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Monthly Archives: July 2014

When You Express Anger, Are You More Often Righteously Indignant or Self-Righteously Indignant?

Un-Game Principle: The learned ability to make distinctions is a must to strengthen your personal power.

5321ef97c9275Someone once asked me: “Ingrid, do you ever do anything unintentional?” I treated the question literally and not for the criticism I suspected the question contained.

The answer, of course, is ‘yes.’ I love and value spontaneity. I love and value unself-conscious expression, including the spontaneity of responding authentically when I’m angry. And I like and trust others who are willing to play with their fire.

It wasn’t always that way. When I was in my twenties more than one person accused me of “being a fight looking for a place to happen.” So how did I get from there to here where, more often than not, I trust my anger and the way I express it?

Well, it took a conscious decision to learn. And that meant that during that learning process I was going to be unabashedly intentional. I think I would get a lot of agreement from experts in human development and learning that in skill-building we move from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence, and from there to being a beginner, minimally competent, competent, a virtuoso, and finally a master.  Research indicates that to get to mastery we need 10,000 hours of practice that includes feedback, re-practice, feedback, etc.

How many people do you know who are willing to even begin that journey? Business as usual would have us avoid our anger. Practicing to get beyond incompetence? Ha!

Would it be alright with you if this were easier? Yes, it takes courage to practice and accept the feedback you get, but it’s worth it. Many of you no doubt are well along on the journey toward mastery. You’ll agree that being able to make distinctions and honing the skill to be guided by them is valuable (rigorous self-observation is required, so consider an outside perspective like a coach if you are willing to be supported.)

Here then are two valuable-to-live distinctions. Self-righteous indignation and Righteous indignation.

Self-righteous indignation comes when your emotional brain is triggered. Your amygdala has been hijacked, so-to-speak, and you’re literally out of your mind—out of your rational mind, that is. When you express it, no good comes of it. A friend of mine aptly described it as “barfing all over” the target of your anger/indignation. It comes from wanting to self-protect, to get what’s yours, e.g. fairness, justice, and to keep the status quo, in most cases the self-image that is at odds with what the other said. It’s about taking a position and defending that position.  In other words, it’s all about YOU! SELF-righteous indignation.

And it doesn’t satisfy. Is it any wonder that people avoid expressing their anger?

Expressed righteous-indignation comes from a very different place. It comes from when what I sometimes call Heart-Mind is in charge. It’s the ‘you’ that is not ruled by circumstances, feelings and body sensations, and self-limiting thoughts, beliefs, conclusions. It’s the courageous, open, present, receptive, vulnerable, compassionate, kind, gentle, truthful….You get the drift. It’s your best ‘you’. And yes, not only do you have that ‘you’, you can learn to choose to come from that ‘you’. It’s a matter of making distinctions. But I digress.

As I asserted, expressed righteous indignation comes from your best ‘you’. It serves to preserve and enrich the relationship (Yes, I know. You probably never heard anyone say “I confronted her because I wanted to protect the relationship!”). It’s not just about the ‘you’ that’s a feather in the wind of your raging emotions..  Its message is: “You may go no further without hearing what I have to say. Here’s how what you said landed. It is unacceptable. I hereby put you on notice that if you do this again, I will offer you some more feedback on why this is unacceptable.” Of course you don’t use those words, but it is the message of righteous indignation. It is not a position. It’s a stand that comes straight from your own Heart-Mind. Joseph Campbell referred to this as your hero’s heart.

A stand is always a contribution. It is not a position to defend. It includes others’ positions. It doesn’t need to make the other change or even do anything differently.  It doesn’t attack the other even as you are being attacked. It’s simply informing the other where you stand and what you will do in a future similar situation. The other is put in a learning position that, granted, they can’t capitalize on while still angry, but which they have the space to reflect on later, if they so choose and are able. It gives the other breathing room.

