Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Client Motivation and Anger Management

One of the most common questions asked of me when people sign up for anger management classes is "will taking an anger management class work?". The answer to that question is complex. Anger management is educational in nature and is aimed at teaching skills in changing thinking and behavior.

There are many ways to change behavior, and I do not want to attempt to explain behavior modificaton in this blog entry. Motivation to change is critical to learn almost any new skill. If ones motivation is low or even adverse to learning, the liklyhood of gaining that skill is severely limited, regardless of how good the information is or how it is presented.

When I was around 9 years old, my parents forced me to take violin lessons. When I say "forced", I simply mean, I wanted to take guitar lessons and violin was about as exciting to me and counting hay in a barn. My violin teacher had been trained at Julliard and was a concert violinist. After several months of lessons, and a failed violin recital, my parents were convinced that there must be a problem with the way I was being taught. I knew, deep down, that I just didn't want to learn and had no interest in playing violin. Years later, I did take up the guitar, and without lessons became a fairly accomplished guitar player on my own. Highly motivated, and passionate about becoming a great guitar player, I practiced, and gained new skills.

Learning skills in anger management is fairly similar. You must first be motivated to change. You must be able to recognize that there are things you are doing that aren't working well and have a desire to want to learn a new and hopefully improved way to approaching people and situations. Anger management is a skill. Attending classes will not, in of itself, create change. You must be motivated to change and practice what you are learning.

Anger management classes can help, if a couple of key elements exist. The is not an exclusive list, but some of the most important in my 4 years of experience teaching:

1. The content is quality, and the interventions are proven to be effective
2. The information is presented by a trained professional in anger management
3. There is a client workbook and a set curriculum and agenda for each class
4. The participant is coming because they want to learn and make positive changes in their life. An unmotivated client is less apt to change.
5. The client practices the skills being taught. Passive attendance and passive participation does not lend itself to change.
6. Client trust with the facilitator. While motivation to change is key, I have also found that participants who actually trust and enjoy who is teaching find themselves more apt to participate and change
7. Encouragement from loved ones, family members, co-workers and others who see the changes happening before their eyes. As change occurs, others will notice.

Anger management is not magic. Learning skills in anger management takes motivation, practice and patience. If you come with an open mind and a willingness to change, you will learn skills to improve you relationships.

Ari Novick, Ph.D., LMFT
Founder, AJ Novick Group- Anger Management

Thursday, September 27, 2007

7 Tips to Deal with People Angry at You

How to deal with people in your life who are chronically angry toward you
1. Consider changing your behavior that triggers their anger. Sometimes the most practical thing to do is to change whatever it is that triggers anger in people close to you. Not that you should go overboard on this, but simple changes can do a lot, especially if they don’t lower your self-esteem or don’t “cost” you a lot to change.

2. Think about terminating the relationship Truth is, some relationships we get involved in are so “toxic” that it is self-abusive to continue in them or to try and repair them. At times, you need to protect yourself from people in your life who create an atmosphere that is not good for your well-being.

3. Limit your time spent with them If terminating the relationship is too drastic of a step, consider simply limiting the time you spend with toxic people in your life. Decide you can put up with the person several times a year at the family Christmas party, for instance, or that you will be tolerant toward your angry ex-spouse once a week for the sake of your children.

4. Ask them directly why they are often appear angry toward you A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Sometimes the quickest way to find out why someone appears constantly angry with you is to simply ask them. They may not even realize they were communicating angrily toward you, so your inquiry may open up a great opportunity for dialogue.

5. Communicate clearly how their negativity affects you Honestly letting people know how their behavior is affecting you emotionally is often an “eye-opener” to the other person. Start with “I feel” statements rather than “you” or “you should” statements.

6. Adjust your expectations of them People may be chronically angry toward you because you communicate that they are disappointing you in some way and they are perceiving you as overly critical. Adjusting those expectations you have toward others may result in their being less angry toward you!

7. Stop trying to solve unsolvable problems in a relationship According to some marital researchers, up to 60% of issues in a relationship are unsolvable due to the couple’s being “gridlocked” around it. Trying to solve unsolvable problems creates much anger. Instead, find a way to dialogue about the issues and live with each other around them, rather than trying to fix them.

Ari Novick, Ph.D.
Founder, AJ Novick Group- Anger Management

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Eight tips to deal with explosive persons

Eight tips to deal with explosive persons who confront you: defusing potentially dangerous situations:

1. Do not respond in kind. Hostility often begets more hostility.
Respond instead with a non-hostile message to defuse people who are behaving in a hostile manner toward you. The classic example of this is in when simple inconsiderate driving or even aggressive driving suddenly escalates into road rage due to two drivers ratcheting up hostility in response to the other’s hostile acts, words, or gestures. Please remember that in these and other hostile situations, you contribute somewhat to the outcome by your decision to return hostility or not.

2. Take their upset seriously and validate their feelings Listen to what they have to say and hear them out; ignoring them or minimizing their feelings will tend to escalate their anger further. There have been untold numbers of workplace violence incidents that could have been averted had supervisors or managers listened with empathy to disgruntled employees rather than responding in an insensitive or uncaring manner.

