Oh how I love it when I read something which challenges an important “truth” that I have been holding dear for years. I’m grateful to the Daily Telegraph for this one.
According to research at Ohio State University, counting to 10 when you are angry doesn’t make your feelings subside: in fact it makes it worse, because it requires you to focus on your feelings as you are counting., and can end up making you feel more aggressive. Thanks, everyone who has taught me the ‘count to 10’ technique. (I think it started with my parents, then school, I can hear my grannie telling me, and of course many a training expert and amateur psychologist of one form or another.)
You were all wrong.
Apparently, the more effective technique is to imagine what the scene looks like from across the room. This method is called self-distancing. It can help you keep your temper under control, and allows you to calm down, even immediately after provocation.
I must say, not having yet had cause to try it out for real, I do understand how this would be more effective. It is using a principle I have used many times when training in Conflict Management. I use a technique called Perceptual Positions to help people who find a situation hard to handle discover a new way of approaching it.
It requires the person with the challenge to visualise themselves in the situation, talking to the “difficult” third party. They describe the situation to me, and how it makes them feel. This is Position One. Then they move physically to the chair in which they visualised the other person sitting, and tell me how this person would describe the situation. This is Position 2. Then we both walk away to the back of the room and I ask the partcipant how the scene looks from a distance, and in particular how they think the original version of themselves is doing (not very well is usually the answer). They tell me how the situation could be handled better. This is Position 3.
Then we move to Position 4, when the objective observer takes the chair, and takes over the transaction, using the insight that he or she has gained from watching it remotely. They tell me how it feels different (normally it is a completely different scene, with infinitely more productive outcomes).
Still with me? I hope I explained that reasonably well.
I’ve seen people play out and completely rethink their approach with their boss, their mother in law, their children, their wife (of course), using this approach. It is very powerful, and has me thinking that the Self-Distancing technique makes a lot of sense. Basically it means doing the Perceptual Positions technique to yourself, in the heat of the moment. Easier said than done, methinks. But it probably gets easier the more you practice it. I only need to undo 50 years or so of conditioning, so it should be a piece of cake!
Do give it a try, and let me know how you get on. You’ve nothing to lose, and lots to gain.