Of course self-righteously angry people are not used to a righteously indignant response. They will come back at you harder. They might call you aggressive or explosive (projection of how they’re approaching you!). That is designed to derail you and get you on the same self-righteous plane on which they find themselves. That would be so much more comfortable for your self-righteously indignant friend or husband, wife, lover, boss, parent, child, etc.

People who know how to be righteously indignant, however, won’t lose their focus. They continue to be guided by love and contribution. They don’t expect an apology or anything else from the one who’s “out of their mind.” They may even be generous, kind, and compassionate and say to the other: “Let’s just start all over.”  Remember that they have communicated the only message that was important to them (see italicized message comment above). They are ready to move on without lingering resentment. They are satisfied that they have acted in alignment with who they really are in the Heart-Mind…their hero’s heart.

Are you up for the incredible, enriching, and powerful foray into the expanse of your personal power through making—and living—powerful distinctions? In the next post we may explore the distinctions ‘avoiding’ conflict vs. ‘averting’ a conflict. I invite you to comment on your experience of reading this post.

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The Un-Game , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and “will do” teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:  http://www.yourleadersedge.com, or connect with Ingrid at:  www.Twitter.com/ingrid_martine and www.facebook.com/coachmartine.

Courageous Compassion Part 2: Standing for What’s Important to You

Un-Game Principle: Being willing to be courageous and compassionate can be a conscious choice even under circumstances people generally experience as very difficult.

CourageIn Part 1 of Courageous Compassion, courageous compassion was defined as ‘the ability to stay in caring relationship while simultaneously taking a stand that another’s behavior is unacceptable and you will confront it’. It focused on relationships where the parties would describe themselves as having equal positional power: colleagues, friends, husbands and wives, partners. There are also examples of what a courageously compassionate interchange might sound like. But what about courageous compassion in so called unequal relationships like you and your boss, for example? Or a parent or teacher and a child? What might a courageously compassionate interchange be like when there’s the experience of conflict for one or the other party?

It’s counterintuitive to imagine that both parties to a conflict actually have the same responsibility, namely to take care of the other without losing sight of taking care of oneself. It’s easy to envision a good boss taking the leading caretaker role. After all, he or she has more positional power, and the stronger is supposed to protect the weaker. In the office scenario, the boss surely wants to keep the good employee. Turnover is expensive. Besides, he might really like and value Melinda even if she “winged” the meeting whose success hinged on her report.

Let’s say Gene (the boss) knows that his positional power gives him some perceived advantage in the interaction. He has the power to fire or make Melinda’s life miserable. Fear of loss of job might make Melinda compliant. But Gene is wise enough to know that what seems like an advantage can hide a potent disadvantage. Compliant people aren’t the best employees. He wants creative, motivated employees. This is an important value for him.

Gene’s care-taking will include a conscious decision to minimize the impact of his positional power and maximize the use of his personal power to drive the interaction. In personal power we all have the opportunity to be equal, be it in incompetence, minimal competence, or even virtuosity. The playing field is level, and Gene wants to play on that field as much as possible. On the field of positional power, a disadvantage is that his position dramatically enhances the chances of Melinda going “out of her rational mind” and into ancient instinctual survival responses of fighting, fleeing, or freezing.

Not good for business. Not good for a well-lived life outside the business context.

Gene is smart to NOT use the greater power of his position. It’s one of those examples that challenges the stubborn assumption “More is better.” In fact more is sometimes less, and most often, more is simply more and nothing else!

Let’s assume he’s stated his assessment of the quality of Melinda’s report. Here’s what he didn’t say. “This report is not of the quality I’ve come to expect of you. You were not prepared. If it happens again, I’ll have to take some drastic measures. We can’t afford mediocrity. It’s not who we are.” (The veiled threat and the lecture are a reminder of who’s got the power. As if Melinda needs a reminder!)