3. Never argue with someone when they are intoxicated When someone is drinking or intoxicated, this is no time to try to solve relationship or other problems (especially if you too have had a few drinks). A high percentage of angry confrontations as well spousal abuse arrests occur when drinking is involved by one or both partners. Drinking often impairs judgment, decreases inhibitions (resulting in saying things we don’t mean), and distorts your normally astute reasoning ability.

4. Respond to the feelings they are having – not the content of what they are saying Try to hear and respond to the underlying hurt or pain the person is experiencing underneath the angry words. Use statements such as “I can appreciate why you feel that way,” It sounds like you are very angry right now,” Many people feel the way you do.”

5. On roadway, don’t make eye contact with an aggressive driver
This is the secret signal in the animal world to engage in combat and will frequently escalate things, sometimes into “road rage.” Just ignore aggressive drivers and stay out of their way.

6. Allow angry people to physically escape the situation Don’t block their way or prevent access, or you may be putting yourself in a dangerous situation. Take off the heat rather than increasing the pressure! Don’t insist on solving the problem “now” when the other person is in an agitated state.

7. Don’t defend yourself by attacking back at them or their character flaws
Defensiveness often escalates anger in the other person and, in fact, is one of the predictors of divorce, according to recent marital research. There is a time to present your side, but not when your partner is unable to hear it due to his or her anger.

8. Don’t try to solve an emotional issue with logical arguments. Trying to diffuse an angry person with overwhelming evidence of their thinking errors or mistakes in logic, or facts to the contrary, or reasons for why they shouldn’t feel the way they do, or why they should feel differently - usually makes the situation worse.

Ari Novick, Ph.D.
AJ Novick Group- Anger Management

Monday, September 10, 2007

Try Alternate Behaviors- An Anger Management Skill

Behaving differently is one of the most effective ways to show response flexibility— and get different results in your life. But doing things differently is not easy because we are creatures of habit and we tend to behave in ways that we are familiar and comfortable with. While it often feels risky or uncomfortable to try different approaches to deal with things that make us angry, it is worth the effort because, as the saying goes, “If you keep doing what you do, you will keep getting what you’ve got.”

One of the challenges in behaving differently is, of course, coming up with ideas on how else we can behave in a situation since there is a strong tendency to repeat our past and do things as we have learned to do them —often starting in our childhood — without questioning or challenging what we do.

Take, for instance, the woman who learned to break dishes every time she was angry at her husband. She hasn’t figured out yet how to move from reaction to response. In truth, when she gets angry she doesn’t have to break the dishes. There are many other things she could do in response to her angry feelings—take a brisk walk, assertively communicate with her husband, take a time-out, or listen to soothing music—for starters.

Once we understand that a feeling does not necessarily led to any particular behavior, we can give ourselves permission to feel angry. Many people find this concept liberating—to discover that specific actions and feelings are not necessarily connected.

Our feelings constantly shift with the flow of outside events. When the baby is screaming at 4AM, your boss is in a surly mood, your best friend insults you, or your car has a flat tire, it is natural to have negative feelings associated with these things. The flexible person notices these feelings, accepts them and then chooses what to do next. We can attend to the screaming infant, knowing that we can feel sleepy and still attend to business tomorrow morning. Instead of complaining about what a jerk the boss is, we can look for the underlying problem that sparked her anger and find a way to solve it. You can talk to your friend about the insult-maybe he didn’t mean what he said the way you heard it – or- you can elect to laugh it off. And the flat tire? You can accept that this is one of those things that happens that is beyond your control, and proceed to get it fixed.

Becoming more flexible is a choice, and the more “flex-able” you become, the better you will feel and the possibilities for positive change are endless.

Ari Novick, Ph.D.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Judgment, Curiosity and Anger Management

One of the concepts we teach in our model of anger management is to learn to not pass judgment so quickly and become more curious. While judgment tends to lead us in only one direction with one conclusion, curiosity opens up all different possibilities for the potential outcome or reason for why something happened or why a person behaved a certain way.

This concept is borrowed from Narrative Therapy pioneer Michael White, but has dramatic uses for anger management. This concept will help better manage expectations as well as come to conclusions that are based on good reasoning rather than a hasty judgments.

Judgments are usually made when we are either misinformed by others or we have a belief about something or someone that is not based on facts, but guided by emotions or irrational thoughts. When we pass judgment, it can often have damaging effects on the recipient as well as the relationship. Things are not always as they appear to seem, and a hasty judgment can ruin a potentially good situation or outcome.

Curiosity on the other hand, opens up many possibilities for why something or someone behaved. When we are more curious and ask questions of curiosity, we are often surprised by the answers. This surprise or change in thinking can often lead to an improved view and a more fact based, realistic interpretation. Curiosity opens up unlimited possibilities for unique outcomes.

Why make a judgment before learning more about that person or their behavior? This judgment is part of a reflex response. We simply get in the habit of passing judgment too quickly or hear bad information and believe it to be true and pass the same judgment before attempting to learn more on our own.

So, give it a try next time you find yourself passing judgment on someone. Ask them some questions about why they did what they did or how they came to the conclusion they did. You might actually learn something unique and different that would otherwise contradict your initial judgment. This will not only reduce your anger, but it will also deepen your relationship.

Ari Novick, Ph.D.
Dr. Novick is the founder of the AJ Novick Group.
For information on his anger management classes, workshops and coaching visit