What Does Your Anger Reflect?

I had a great day yesterday. I had some meetings that went well. I heard from the guy I’d asked to write the foreword to Agile and Lean Program Management. He said yes, and wrote a terrific foreword.

Then, I received an email with the edits from an editor for an online magazine.

When I write, I check for passive voice and remove it. I work to make my writing easy to read. I like it when you agree with me. It’s okay with me if you don’t agree with me—as long as you understand what I wrote.

Well, you might be able to understand what I tried to say in the edited article, but since I had trouble—and I was the writer—I am pretty sure you would have trouble, too.

I could feel my face getting red. I could feel my blood pressure rise. I felt as if I could hear my heartbeat in my ear (Note 1). I was angry, angrier than I have been in ages. I can’t remember the last time I was that angry.

I decided to do something useful instead of responding or eating chocolate. It was raining, so I took an inside walk for 8 minutes. Then, I had more water and a low carb brownie. (Yes, the chocolate helped!) These things are the first step in emotional resilience.

I also asked for help. I asked other people to read the edited version to see if I was nuts. No, I wasn’t nuts. The problem solving was my second step in emotional resilience.

I also realized today that my anger was about my values, not this specific problem. It took me more than 12 hours to realize that. When I have a problem that violates my personal values, I have to separate the situation from my feelings about the situation. (In software, we call this “going meta.” That’s the third step in emotional resilience.

We have strong emotions for all kinds of reasons. I realize now that I become angry when the situation violates my values.

I have values for my writing starting with clarity. I have values for my driving, starting with safety. I have values for project management, starting with the fact each project is unique, so we should think.

For me, the more I feel as if my values are at risk, the stronger my emotion. I have encountered this editing problem four times before with this editor. We are not communicating well, are we? I will have to work on that.

What surprised me most is this: yes, I am angry about the editing. I am angrier with this other person not hearing my feedback the first four times. And, I bet the problem is mostly on my side. I did not remind him of my preferences when I sent him the article. I know how he works, and I thought he would remember my preferences. Kind of arrogant of me, isn’t it? I am angry with myself, too.

My strong emotions, such as anger, do not have a single cause. That surprised me a little, at first. On reflection, it makes sense. I might feel as if I’m angry at the other person. Then, I realize it’s much more about me. Oh, being human is so interesting…

Dear adaptable problem-solvers, that is the question of the week: What does your anger reflect?

Note 1: That’s a little deaf joke. One ear, get it? Okay, I thought it was funny when I calmed down.

6 thoughts on “What Does Your Anger Reflect?

  1. Kenneth A. Lloyd

    I understand your anger. An editor is free to challenge construction mechanics and style but not the substance, values or perspectives of the author. That editor can decide whether or not to publish, otherwise an editor is free to write his or her own works and put them into the marketplace of ideas.

    History is rife with people who do not, or cannot, understand the concepts of others due to having a completely different paradigm (often coupled with a strong personality and plenty of ego). I recall how Ludwig Wittgenstein completely missed the brilliant logic of Kurt Godel, for example. Even the mathematical physicist, David Hilbert, who had the most to lose by Godel’s theorems, finally realized the validity of his concepts.

    People are believers. They can, and do, believe almost anything. Scientists are people, too. They just can’t believe all their beliefs. But, they are certainly free to put them forward as best they can in that marketplace.

    1. johanna Post author

      Kenneth, hmm, I had not considered the possibility of beliefs getting in our way. Thanks for this perspective.

      Yes, I suspect I stomped on his beliefs hard.

  2. Jim Grey

    Oh my gosh, I’m the same way: if you cross one of my values, I am instantly white-hot angry. It has taken me until middle age to figure out that when I’m that kind of angry all of a sudden, look for which value of mine was just crossed. I don’t know if you go in for personality typing, but my Myers-Briggs type is INFP, and I gather this is a common trait among INFPs.

    1. johanna Post author

      Hi Jim, I am an ENTJ and as I age, I am more able to access other parts of my personality.

      I think it’s a common trait among people who pride themselves on something specific. For me, it’s my work.

  3. Fiona Charles

    Well, yes. Definitely I’ll get annoyed if someone crashes against one of my values.

    But I don’t know that it was your responsibility to remind this editor of your preferences, given that you’ve previously made them clear. I’ve generally found that editors get where I’m coming from after the first time I push back. At least, the good editors do.

    One of my central values as an occasional editor is that you don’t mess with the author’s voice, never mind distorting her meaning. It isn’t the editor’s job to put her personal stamp on someone else’s work. Rather (to me), it’s to help the author get her points or story across clearly and well, while preserving that person’s authentic voice. Often, you do that best by staying out of the way.

    So I’d be doubly annoyed in this case, because I’d feel my values as a writer and as an editor were being violated.

    1. johanna Post author

      Fiona, I edit for agileconnection.com. We publish one article a week, so I have an opportunity to tech-edit at least one article a week.

      I rarely change language in the doc. I often comment and say, “Consider this as an alternative…” Or, when I read passive voice, I say, “What do you mean? That’s the problem with passive voice.” Sometimes, I suggest something specific, and always in a comment. The author’s voice comes through loud and clear.

      Yes, I wonder if I imposed my editor values and writer values on this guy. I bet I did.

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