Gene, wanting to keep Melinda engaged and wanting to minimize defensiveness, could use his personal power and begin the conversation like this: “Let’s evaluate how the meeting went. How satisfied are you that we accomplished our objectives?” Then Gene and Melinda enumerate the objectives. “What was outstanding? Satisfactory? Missing?” A discussion and learning conversation ensue where Gene doesn’t censor his own input. “I had expected X. It looks like you didn’t have that expectation since it was absent from the report. Help me understand. Tell me your thought process. ” More conversation ensues. “What will you do and by when to provide X?” Gene and Melinda settle on an action that satisfies them both. Gene could also make a demand. But he can soften it by simply asking, “Will that work or do you need to make me a counter offer?” (if a counter offer is acceptable).

The interaction between Gene and Melinda has the ingredients of a courageous compassionate conversation that moves a project along and enhances their relationship.

Let’s switch to Melinda having a problem with Gene that she wants to talk to him about (OK, she doesn’t really want to. But she’s willing because it’s occupying most of her waking hours. By now she has horrible-ized whatever Gene did, didn’t, and will do.).

For many people it is simply unimaginable to consider confronting (standing in front of) a boss precisely because of the positional power difference. They can’t imagine what courageous compassion for him, her, and self would look like.

But it’s possible even under circumstances perceived as difficult.

First of all, Melinda would do well to remind herself that in the domain of personal power she and Gene are equals. As a matter of fact, it’s precisely confrontations like the one she’s dreading yet contemplating that will give her the practice she needs to increase her personal power. To acknowledge that and then to actually proceed are courageous acts.

Secondly, Melinda needs to consciously choose to be courageous. The act of conscious choosing comes from the best in ourselves, not from an emotion like fear. It is powerful and proactive in any interaction, but especially one in which the “confrontee” has more positional power than the “confronter.” Melinda needs to act on what she intellectually knows: She is not her fears. She has fears. And she can be bigger than her fears!

And finally Melinda can consciously choose to be compassionate with Gene, remembering that in the domain of personal power she and Gene are simply two human beings doing the best they can with the light by which they are able to see. Gene, too, is no stranger to the fight, flight, freeze response defending against imaginary tigers and lions, his greater positional power being no help to him at all.

And so Melinda decides to talk to Gene who calls her frequently on weekends for non-emergency situations. She privately assesses that Gene thinks he should have unlimited access to her at any time.

Here’s what Melinda doesn’t do: she doesn’t sigh and silently acquiesce to all of Gene’s requests. She might begin by noticing her assessment. It’s only an assessment. There seems to be good evidence, but can she really be sure it’s what Gene really expects? Is he putting out a demand or just a request that she can accept or decline?

Melinda might open the conversation with “Gene, how important is this? This is my family time. Can we explore on Monday how I can help you accomplish X without cutting into my family time?” (Melinda is signaling she wants to help, would do so if it is really important, and intends to protect her private time).

Gene has an opportunity to see what may be a blind spot. Perhaps he does think he is entitled to Melinda’s time. Or he gets to consider just how important his request is to him. In any event, the conversation is off to a good start. The next move, if Gene sputters a version of “But, but…,” is for Melinda to hold her ground, quietly and firmly. “I’ll give you an hour (if she’s willing and able), but this has to be an exception rather than an expectation.” If Melinda can envision playing the long game, she knows it’s not sustainable to give up her private time and space. She will act with courageous compassion. Not just for Gene but for herself!

The truth is that confrontation in any relationship, be it among equals or those unequal in positional power, is risky. That’s what necessitates courage–the courage to be willing to lose something important. But the confrontation, expressed with courageous compassion also opens up the possibility to gain something profoundly important, namely to connect genuinely with another person and to experience the deep satisfaction of growing one’s personal power one interaction at a time. The ultimate prize is freedom to be what seems exceedingly difficult for most of us, namely to be ourselves! And the ability to stand for something…because if we don’t…chances are we’ll fall for anything!

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The Un-Game , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and “will do” teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:  http://www.yourleadersedge.com, or connect with Ingrid at:  www.Twitter.com/ingrid_martine and www.facebook.com/coachmartine.