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Why can’t we all just get along? A Psychological Perspective on Conflict and Anger Management Camillo Zacchia, Ph.D. Psychologist Senior advisor - Mental.

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Presentation on theme: "Why can’t we all just get along? A Psychological Perspective on Conflict and Anger Management Camillo Zacchia, Ph.D. Psychologist Senior advisor - Mental."— Presentation transcript:

1 Why can’t we all just get along? A Psychological Perspective on Conflict and Anger Management Camillo Zacchia, Ph.D. Psychologist Senior advisor - Mental Health Education Office Douglas Institute April 15, 2013

2 On today’s agenda The causes of anger and frustration The main culprits of conflict – Mistrust – Obsessiveness – Groupthink What are my options when I am unhappy? Understand factors that lead to escalation in arguments and how to target conflictual situations Understand assertiveness at all the levels (how and when it can be appropriate, and how and when it can be destructive)

3 Causes of anger and frustration Thwarted expectations Perceived injustices

4 Thwarted Expectations “Your car will be ready at noon” – When expectations are not met, it is normal to be upset. We must first ask if: Are our expectations realistic? (Too high? Too low?) Did we communicate them accurately? Did we take unforeseen circumstances into account?

5 Perceived injustices “How come the social workers get to go to conferences and we don’t?” – It is normal to be upset when you are treated unfairly. But… Are your perceptions accurate? Are you missing information? Are they missing information? “Can I have a paper cup for my medication, please?”

6 Anger: a normal reaction Since anger is often a normal reaction to our general perception of events and our expectations, it is far easier to manage anger by questioning why we are angry rather than trying to suppress our feelings We retain far more credibility and influence when we do not overreact. This why we must first question our anger before reacting to it Any anger that remains can (must) then be addressed.

7 Three culprits of conflict Mistrust Obsessiveness Groupthink

8 Mistrust A self-fulfilling prophecy Unjustified mistrust can lead to justified mistrust. – Mistrust can lead to a pattern of behaviour that will inevitably lead to conflict and further mistrust Transparency is the best policy – Decisions and changes are resisted less when people understand the reasoning behind them Mistrust may have to be dealt with directly – Benefit of the doubt is necessary for both parties. It may have to be addressed.

9 Obsessiveness A form of perfectionism – “There is a right way to do things” This personality trait tends to be rigid and controlling. It leads to a focus on specific details, often to the detriment of the larger goal. It will inevitably lead to conflict (even if others do 95% of things exactly as you would, the remaining 5% becomes the source of conflict in the absence of compromise and flexibility)

10 “If you want it done right, do it yourself” If you want it done YOUR way, do it yourself. – But first, make sure it IS the right way and the ONLY right way. If you want the IMPORTANT things done right, then do ONLY the important things yourself.

11 Groupthink Humans have a natural tendency to form groups and seek out strength in numbers This is necessary in many situations where there is a strong external threat: – (wars, oppressive economic conditions, attacks by predators, etc.) This is dangerous in many others: – Leads to mistrust, dehumanizing those who don’t belong, suppression of individual thought, etc.

12 This sucks! What are my options? In any unsatisfying situation, the options are limited to three (maximum). Each must be considered and a decision must be made at some point. Otherwise, conflicts will linger and fester.

13 Option 1: Change it “My salary is pitiful! Not only that, my husband won’t stop drinking.” – Address concerns directly but at an appropriate time – Prioritize requests (choose your battles) – Clarify expectations – Consider all options and seek partial solutions – Take a break. Nobody’s home, try again at a later date when events may have evolved

14 Option 2: Accept it “What are you gonna do? That’s life.” – If option 1 is out for now (and for a long while at least), admit it – Analyze pros and cons – If the pros outweigh the cons, or that no further improvement can be expected, accept it. – Really, Really, accept it. Don’t just try not to argue, but truly accept it and let it go.

15 Option 3: Reject it “I’ve gotta do something!” – If option 1 is out, (no further improvement can be expected), admit it – Analyze pros and cons – If after analysis, the cons outweigh the pros and you can’t accept it, admit option 2 is also out – Decide to change your situation in a more profound way by moving away from it. This requires an analysis of factors that stop you (fear, lack of preparation, etc.) You will need to build an escape hatch

16 Whatever you do, pick one People who are continually unhappy bounce around from option to option in a constant effort to find a solution. There is no fourth option!

17 The right target: What to address in a conflict and when “I don’t like my broccoli this way.” What is the issue? The problem : Broccoli The person : He is too sensitive / She is too picky The relationship : They are just not compatible

18 The Problem Easy to deal with (usually) – Discussion – Compromise This is always best done in the absence of negative emotions

19 The Person Do not escalate to the level of personal attacks when resolving a specific issue. This causes further damage that cannot always be undone. Do not get drawn into it when the other person does it But what if the person IS the problem? – The other person’s attitude may have to be addressed. Do so at the right time (i.e., not while reacting emotionally to an event)

20 The Relationship Do not question the relationship (employment, marriage, etc.) unless all else has been considered. Escalating to this level prematurely causes further damage that cannot always be undone. If it is inevitable, you will know it and feel it when you are calm and serene, not just when angry (anger never lasts).

21 “Take this pen and shove it!” How and when to assert oneself Assertion is necessary in order to resolve conflicts Assertion can become overly aggressive and cause even more conflicts when not done in an appropriate fashion. Analyzing a conflict will help us target our efforts to be assertive in a more effective manner

22 Level 1: Let it go Minor irritants: Living in a tolerant world – If we are too picky and insist on dealing with all minor irritants, we will rapidly lose credibility. Credibility ammunition is limited! – How much slack do you want? Cut others the same amount. – Pick your battles and let the small stuff go – Really, really let it go!

23 Level 2: Deal with it…in time Small irritants that you can’t let go of. – Suppressing yourself will only lead to an inevitable blow up. You will be seen as the problem. – When you have determined that a problem is getting to you, look for an opportunity to present itself Wait for a door to open Approach person when receptive Do it with sincerity and humour

24 Level 3: Deal with it today…when calmer When an issue is important and must be addressed quickly – Buy as much time as possible (“Do you have some time to meet me this afternoon?” This will give you time to calm down It will often help the other person calm down as well Take the time to think about the message and how to best express it – Address their concerns. (show others and yourself that you understand their concerns)

25 Level 4: Deal with it now and review it later Occasionally an issue is so important it must be dealt with immediately – Recognize that emotions (yours and theirs) will interfere with the message you are trying to portray – Do a post-mortem when you have both had time to calm down. – Make sure that the essential message is understood

26 Level 5: Lose it! It happens… but get your message across when the time is right When you get angry for a justified reason (remember to question the anger causes) and blow it, try to preserve the message. Go back and deal with it when the dust has settled. Do not just forget it. – You have the gift of speech. Use it. Apologize for having reacted with anger Acknowledge your contribution to the argument Acknowledge the other person’s perspective Give your message: Make sure you explain what the problem was and why you were upset. This is your chance to address problems in a more appropriate fashion

27 One final thought “You just don’t understand!” “Oh! I DO understand, I just don’t AGREE.” Sometimes a disagreement is only a disagreement

28 Mental Health Info: Blog: Questions ? Website:

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