My Boss Makes Me Angry (or fill in the blank, My _________, Makes Me Angry)
Written by Rachel Hott, PhD
Edited by Steven Leeds
A client, highly educated and successful, comes to an individual coaching session to deal with issues at work. The finger is pointed to one specific person, his boss. As I listen, I find myself agreeing, that yes this is the worst person to work for and I understand why his boss makes him angry. To empower my clients, I need to get them to understand and accept that they and only they have any control in changing their experience. Communicating that message is important, yet delicate. Firstly, it is important to have the client know that I am on his side. We discuss the evidence, the boss is rude, he interrupts, he asks personal questions, he takes credit for other’s work, he gives incorrect information to clients and then the staff has to make up for his mistakes. I continue to think, that this boss does sound difficult, and I also think this type of boss is familiar. The description is a classic one, almost universal, and I bet that you, the reader, have also met him or her at work in your family or in a social context. Or maybe you are this person. If you are, please give us your own insights into how to effectively deal with you.
It is easy and quite common to fall into the “blame frame,” especially in an office or in a family system where there are other people who will confirm that the other person is indeed a “ f%#@g a%*$#e,” and that you have every right to feel upset. While this may be validating and vindicating, it does not actually give you the tools and skills to be more effective and resourceful the next time you find yourself interacting with the “button pusher.”
“Okay, point your finger,” I coach my client, “and see the fingers that are curled and pointing towards yourself?” Discovering that the fingers are pointing to yourself means that the only one you can control, the only one you can change is yourself. Hopefully, when you change yourself, the other person will also change. This is what we worked on in your sessions, how he could become more aware of his own thoughts, feelings and behavior when in the presence of his boss.
In the NLP system, we have many techniques to help clients/trainees (we teach these techniques in our NLP Practitioner and Master Practitioner courses) find ways to manage the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are triggered by someone else. In our conversation about “someone makes me angry,” I also point out that this is a pattern called, Cause-Effect. In this case, the boss is X and my client’s anger is Y. Therefore, “My _______, makes me angry. When I hear the cause-effect pattern, I ask my client/trainee, “How does X cause Y?” I know that I am personally triggered by many things, however when I ask myself this question, I find that it helps me rediscover that I have more control to change my response. My husband, Steven Leeds had introduced this pattern to me when we were dating way back in 1982. We were on the phone when I said, “My mother makes me angry.” He said, with a very curious tone, “How does your mother make you angry?” Since I was studying NLP at the time I understood right away that I was letting her effect me. It was a powerful moment, a memorable realization and I was able to change my state effectively.
My self-esteem trainer, Jack Canfield, taught me this simple formula that I also share with my clients and trainees. E+R=O. E stands for event, R stands for response and O stands for Outcome. We cannot change the Event (the X), but we can change our Response (the Y), which will impact the Outcome.
Here are some of the NLP techniques that I use in my private sessions and teach in our NLP Practitioner and Master Practitioner training workshops. I taught these to my client over several sessions.
Using your brain to change how you think-
The R in Canfield’s model is not just what we do and say, but how we think. And recognizing and changing how we think is one of the primary concerns of NLP.
While our emotional and verbal reactions can be lightning fast our brain thinks even faster. So fast that we are not even aware of what it is doing. So our emotional reaction is as much a result of what we are thinking as it is a result of what the other person is doing. And while we cannot always directly control other people, we can control our thoughts. And changing our thoughts will change our behavior, which in turn will change the outcome.
In the NLP training we teach about our sensory system that includes, the visual, auditory, olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste) and kinesthetic (which includes, emotion, physical sensation and action). Each of these senses has subsets that we call submodalities. For example, some visual submodalities are size, distance, framed or panorama, perspective, location, etc. When you identify someone who annoys you, ask yourself what can you do differently when you think about him including how you think about him when you are in his presence. Here are some submodality examples that I suggested to my client:
- Rather than having your boss appear looming “high above you” (looking down at you), bring him (or her) “down” to your eye level and look him in the eye. Or “raise” yourself up to his eye level. (This can be extremely useful for people who habitually make other people more important and more significant and who allow other people to dominate. Notice that you are being asked to reverse the positions by bringing your boss down below you or raising yourself up above him. While this may be a relief and feel better, it is perpetuating a one up one down relationship. And seeing yourself or your boss or a significant other in an inferior position can have unwanted negative consequences. Unfortunately for some of us, these are the only two positions we know.)
- Instead of seeing the person as being a “big” mature man or woman, see them as a “small” child having a temper tantrum. (This can be useful when the other person is reverting to the behavior of a child or adolescent. See them as their emotional age. Don’t be fooled by their chronological age.) And if we find ourselves feeling like a child, it is just as important to “enlarge” ourselves (transform ourselves back to our mature adult size.
- Imagine your boss as a cartoon with a cartoon voice or imagine it as taking place in a graphic novel. (This can be done when you find yourself taking things too seriously.)
- Add a soundtrack. They do it in the movies to change the mood of a scene. You can play with different music until you settle on a score that works for you. (Yes, this is one way of settling the score.)
