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How to win when you’re angry.

I was walking Pax this morning and as we came upon the intersection of Broadway and 75th she sat down, as usual, to soak up the sun. She frequents 75th street to mark her territory, a street which is mostly cloaked in shade. As I was standing there with her, I noticed a white delivery van pull up behind a gray car in the parking lane of Broadway, a busy street here in New York City. 

There were two big guys in the delivery van. The driver laid on his horn and yelled out “You can’t park there” to the lady in the gray car. I started to look up and down the street for no parking signs, or something to indicate only delivery vehicles are allowed where she was waiting. Her car was shut off; likely she was waiting for someone inside a nearby store. 

I couldn’t find any signs, so I thought, this should be entertaining. Barking orders at her wasn’t working, so the guy in the passenger seat of the delivery van opened his door, climbed out and walked over to the passenger side of the gray car. He exchanged a few words with the lady, I couldn’t make out what was said, but her car didn’t budge. 

A minute later he returned to the delivery van, exchanged some words with the guy driving the van, and then walked back to the sidewalk, back up by the gray car in front of the delivery van. And then, the driver of the delivery van pulled the van up, alongside the gray car in one of the traffic lanes along Broadway. 

There are three lanes on Broadway, it’s not uncommon to see trucks loading and unloading from the middle lane. A few seconds later I could hear the lady and the guy driving the van, which by now are parked right next to each other, screaming through their windows at each other. And the passenger of the delivery van, he walked into the bakery on the corner, presumably to pickup the next delivery. I heard him mumble “Bitch” as he walked inside. 

I felt bad for the lady in the gray car, I imagine she felt quite threatened by the two guys yelling and honking at her. I don’t know if she was parked in a spot she shouldn’t have been, but I do know she didn’t budge. And I watched, as I walked away, a parking officer waltz by the situation and ignore it, so I imagine she wasn’t parked illegally. 

Either way, the guys in the delivery van wanted to pickup their next delivery and they felt it necessary to use the spot she was in. If they wanted her to move, their approach to the situation was not well thought out. Even if she was parked in a delivery only spot, the chances of getting her to move are low to begin with. Nobody wants to give up a parking spot in New York City, you’re not going to find another nearby. 

Therefore, yelling is quite counter productive. It only seals one’s fate in these situations. There’s only one logical conclusion, an escalation of aggression between drivers.

I imagine the delivery drivers are pressured for speed and are more likely to react poorly in these situations. Perhaps the lady was parked in a spot dedicated to them. Either way, releasing anger, whatever the source, won’t lead to a productive outcome for the delivery van. And it definitely won’t help the lady in the gray car.

When you’re in a hurry, and you feel an aggressive urge, you might want to deliberately choose between catharsis and results—getting what you want. You rarely can have both, unless of course what you want is to stir up a fight.

You can yell and scream when you feel slighted—when someone parks in your spot—or you can step back and ask yourself how you can get what you need out of the situation. And then ask yourself what behavior is likely to maximize the odds of your desired outcome. 

In the case of the delivery van, pulling alongside the gray car in the first place and quickly retrieving the next delivery could’ve avoided the confrontation altogether. Or, asking politely and explaining the situation calmly might have worked too.

But, if you go the route of catharsis, you’re headed down a rabbit hole of aggression. In fact, catharsis itself is a mythical concept. Releasing anger only begets greater anger.

The honking and shouting escalated into physically approaching the gray car, which led to a bitter conversation, which then escalated into the delivery van blocking the gray car and the subsequent screaming between vehicles. Fortunately, it didn’t escalate to physical violence.

Sometimes all it takes is a single honk to set off a chain of events that lead to someone getting pummeled. 

Why does this happen? Likely you think highly of yourself, you have some degree of self esteem. We all do. We all think we’re nice, decent human beings. Feeling anger isn’t abnormal. But when you feel angry, you have to reconcile being angry with being a nice person. 

In the case of the delivery guys, the lady was impeding their progress, so they externally justified their initial feelings of anger. As a result, they mentally placed blame squarely in her court. And when this happened, they felt not only anger, but anger directed at her. Already the anger has grown. The growth then is justified by the urge to act upon it, and when they acted upon it by honking and shouting after pulling up behind her, they then had a greater dissonance to resolve: seeing themselves as nice people and yet having just performed rather callously.

One’s sense of oneself as a nice person is usually rather substantial, it's the foundation of healthy self-esteem. Consequently, they only way to justify this situation is to further blame the lady in the gray car, to further denigrate her. Thoughts of “does she think she owns the road?” or “how rude of her” are likely to race through the minds of the guys in the delivery van. The anger grows larger.

Here’s where it gets interesting, what I’m describing--the process of anger growing through justification--is subconscious. It’s not a logical, thought out process. All of us have this innate tendency. 

Now, think about the lady in the gray car. These guys have exhibited increasing degrees of hostility toward her. She has to rectify her own self esteem—image of herself as a good person—with the fact that these guys claim she has done something wrong. Likely, she determines they are being jerks. That they just want to bully away her parking spot. She’s probably justified in her assessment, at least that she’s done nothing wrong. 

But the problem is, both parties believe they're justified, that the other is at fault. And regardless who is at fault, nothing productive will come of further escalation. Fortunately, the lady did something productive, after screaming at the guy in the van she rolled up her window. As near as I can tell, this is what stymied further escalation of aggression. 

And therein lies the takeaway, when you feel aggression, the most productive way to deal with it is to find an alternative strategy to get what you want. You can feel almighty and justified in ripping—hopefully only verbally—someone’s head off, but it won’t make you feel any better. It will make you angrier. It will make the other person angry. And it may escalate into physical violence, something you definitely don’t want. 

As I mentioned, these processes are subconscious, the best way to avoid anger escaping automatically is to become aware of it. Try to detect anger when it first starts, pause, and roll up the window without saying anything. Pause, think about alternative approaches to your goal, and you might be surprised that a pleasant conversation with the lady in the gray car gets you the parking spot you so desire.
Copyright © 2015 Full City Tech Co.

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