Here are the top 12 anger Do's and Don'ts to keep in mind when you're dealing with a difficult person or a difficult subject.
1. Do speak up when an issue is important to you. Obviously, we don't have to address every injustice and irritation that comes along. It can be an act of maturity to simply let something go. But if you've sat with your anger for a while, it's a mistake to stay silent if the cost is to feel bitter, resentful or unhappy. We de-self ourselves when we fail to take a stand on issues that matter to us.
2. Don't strike while the iron is hot. A good fight will clear the air in some relationships, but if your goal is to change an entrenched pattern, the worst time to speak up may be when you're feeling angry or intense. Seeking temporary distance ("Let's figure out another time to talk about this") is not the same as cold withdrawal or cutoff)
3. Do take time out to think about the problem and clarify your position. Before you speak out, be clear about what the real issue is, what you want to accomplish, and how to maximize the chances you will be heard.
4. Don't use "below-the-belt" tactics. These include: blaming, interpreting, diagnosing, labeling, psychoanalyzing, preaching, moralizing, ordering, threatening, interrogating, ridiculing and lecturing. Never use email to confront another person or process an emotional subject.
5. Do Speak in "I" language. Learn to say, "I think..." "I feel..." "I fear..." "I want..." A true "I" statement says something about the self without criticizing or blaming the other person and without holding the other person responsible for your feelings or reactions. Watch out for disguised "you" statements or pseudo- "I" statements. ("I think you need to control everything."
6. Don't make vague requests. ("I want you to be more sensitive to my needs.") Let the other person know specifically want you want. ("The best way that you can help me now is just to listen. I really don't want advice at this time.") Don't expect people to anticipate your needs or do things you haven't requested. Even those who love you can't read your mind.
7. Do try to appreciate the fact that people are different. Try to recognize that there are as many ways of seeing the world, as there are people in it. If you're fighting about who has the "truth" you may be missing the point. Different perspectives and ways of getting comfortable don't necessarily mean that one person is "right" and the other "wrong."
8. Don't tell another person what she or he thinks or feels or "should" think or feel. If another person gets angry in reaction to a change you make, don't criticize their feelings or tell them they have no right to be angry. Better to say, "I understand that you're angry, and if I were in your shoes, I might be angry, too. But I thought it over and this is my decision." Remember that one person's right to be angry doesn't mean that the other is to be blame.
9. Do recognize that each person is responsible for his or her own behavior. Don't blame your son's (or dad's) wife because she "won't let him" be close to you. If you're angry about your son's distance it is your responsibility to find a new way to approach him. Your son's behavior is his responsibility, not his wife's.
10. Don't participate in intellectual arguments that go nowhere. Don't spin your wheels trying to convince the other person of the "rightness" of your position. If the other person isn't hearing you, simply say, "Well it may sound crazy to you, but this is how we feel." Or, "I understand that you disagree, and it sounds like we see the problem differently."
11. Do try to avoid speaking through a third party. If you're angry with you're brother's behavior, don't say, "I think my daughter felt terrible when you didn't find the time to come to her school play." Instead try, "I felt badly when you didn't come. You're important to me and I really wanted you to be there."
12. Don't expect change to come about from hit-and-run confrontations. Change occurs slowly in close relationships. If you make even a small change, you will be tested many times to see if you "really mean it." Don't get discourage if you start out fine but then blow it when things heat up again. Getting derailed is just part of the process, so be patient with yourself. You will have many opportunities to get back on track...and try again.
If you're in a relationship that's stuck in too much anger or too much distance, read The Dance of Anger. Making a small change will make a big difference in your life.