- Add a bulletproof shield so any of the boss’s rants pinged off of you. Sound effects can be included.
All of these suggestions are within your control. They are imaginary (yes you knew that right), but creative and helpful in finding a way to cope with the situation. Anticipating your next encounter with the cartoon boss child, at eye level with a personalized theme song, will be quite different from expecting a larger than life, ferocious adult animal hovering over you silently ready to pounce.
Changing your Internal State
When I asked my client how he was feeling he said he felt annoyed, aggravated and frustrated. I asked him how would he prefer to feel when he is around his boss. When asking this question, we are identifying how we want to be in the face this challenge and how to program ourselves to access and maintain a strong internal state, no matter what is going on outside. I shared the E +R=O formula with him and asked him what response he would prefer to create. He said he would like to feel confident. The next technique I taught him is called anchoring. To practice this technique, identify a time in your past when you experienced the resource you need.
In my client’s case he wanted confidence.
Next, pick the “anchor” that you will be using to activate the resource. It may a visual symbol, a small movement like placing two fingers together or simply the spoken word “confidence” itself.
Once you have planned your anchor, recall the memory and immerse yourself in the experience. As you enjoy the feeling of confidence, initiate the anchor. Test your anchor by coming back to your neutral state and then retrigger your anchor. You have successfully anchored the experience only when the anchor consistently engages the resource state. In this technique you are training your mind and body to access the desired internal state. I suggested to my client to use his anchor anytime he is in the office speaking with his boss. At a follow up session he reported that the anchor gave him confidence. Eventually he no longer needed the anchor because the situation itself activated the resource, He was pleased with the tools he was learning. So we continued to build his toolbox. Here is another technique we practiced.
Defining Your Boundaries
When you find yourself using the cause-effect pattern, He (She) makes me feel_______, another helpful technique is learning to make clear boundaries. The NLP technique that I teach is called Perceptual Positions. In this technique I led my client to step into the observer position and watch himself and his boss from the outside.
There are many specific details about this position (observer is also known as the 3rd position), suffice it to say, “step out of the experience and observe yourself and the other person, from the same eye level, equidistant.” Ultimately the goal is for the observer position to teach you to become disassociated from the interaction, and non judgmental. Once my client did this I led him to the Self position (also known as 1st position) and set up for clear distinct boundaries so he could feel himself and his separateness. In the full training of Aligning Perceptual Positions we also teach going to the Other’s position (also known as 2nd position). In this coaching session we stayed with the Observer and Self, for simplicity purposes.
The client reported that this technique gave him a better feeling for sense of boundaries as well as a tool to distant himself.
How to change your thinking with Reframing
Throughout an NLP session we talk about perspectives and framing the meaning of an interpersonal communication. When this client talked complained about his boss, we talked about being bullied. I asked, “ What do you believe is the positive intention of a bully?” In the NLP system, there is a presupposition that every behavior, symptom or problem has or has had a positive purpose. This can be true for yourself or when you are talking about another person. In this case, I asked what was the positive intention for the other person to bully. My client said, “My boss is very insecure, and when he acts that way, it makes him feel more secure.” Although the boss’s attempt to feel secure is not positive for my client, it is another way for my client to understand his boss’s behavior. If you get caught in cause-effect thinking, ask yourself what is the positive intention for getting caught, as well as asking yourself what is the positive intention of the other person. When I asked my client, “What does it do for you to get angry?” My client replied, “My anger reminds me that I am important.” Now we can explore what other ways he can continue to feel important without becoming angry. Becoming angry in itself can be useful, however in this case the anger was making him tense and fueling a sense of hopelessness, and that was why he wanted to find techniques to help him cope.
Whether you reframe the other person or yourself, the experience of changing the meaning, will then alter your state. Once again we discover there is an X that causes Y. We suggest that our clients/trainees learn how to be in control of their responses (the Y) , knowing just that, will empower their communication experience. We also remember that for someone else, we may be the trigger, the X. I asked my client to explore what may be the trigger that he created for his boss. He realized that he may be communicating a message of resistance which then causes his boss to become more irritable. Now my client has an awareness of what he can do differently in their interactions. Practicing flexibility in one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors is an important skill that we teach in our sessions and training. Remember that this is not about “blaming”. It is about “taking responsibility.”
What both Steven Leeds (my husband and business partner) have found over our 30 year career as an NLP trainers/coaches is that clients/trainees want efficient tools to use throughout their interpersonal communication, yet what they also want is magic. We suggest that these techniques will become automatic, like magic, however to make that happen it is essential to practice. My client has many techniques in his tool box. His irate boss gives him the opportunity to practice daily. That may be yet another reframe.
I hope you will take the opportunity to practice one of these techniques and let me know what works for you. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org when you do.
Please note that the skills and techniques described in this article are abbreviated versions of techniques that I use with clients. Only in our NLP Practitioner and Master Practitioner training do we teach these techniques in depth. Our upcoming e-book, NLP Companion; Effective Techniques for Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Communication will include more in-depth discussions.