GDE Managing Anger
When Ryan passed his driving test this week on his second attempt he said he thought he felt overwhelmingly ‘chuffed’ but, having never experienced such a feeling, he couldn’t be certain this is what it was. When he failed on his first attempt he hit the wall so hard that his knuckles were bleeding as I drove him home. Whilst he was learning to drive with me he frequently said things like, I have never looked at my anger like that before – I didn’t know it was something I could control.
Raising Ryan’s awareness of how his emotional state impacted on his thoughts and his actions was key to his driving test success. If I had simply said to him ‘Calm down’ every time I saw his anger rise then he would have given up his driving lessons and notched up yet another failure against his name. Worse still, if I had responded to his anger, assuming it was directed at me, he may have gone off and found another instructor, leaving my reputation in tatters and negatively affecting my recommendations and therefore my business levels.
I don’t have a ‘silver bullet’ as some people dismissively label ‘coaching’. I don’t know the answers – not at all. But I do know that my clients have the answers somewhere inside them and I am working on my skills to draw these out from them. I was very wary of Ryan, not knowing whether he might turn his anger on me; and also I was wary of my own response because I can be quick to flare and, if someone is expressing aggression and anger, I also find myself experiencing these emotions.
For example, Ryan might stall at a roundabout and immediately notice the driver in the car behind, who might appear impatient. Ryan would lose his temper and bang the steering wheel, turning round to glare at the driver behind. I would feel anger also but control that enough to just raise my voice, saying, ‘Get on with it!’ This resulted in Ryan doing as he was told and getting the engine started again and moving away. We would then pull up and discuss what had happened. Usually, I would thank Ryan for holding it together and getting the car moving before then discussing with him how he felt. In the first few lessons Ryan would say, ‘I don’t know’ in response to my questions about what his anger was like. I would leave the questions alone and suggest to him that being able to describe his anger would help him rationalise and manage it. I wanted him to be able to identify whether his anger, for example, felt like overwhelming pressure; or whether it had a colour, like red; or whether it sounded like a great roaring noise in his ears. As his lessons progressed, Ryan started to talk more openly about his anger, saying that he had never thought about it so much before and that he really liked the idea of being able to squash it down. He hadn’t realised how much his anger affected his vision – we had discussed the mistakes he made in his driving after his temper had flared and he recognised that they came down to being ‘blind with rage’.
I worked hard on Ryan’s self-esteem, encouraging him to identify the things he had done well but his negative self-image was so deeply entrenched that this was really an uphill struggle. I also knew that my overwhelmingly positive outlook on life could be immensely irritating to him and that there was real potential for clashing here. However, he did talk to me about coaching and take an interest in the fact that I was openly working with him on his thoughts and feelings. He knows that the way he is thinking and feeling will affect the decisions he makes and that, whilst this is particularly magnified when driving, it is something that happens in every aspect of his life.
Level 4 of the GDE matrix is called Goals for Life and Skills for Living. Ryan can now go out and get himself a better job because he has a driving licence. This will help him achieve his goal of being able to live independently and support himself financially. He has also learned skills for living, in particular how to recognise the things that are most likely to trigger his anger and then how to manage that anger. He understands that his anger is disproportionate in size to the incident that triggers it because it has had years of being allowed to grow unchecked. Now he knows how to squash it to a manageable size. These are all Ryan’s words, not mine and yet he started off saying ‘I don’t know’ whenever I questioned him on his emotions.
I coach in order that my clients gain a deeper understanding of how the way they think and feel will affect the decisions they make whenever they are driving. Ryan never had a problem with car control. He was always very skilled at this. He was, however, extremely troubled and hadn’t had a very good start in life. In some respects I was fortunate that he was not in control of his emotions because it was so obvious to him that we needed to work on this. Many people are much better at controlling their emotions whilst learning to drive and they drive to please their driving instructor, who will let them go for their driving test. They are also able to drive to please the examiner and therefore pass the driving test. But, once driving unsupervised, they are in danger of being involved in a crash because they haven’t learned how their thoughts and feelings control the way they drive.