his response. Identify specific sentiments (e.g. anger, embarrassment, or regret) to communicate to him that you understand how he feels. Tell him that his feelings are completely reasonable—which they are, given his point of view. Reinforce your friend’s plan to deal with the problem.

Idea for Impact: Empathy makes you easy to confide in. The feeling of being listened to without judgment compels your friend to respond with patience. Only then can he open up his mind to being influenced by you.

Stop Trying to Prove Yourself to the World

When you assess your life and become conscious of how you look at the world and how you look at yourself, you may realize that you often obsess about what people think of you.

'Seeds for a Boundless Life' by Blanche Hartman (ISBN 1611802849) In the delightful and poignant Seeds for a Boundless Life: Zen Teachings from the Heart, the Soto Zen teacher Blanche Hartman (1926–2016) explains that freeing yourself from being controlled by what other people think is the key to living life with a composed and peaceful mind:

I noticed somewhere in the early years of my [Buddhist] practice that my big effort was to get people to love me. I really wanted people to love me. And what I discovered in practice was that it really didn’t matter what other people thought. The one whose love and appreciation and approval I wanted was right here, and I wouldn’t give it to myself. What I found out was that no matter how much approval I got from outside, it didn’t count if I was not able to appreciate myself and be willing to be who I am. Whatever this is, it has becomes this over an accumulation of the actions of body, speech, and mind of more than eighty years. It’s my creation in a way. And yet it’s really helpful if I acknowledge it and befriend this being that I have created with the help of all the beings with whom I have shared my life.

Be Your Own Person

Stop trying to prove yourself to the naysayers and critics. Avoid assertive behavior and insubordinate conduct that intends to prove you’re worthy to others. You don’t need others’ approval.

Idea for Impact: Don’t fritter away precious time and energy seeking to prove your worth and worrying that you could fall short. The right people will love you for who you are.

Office Chitchat Isn’t Necessarily a Time Waster

When Employees are Happy, They Work Better

Office Chitchat Isn't Necessarily a Time Waster Managers who disapprove and clamp down on impromptu encounters that people have at their desks, in the hallways, by the elevators, in the lunchroom, or by the water coolers can create a work environment that’s unpleasant, even repressive.

If truth be told, what may seems like idle chitchat actually forges links between people and encourages a culture of openness that can help people work toward common goals.

Informal, spontaneous conversations between coworkers, especially between colleagues from different departments, will not only give people a chance to know each other better, but also create a feeling of collaboration. The camaraderie that grows from employees sharing a little fun can go a long way toward fostering a feeling that they’re part of a team.

Chitchat is About Building Relationships

During those inconsequential “idle moments” of office conversations, important information is being exchanged. You’re learning much about others and offering details about yourself.

  • Whom can you trust? Who possesses strong convictions? Who has a broad experience or in-depth knowledge?
  • Who is a stimulating brainstormer? Who has the wherewithal for workarounds to problems?
  • Who can open doors for you? Who can facilitate otherwise hard-to-get connections?
  • Who can influence the leadership decisions? Who can evangelize your project to the right people? Who can bend the leadership’s ear? Who can be your cheerleader?
  • Who can lend a consoling ear in moments of problems or crisis? Who sees the bright side of problems?
  • Who can help you with questions on software, help you decide health insurance plans, or fix the printer?

Casual Conversations are About Networking and Leaving Positive Impressions

Small talk and casual conversations are an important element of collegial workplaces. People like talking about themselves, so if you can remember a nugget of information from the last time you met (kids, pets, and travels are great topics) bring it up.

To be respectful of others’ time, remember this two-minute rule: unless you’re discussing a topic of some importance, try to wrap up your small talk and casual chats in two minutes. Pay attention to your listener’s non-verbal cues and adjust the extent of your conversation. You can always arrange to convene later, “I’d love to hear more, but I’m in a rush. Why don’t I call you afterhours? How about we meet up for coffee this weekend?”

Nevertheless, don’t let chatter go too far and negatively impact your productivity or those of others. If you’re considered as too chatty, others may to resent bumping into you. If you tend to talk too much about yourself, you’ll be judged self-absorbed and interpersonally clueless.

Likeability is Important in How You Will Be Perceived in Your Workplace

Likeability is Important in How You Will Be Perceived in Your Workplace Cordiality is a significant persuasive technique because people are much more likely to feel warmly towards those they like. They’ll do things for you if you earnestly show interest in them, chat with them on a regular basis, and make them feel good about themselves.

Colleagues who don’t chat can come across as arrogant or abrupt. Highly competent but unpopular professionals don’t thrive as well as their moderately competent, but popular counterparts.

Small Talk is a Critical Tool for Creating a Personal Bond with Your Coworkers

Even though an office is primarily a place of business, chatting about non-work topics and establishing rapport with coworkers is important. People who know and like each other tend to have each other’s backs and help out when necessary.

Even if, eventually, you’ll be accepted or rejected based on the more tangible aspects of your work, the fact of the matter is that these interpersonal impressions matter a great deal along the way and can even shape how people judge your more actual work.

Idea for Impact: Balance your dedication to your workload with a cooperative nature, you will gain needed allies to get things done and to help your career progression in the company.

Curry Favor with Customers?

People know there’s great fame with getting things named after them.

The Scottish-American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919) was fully mindful of this.

