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Anger Management in the Training Room

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To coincide with National Anger Awareness Week, from 1-7 December, Dawn Smith looks at the rise of anger management training and how organisations are using it to target hot-headed behaviour in employees. She also gleans some tips on how to keep your cool in the training room, and how to deal with an angry delegate.


The demand for anger management training has been steadily increasing since around 2001, says Robert Agar-Hutton of Protectics Limited, specialists in the management of anger, aggression, violence and stress. “It seems to be an ongoing issue in many sectors,” he says.

The same phenomenon has been noted by Michael Miles, managing director of Elite Training European Ltd, who believes that a key reason for the increase in angry behaviour is the rapid changes that have taken place in our society. “Our expectations have changed,” he says. “We expect everything to happen faster and get frustrated if they don’t. For example, if I go into a bank in Spain I know it will take half an hour, so there is no point in getting upset. But if I waited half an hour in a UK bank I would get frustrated. We now expect an almost instant response with email, where we used to wait 10 days for a reply to a letter. If we are not getting results fast enough, we get angry.”

Training to tackle anger at work
Although the classic signs of anger include rage, outbursts of temper and violence, anger can exhibit itself in a variety of ways, according to Protectics Limited, including bad manners, shouting, swearing, unhappiness, shame and uncontrolled crying.

Since none of that behaviour is appropriate for the workplace, it’s no surprise that many delegates on anger management courses are sent there by their employees after their anger has caused problems. “Often the company sending the person has had to discipline them over their anger,” says Michael Miles.

Most companies who phone the British Association of Anger Management (BAAM) also want to send an employee on an anger management programme, says Mike Fisher, BAAM director. But many organisations are not fully grasping the nettle of anger in the workplace, he adds.

“There are still a lot of taboos related to the term anger management,” he says. “Most companies prefer terms such as conflict management, conflict solutions, mediation.” He believes this approach is unhelpful, and it stems from the fact that organisations - like parents - “don’t want to be seen as the problem”. They project their problems onto employees rather than tackling anger management in an organisational setting.

“Anger is like a hot potato,” says Fisher. “No-one wants to pick it up and agree that all problems in any setting stem from fear and anger and if we can deal with these issues revenge cycles will disappear from an organisational setting, because people will be able talk about issues rather than stuffing them and either becoming aggressive or passive aggressive elsewhere… By watering down the language, we water down the truth and by doing that we become complicit in power struggles or rank and order in the workplace.”

Courses and strategies
Training that teaches people intellectually to understand why they get angry and what they should do to stop themselves doesn’t generally work as well as an approach where it is “the person themselves who works out what the causes are in their specific case and what prevention and coping strategies work best for them,” says Robert Agar-Hutton. For this reason coaching - on an individual or group basis - can often be effective, he says.

Elite Training takes a similar approach, says Michael Miles. “Our training is more like coaching. We ask people to fill out a diary before the training session noting down where and when they get angry, the causes, the benefits to them and the disadvantages,” he says. “We get them to identify the causes before we give them advice to help them control their anger.”

BAAM also advises keeping and anger journal. “This is a powerful way of not internalising your anger,” says BAAM. “Record how you feel about what happened, and your views on a problem. By using your journal it will bring clarity to the situation.”

As well as advice, BAAM provides a variety of anger management courses, including one-to-one coaching with Mike Fisher, bespoke programmes for organisations, and public courses designed to help people with a range of anger problems, from expressing anger through violence, to bottling it all up and not expressing it at all.

Education for the nation
During National Anger Awareness Week, 1-7 December, BAAM is presenting its “Keep your Cool Kit”, which contains anger management activities, tips on handling anger appropriately and calming strategies. It is designed to be used by individuals, organisations, families, schools and other groups.

In particular, BAAM is encouraging organisations to hold their own “Rage Gauge” sessions during the week. Rage Gauge is “a four-stage process for highlighting anger issues and exploring ways to express anger and deal with it in appropriate, healthy and positive ways,” says BAAM. Details can be found in the Keep your Cool Kit, downloadable from the BAAM website.

Managing anger in the training room
“As a trainer, I have got angry on occasion,” admits Robert Agar-Hutton. “Things that annoy me are poor organisation by a client company where you turn up to find that despite sending pre-course packs and liaising with managers, staff are completely in the dark as to what the training is about. I have also got angry with delegates who have deliberately tried to sabotage a session.”

His advice is: “If you do get angry, the best thing to do is to find a way of expressing it that is (reasonably) acceptable.” He describes a situation where a delegate was “a pain” all morning, and admitted privately at lunchtime that he was leaving the organisation. “When he started being a pain in the afternoon I simply said to him, in front of the other delegates, ‘You have made your choice, you are leaving the organisation, how about you let the other people here benefit from this course’. He was effectively then silenced by peer pressure… Throwing him out of a window or screaming or breaking down in tears would all have reduced my anger but probably been less appropriate.”

Mike Fisher advises: “Notice how you react to delegates in the room, when you find yourself reacting to them they have become a mirror for your shadow projections – counter transferences. I always suggest that you name them as your shadow…it becomes easier to deal with.”

He adds that you need to learn how to manage your own anger before you can manage someone else’s. “This way you model healthy anger, often it helps to say you feel angry and share how come and what you need from the delegate…there is often a lot of anger that gets projected in these situations.”

When it comes to dealing with anger in others, Elite Training recommends the NLP approach of ‘matching and leading’ the angry person. “When someone gets angry their breathing and speech become quicker and louder,” he says. “The trainer would do the same without making the situation worse. They would talk more quickly and loudly, and say ‘I can see you’re angry’, in a sympathetic, empathetic way. They would enter the world of the angry person, and once there, talk to them adult-to-adult and suggest taking some time out to discuss things.”

Tips for keeping cool
BAAM suggests a number of strategies for managing anger, including the following quick tips for keeping cool in any situation - inside or outside the training room.

  • Breathe deeply, count to seven on the in breath and 11 on the out breath.

  • Remind yourself to "Keep your cool".

  • Remove yourself from the situation physically and emotionally if possible.

  • Count backwards from 20.

  • Go for a walk, ideally in a park or open space.

  • Visualise a calm tranquil place, e.g. sea or mountains, for about two minutes.

  • Let go of any expectations you might have.

  • Remember life is unfair!

  • Contacts

    British Association of Anger Management (BAAM)
    Email: info@angermanage.co.uk
    Tel: 0845 1300 286
    Web: www.angermanage.co.uk

    Elite Training European Ltd
    Email: courses@elitetraining.co.uk
    Tel: 01473 610320
    Web: www.elitetraining.co.uk

    Protectics Limited
    E-mail: info@protectics.co.uk
    Tel: 0560 125 7151
    Web: www.protectics.co.uk / www.angercoach.co.uk

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