Escape the Cage of Rage: How to Overcome a Negative Relationship

“Ed, you are 100% responsible for this problem!” 

“What! Let me get this straight! I’m 100% responsible and you are 100% innocent! Is that what you are saying?”


“Then there is no point in continuing this conversation!”

“Click!” I hung up the phone in anger.

By the way, the opening dialogue is not how you overcome a negative relationship! In fact, this is how you make things worse.

This conversation, rather this argument, took place on the first Friday of June. It was nasty. I got nasty and so did my adversary. Let’s call him Darth Vader!

My temper is my biggest weakness. I have been working for years to fix it. In seconds, I had allowed someone else to unravel all those years of hard work. I was responsible, not the other party.

It does not matter what the original fight was about. My anger had made the situation much worse. Now the issue became…Ed Tate’s temper.

I’m a professional speaker. I know better. I have a lot of knowledge, strategies, techniques and experience dealing with conflict. I can think of at least five significantly more contentious conflicts, over the past year, where the outcome was a win-win for all parties concerned.

I know all the aphorisms:

If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow – Chinese proverb

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret – Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) American newspaperman and short-story writer

For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness – Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) U.S. poet, essayist and lecturer

 In short, don’t talk when you are angry.

I’ve even given lectures on How to Deal with Difficult People. I have the intellectual know-how. But, in this moment, I lacked emotional intelligence and restraint.

I had suffered an amygdala hijack. The “amygdala hijack” is a term coined in Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence. The amygdala is the emotional part of the brain, which regulates the fight or flight response. When threatened, it can respond irrationally.

I got hijacked.

At the end of the day, I was embarrassed.

My embarrassment prompted me to call a mutual acquaintance. Let’s call her Yoda.

 “Yoda, I need your help! Darth Vader and I are now sworn enemies. I don’t want it to be this way. Can you mediate a truce between us?”

 Yoda said, “No.”

 I was shocked and disappointed. It was hard enough to open up about such an embarrassing situation and ask for help. No was the last word I wanted to hear.

 She asked, “Do you mean it when you say you don’t want things to be this way between the two of you?’”

 I responded, “Yes.”

 Yoda: “Then take the high road. Take the angry wind out of his sails. He will tell everyone who will listen his version of the story. You will look bad no matter who is right or wrong. Take 100% responsibility. Immediately write him an email apologizing for your behavior. Take a 100% Mea Culpa and move on.”

 The moment she told me this, I knew she was right. I wrote the email and sent it immediately.

Minutes later, I received a reply from Darth Vader. (By the way this is not his real name. I made this part up.)  He apologized.

 He said, “Of course you were not 100% responsible. I only said that to win the argument. It was childish. I’m sorry.”

 I was stunned!

He admitted what I wanted from the beginning. Mistakes were made on both sides. We both were guilty and we could have done better.

In a few weeks, we will see each other and I’m buying the first round of drinks.

Here is what I’ve learned about the Cage of Rage and my 6 steps for getting out of it:

Tip 1: Disarm Your Opponent with a 100% Mea Culpa

Mea Culpa a Latin phrase that translates into English as “my mistake” or “my fault” or “my bad.” Take 100% responsibility for the problem. As my adversary admitted, in this situation no one person is 100% responsible or at fault.  It took the angry wind out of his sails.

Tip 2: Set Your Ego and Pride Aside

My ego and pride got me into this situation. Nothing good comes from ego & pride. There is a reason why pride is one of the deadly sins.

Tip 3: Recognize You Will Not Be Treated Fairly in a Fight

Give up on this notion of being treated fairly. We have evidence of this every day. You’ve heard the expression, that life is not fair. Do not expect to be treated fairly in a conflict or a fight.

Tip 4: Find a Way to Care

This advice comes from Keith Farrazzi, author of the best selling books, Never Eat Alone and Who’s Got Your Back. This wisdom comes from Keith’s father, who once told him, “If you want someone to like you, find a way to care about them.” Here’s an example.

A friend of mine works at the airport in Denver. She is a new hire and on a 6-month probation period. On a busy day, she approaches a supervisor on the behalf of a stranded passenger. The supervisor yells at my friend in front of the customer and other co-workers. Rather than getting angry, my friend buys a rose for the supervisor and said the following, “I’d like to apologize for making you angry. I don’t know exactly what I did. But I want you to know it was an accident. Please take this flower.”

It took the angry wind out of that supervisor’s sails.  A few days later the supervisor apologized to my friend.

Tip 5: Escape the Cage of Rage by Forgiving and Moving On

When you are angry, it is you, not the other person who becomes imprisoned. You begin plotting their demise. You are the one who is in the cage of rage. They have moved on.

The way to escape is to forgive two people: The Other Person and Yourself. Forgiveness is for you. I’m not suggesting that you let other’s walk all over you.  It is the tool that allows you to move on.

Tip 6: Seek the Advice of Others Who Keep Their Cool Under Pressure

I have a friend who stays cool no matter what. Here is her 2-step formula:

  1. She asks the following question: What is more important? Is it more important for me to be angry and upset at the other person or to take 100% responsibility
  2. Think Beyond Yourself. Maybe that person had a bad day. There were other challenges going on in their life. Put them first.

Escape the cage of rage. Take the angry wind out of the other person’s sails. Disarm them with a 100% Mea Culpa. Take 100% responsibility and move on. Forgive the other person. Remember forgiveness is for you, not the person who has wronged you. Don’t expect to be treated fairly. Expecting fair treatment from others and when we don’t get it, is what put’s us in to the cage of rage in the first place. Set your ego and pride aside. Finally, seek the advice of others who are cool under pressure.

To paraphrase Emerson, “every minute you spend angry is 60 seconds of happiness you never get back.” 

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