Carnegie started with his empire-building (read biography) by manufacturing steel rails for America’s burgeoning railroad industry. With great fanfare, he named his first steel plant after his most important customer, Edgar Thomson, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Edgar Thomson Steel Works has been in action since 1872.

Obsequious flattery is clever marketing indeed!

Presenting Facts Can Sometimes Backfire

Presenting Facts Can Sometimes Backfire People tend to have contempt for ideas that they disagree with. What’s worse is the possibility that some people, when presented with information that goes against their beliefs, may not only snub their challengers, but also double down on their original viewpoints. Cognitive psychologists call this the backfire effect.

For instance, voters have been shown to judge the political candidate they support even more favorably after the candidate is attacked by the other party. In the same way, parents opposed to vaccinations have been shown to become more convinced of their alleged apprehension that vaccination causes autism after reviewing studies showing that vaccinating their kids is the best course of action.

The backfire effect explains why, when people argue against conflicting information strongly enough, they wind up with more supportive arguments for their cause, which further aligns them with their preexisting positions.

The backfire effect is related to confirmation bias—the rampant propensity to seek, interpret, synthesize, and recall information in a way that substantiates one’s preconceptions. For instance, when people read an article that describes both sides of an issue, they tend to select that side that they happen to agree with—thus reinforcing their viewpoints.

See also: the phenomenon of group polarization explains why people who share opinions and beliefs get together in groups, they tend to be even more persuaded in their beliefs.

Why They Don’t Understand You and What to Do About It

Have you ever left a conversation or a meeting and felt that you weren’t heard—let alone understood? Do you tend to get blank stares from people as you are talking with them, as if you are speaking a foreign tongue?

Here are things you can do to help people understand you.

  1. Get your thinking straight. Cluttered thoughts nurture confusing communication. Think of the best ways to convey your message to the audience that you’re targeting. Prepare. Organize. Practice.
  2. How to Speak Confidently in Meetings Keep your messages succinct and simple. The more words you use to make a point, the more confusing the point can be. Get to the point quickly and don’t beat around the bush. Be concise without being boring or terse.
  3. Keep your communications focused. Prepare your message. Stick to your objective. Get rid of anything unrelated or irrelevant to your objective.
  4. Master the vernacular. Speak the same language of the industry, company, and team. Insider-lingo not only promotes a sense of belonging to the “crowd,” but can also help to get your concepts across more clearly.
  5. Speak their language. If you have a chance, listen to comparable meetings and observe how folks communicate. What are their hot buttons? What interests them? What are their objectives? What is their line of questioning? Try to adapt your arguments by aligning up your points with things they care about: their hot buttons and their pet topics.
  6. Customize the communication. Some people are visual learners, others respond best to arguments in long-winded, written form. Some like analogies better; others prefer concepts discussed directly. Determine how the people you are communicating with operate—you may have to present your data and information in a variety of formats. Other times people like to hear stories, so tell your information in a story format. Bring some props, prototypes, and samples.
  7. Rally some supporters. Determine the key opinion leaders and speak to them individually before the meeting. They will also let you know how they feel about it, which could influence others in the meeting. You can count on their support to your arguments and avoid surprise reactions and disagreements. If you get their support, chances are that you will get the support of others. (The management consulting firm McKinsey calls this “pre-wiring.”)
  8. Don’t broach details straight away. Avoid being too technical or precise unless the audience is geared up. Start with broad strokes to see if your audience understands you. Only when they are following you, introduce the complexity and detail.
  9. Portray yourself as a knowledgeable professional. Avoid stating fact with qualifiers like “I think” or “in my opinion.” Avoid slang and filler words such as “uh,” “uhm,” “like,” and “you know”—excessive use of filler words tends to make you seem mumbling, hesitant, and unintelligent.
  10. Be sincere. If you don’t know something, say so. Avoid losing your credibility or bringing into question your insight, experience, or impetus. If cannot answer a question you’ve been asked, don’t fake the funk. Say, “I don’t know the answer at this time, but I will get back to you.”
  11. 'Speak Like a CEO' by Suzanne Bates (ISBN 1260117480) Disagree tactfully. Think before you voice your own opinion: Will you be able to justify it? When preparing for the conversation, list all your arguments and ask a likely challenger to lay out the possible counterarguments. Try to incorporate those contentions into your arguments.
  12. Be confident but don’t brag. Frequently, when people try to be confident and persuasive in a presentation, they end up being boastful. While there’s nothing wrong with demonstrating a bit of complacency, it’s best to cast that boast in terms a benefit to the customer. For instance, saying just “I have 10 years of experience in this field” is a boast. In its place, say, “I have 10 years of experience in this field. I can assure you that any problems that arise will be handled promptly and competently.”
  13. Don’t try excessively to get them to see your point of view. Don’t persist too hard to get them to understand you. Know how hard to push your point and when to back off.
  14. Get feedback. After the meeting, don’t hesitate to ask a sympathetic member of the audience how you did. What did the audience get from the conversation? How could they better understand you in the future? By asking these questions, you will have a much better chance of connecting with them in the future. Plus, by asking the questions you have shown to them that you care about them understanding. And that helps build the relationships.

Idea for Impact: Good speaking isn’t about demonstrating your vocabulary, intelligence, or talent. It’s about communicating your message effectively.