Solicitors are paid to be level-leaded and analytical, but those same skills and motivations can also lead to anger management issues. Mike Fisher looks at why, and offers solicitors some tips for managing their anger
It strikes me that anger management consultants have a lot in common with solicitors. In many cases, we both deal with the fallout of individuals unable to contain their rage, with the resultant consequences varying in extremity and cost. The lucky ones recognise their anger problem before a court order sends them to me.
Every day in my office, I encounter people who have lost access to their children, their job or their loved ones because they refused to listen to people’s feedback. Many believed they would get away with their angry outbursts forever – until the law stepped in.
But what happens when it’s the solicitors who are angry?
It may seem odd that solicitors can be angry people. They are paid to be level-headed, cool, calm and collected, with naturally excellent negotiating skills.
Anger tricks you into thinking that you’re still ahead of the game
However, having a handle on your emotions can come at a price. Junior solicitors spend years at university learning how not to express their feelings – if anything, it’s deemed unprofessional. But you can’t deal with your own feelings (and expressing them to others) in the same way that you would deal with other people’s emotions in court. It just doesn’t work that way in relationships.
In my years of working with solicitors, I have come up with a list of some of the hurdles they have to contend with, especially when it comes to expressing anger:
- the need to have the last word
- confusion about the difference between confidence and self-esteem
- the core belief that losing is not an option
- living in a world of duality, such as right / wrong, good / bad
- the belief that vulnerability is a weakness and should not be shown
- high intelligence but sometimes lower emotional intelligence.
Often, it is not solicitors who recognise these characteristics, but the people around them who have to deal with the mindset.
It’s also worth remembering that many solicitors choose their profession for reasons related to injustice.
Many of the solicitors I have encountered have had similar experiences in their formative years: injustices to some or an extreme degree; unfairness; inequality; not feeling protected when it was really needed by their primary carers; and/or bullying. They may have experienced this themselves, or seen someone close to them go through it.
It therefore became really important to them to stand up for people’s rights or offer protection to those who are defenceless. In some cases, where there was direct trauma, they chose to use logic and reason to help them regain control after feeling so powerless or vulnerable.
Against this backdrop, having ‘feelings’ can feel like a complete loss of control. This is often where anger surfaces, as individuals try to regain control of their environment – be that inner or outer. Anger at least keeps the more vulnerable feelings away. It tricks you into thinking that you’re still ahead of the game.
If you recognise any of this in yourself, what steps can you take to express and handle your anger better?
1. Be assertive rather than aggressive
Recognise when you are being, or inclined to be, either passive-aggressive or actively aggressive, and work to find a way to be assertive instead. Passive-aggressive behaviours involve acting in an indirectly aggressive way.
Passive-aggressive people regularly exhibit resistance to requests or demands from others, often by procrastinating, expressing sullenness or acting stubbornly. Active aggression is any behaviour intended to harm another person who is motivated to avoid that harm. Assertiveness is based on balance. It requires being forthright about your wants and needs, while still considering the rights, needs and wants of others. When you’re assertive, you are self-assured and draw power from this to get your point across firmly, fairly and with empathy.
2. Be aware of your triggers
If you find your anger is disproportionate to the situation or event, recognise that this may mean that you are emotionally regressed on this issue – meaning something is being triggered in you that relates to the past and remains unresolved. Instead of acting the anger out, try to address the underlying issue. You could reach out for support and talk about it, keep an anger journal or check if you have taken something too personally.
3. Think ahead
The moment you notice yourself starting to feel angry, ask yourself: will this matter in five minutes? If it won’t, let it go.
4. Swap perspectives
Use your intelligence and skills in ‘big picture’ thinking to see things from the other’s point of view.
5. Pick your battles
Remind yourself that no one is out to get you and you can choose your battles – you don’t have to turn up for every argument.