So you have heard this many times before, when reporting about someone’s hostile interactions with you, you are advised not to take it personally. It’s good advice but how do you get there? As social, thinking and feeling beings, when we interact with others we come to seek feedback that mirrors our desires in the conversation. This leads to frustration when in return for our engagement in a conversation we receive hostile words and gestures.
The best way to understand this phenomenon is to visit this site and have a conversation with the Artificial Intelligence software called A.L.I.C.E. Having a conversation with the free to use A.I can be very frustrating if you came to the site with big expectations. By the third line into the conversation the A.I goes completely off topic, and then doesn’t return back to the conversation at hand. When you try to steer the conversation on a particular direction, the A.I responds to you as if this were the topic you both agreed to discuss. At times, the A.I might respond to you with provocative words like, “Whoa!” or insulting statements like, “You are an idiot.”
A similar phenomenon takes place with hostile people, you are engaged in what you determined initially to be a friendly conversation, or perhaps a routine conversation, and you are greeted with hostility. Your initially response might be confusion and anger, at which point you seek retaliation. Regardless of how you choose to respond, keep in mind that your intentions going into that conversation were never the same as the hostile person’s intentions. You intended for a peaceful conversation, and they intended for a hostile confrontation. It really isn’t personal, they were looking to have a hostile encounter with someone, anyone. So then it becomes irrational for you to take hostility personally. In some cases, the hostile person may insist that their hostility towards you is based on something about you that they find offensive. Even if the hostile person believes this, the truth is they were seeking out a hostile confrontation. It was never about you, you just happened to be someone who became available as a target. Furthermore, what keeps the hostile encounter going is your continued input. You working very hard to have a peaceful conversation, while the other person puts in half the effort into provoking you.
Understanding this phenomenon goes a long way in not taking things personal. The solution is simple, you disengage. If you are dealing with someone you have to deal with, you use verbal judo to throw them mentally off balance, state your boundaries and then disengage.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
When I was a young teen, I remember getting so frustrated with trying to solve an algebraic equation that in anger I broke my pencil. My teacher then gave me the advice to practice taking breaks from problems I couldn’t solve and coming back to them. Specifically, he shared with me to accept that I couldn’t solve the problem then take a break from the problem, and in situations where feasible, sleep on the problem.
From then on, when I couldn’t solve a math problem and I came to a place of acceptance, I found myself more at peace with the situation when I took a break from the problem. Nine out of ten times when I came back to the problem, I would have a fresh perspective on the problem leading me to solving the equation.
It is easy for us to get angry at things that don’t go our way, but even more challenging being able to admit that the anger we experience is a sign that we are experiencing a situation that calls for us to use our problem solving skills. Often times I either read or hear about people calling for others to get angry when their rights are being violated. The funny thing is, that you don’t need to get angry when your rights are being violated, it is a natural reaction. The question is what are you going to do about it?
It actually takes more courage to put aside your anger in order to access the prefrontal cortex of your brain to solve a problem. If you find yourself getting angry and perhaps hostile in response to any type of disrespect towards you, it is because you did a quick risk assessment and determined that you would not experience major penalties for acting in aggression, or that you could afford to experience major penalties for acting in aggression.
This is why people who come face to face with others who are equipped to respond with even more hostility, then to go the passive route. It is much similar to an angry and unruly child, who becomes passive and quiet upon encountering an adult disciplinarian. When we attempt to solve problems from the primitive region of our brains we either go into a fight or flight mode, specifically a flight mode when faced with overwhelming force from the opposition.
This is why go to war units in the military train soldiers to not respond with anger when faced with things not going their way but with assertiveness. Not being angry does not mean that you don’t get upset when things are not going your way, nor does it mean that you go into denial mode and pretend to be happy. The best response to dealing with things not going your way, is to get past your feelings of anger, acknowledge the situation for what it is, and assertively go about in addressing it.
If you are reading this and asking yourself how this can be done, I provide the answer to that question in my book, Anger Management 101: Taming the Beast Within.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
I recently received an email request for advice on how to respond to passive aggressiveness. So without further delay I will go into it.
People who practice passive aggressiveness do so from a place of power and control. They don’t want to lose the relationship, but at the same time they want to find creative and passive ways to hurt the feelings of the person who has annoyed them.
The best way to respond to passive aggressiveness is to be straight forward. However, in order for your straight forward-ness to be effective, you have to regard the person with whom you are addressing with dignity and respect.
Take for example, once there was a situation that occurred between myself and a company commander during my time in the military. The commander of my company in the presence of some platoon sergeants hoped out loud that the new soldier coming into the company was a logistics specialist, he further added,
“I hope he has a brain too.”
You see, my military occupation was in the field of logistics, I was in charge of maintaining a balanced property book of the company supplies and equipment which were worth in the millions of dollars. Essentially my job was to maintain a factual balance between what was documented on the property books and what was actually stored on the company premises.
It was no secret that the company commander at the time had a strong disliking towards me. Upon the commander’s passive aggressive remarks, following the laughter of the platoon sergeants, I was left feeling angry and embarrassed. Essentially the company commander, was declaring me to be incompetent at my job. I would later vent to my immediate supervisor, who gave me a suggestion that changed my attitude towards dealing with passive aggressiveness.
I wrote a letter to my commander, in which I copied to my supervisor. In the letter, I confronted my commander about his statement the day before, and my interpretation of his statement. I then went on to detail my accomplishments since arriving in the unit, specifically having to do with how consistently I had maintained accountability of the company property. In the letter I requested that the commander address issues he had with my performance and suggestions for improvement.
The commander would immediately approach me in the presence of the company First sergeant and my supervisor and inform me that his words where taken out of context. Further, he claimed he found me to be a great logistics specialist.
While I am certain, that the commander never stopped disliking me, it appeared that he had developed a new found respect for me after my response to his remarks. He would never again make passive and aggressive double sided comments to me again for the remainder of the time we worked together.
In summary, passive aggressiveness directed towards you, is an invitation to play a deceitful game of cat and mouse. If you find yourself on the receiving end of such an invitation, taking a straight forward approach voids the invitation.
So what are your thoughts and feelings about this post? All agreements and disagreements are most welcome.