How does Anger Affect Conflict?

In 2011, actor Alec Baldwin was waiting for his flight to depart. He was relaxing, playing a phone game to pass the time. The seconds felt endless when he wasn’t enveloped inside the world of Words with Friends. During these finite moments, the moments of pure bliss, a flight attendant came over to him and asked him to turn off his phone. He grew viciously angry and rushed to the restroom. He then let out his frustration and tweeted a disheartening message about the airlines. The conflict concluded with his daughter apologizing to the flight attendant on Baldwin’s behalf. 

Anger can blow a conflict out of proportion, but if it is managed properly it can actually increase the momentum of a resolution. The goal of a conflict is generally to satisfy the parties’ involved goals. Anger is a reaction to the interruption of acquiring said goals. This situation displays how anger can affect a conflict. It caused Baldwin to leave his seat and have a tantrum. Granted, while it was not overtly obtrusive or disrespectful, other situations may not be as easy to diffuse. We need to analyze anger management from the viewpoint of all parties, the background of anger, and how anger can affect a conflict resolution.

The Baldwin scenario was smoothly resolved by a mediator (his daughter), but this situation could’ve evolved dangerously if it wasn’t handled properly. I described the incident in a specific way, a way where Alec is our protagonist and we are in his mind. There is no way to come an agreement without understanding what the initial conflict is. When anger is involved in conflict, the goal is to contain and deescalate it as much as possible, so it can be resolved. There is no way to do that without understanding why he felt the need to react like that. Don’t get me wrong, conflict isn’t just about the responding party dealing with anger, Baldwin needs to learn how to use his anger constructively too, but the reacting party has decisions to make. In a sense, the reacting party is a mediator for anger (at least they can be). He needs to be reassured that he’s not misunderstood, and then lead to admitting his mistakes and shown how his tantrum clearly benefits no one. Clearly, Baldwin’s outburst isn’t the best resolution, but it’s certainly better than him beating up the flight attendant and ripping his chair off the plane. In Baldwin’s shoes he felt he was forced into discomfort for no reason so he lashed out. Humans are not innately irrational, so explaining why it is necessary for his phone to be turned off can be a precautionary aid to the resolution. We only get defensive when we feel attacked, understanding why can save loads of turmoil. I’m sure the flight attendant kindly asked Baldwin, because if not, knowing his temper he probably would’ve jumped off the plane. Conflicts involving anger cannot always be shut down before beginning, but all of them can be managed.

By definition, anger is the emotion connected to a perceived unfairness or injustice, or the frustration of unmet needs or thwarted desires (Jandt 119). If conflict is a struggle between two parties who perceive interference from other party in achieving their goals, then the deciding factor of how the conflict will be resolved is based on how the anger is managed. In conflict there is anger, the only variable is to what extent. Anger can be contained to where it is nearly nonexistent just as it can simmer above the surface and dramatically impact a conflict. The anger results from one party’s need to release the tension, so it can be released with aggressive gestures like Baldwin or in a constructive way where it initiates the resolution. Constructively, anger can motivate us to stand up for injustices and make positive changes in situations. Destructively, it can be too intense and misdirected and can result in poor decision making (Jandt 121).

When a party is absolutely flooded with anger, their cognitive processing takes a dive. It occurs more often with men than with women, but when this happens one thing needs to be clear: the cause. For a conflict to be resolved, we need to know for what reason, because the clear expressions of rage can lead us to the conclusion. In solving conflicts, the issue needs to be certain and evident to both parties. Anger comes from feeling unfairly attacked, misunderstood, wronged, or righteously indignant, so how can this emotionally available state be managed?

Conflict (while it can also occur internally) resides in the struggle of two or more people. When anger is involved all parties have to react accordingly. In the Baldwin scenario, the flight attendant, daughter, and Baldwin all have decisions to make. There needs to be a focus all sides of the conflict because this isn’t dictated by solely one person. It begins with the person who generally expresses the most anger. The incumbent party can suppress it in attempt at moving forward, but that being similar to disengagement weakens the relationship. It’s important to note that anger doesn’t invalidate feelings. A common misconception is that when anger strikes, the receiver doesn’t have control of how they feel and can be viewed as overreacting. Of course, anger can cause things to get out of hand, but it doesn’t decrease the authority on your feelings. You have the same right to voice your opinions, if anything you have more credibility because the situation is validated by your feelings. What’s counterintuitive is to act out to such an obtrusive extent where nobody will take you seriously, but that doesn’t mean to sweep it under the rug entirely. There is a fine line we walk, but that is why anger management is important, so we can progress the conflict. If avoided, the long-term effects of perpetual suppression can lead to emotional and physical distress. There is a grand benefit to expressing anger, it just needs to be in a constructive way.

The angry party needs to make sense of the situation as well as the diffuser. His three reactions can be: the embracement of the anger, “I suffer and I want you to know it”, the rationalization of it, “I am doing my best”, or the plead for assistance, “I need your help”. Once addressed, the responses should be: the examination of its nature, the acknowledgement that the anger will not be developed upon because that will cause more suffering, the understanding of where it comes from whether it be mindfulness, misconception, or lack of skill, and proposition for assistance to proceed to a resolution. After this is realized, there will be an understanding and reconciliation.

A tool for anger management goes as follows. It is called the X-Y-Z formula and begins with a moment of silence. In the heat of the moment it’s tough to not act impulsively, but we must wait, gather ourselves, and process what’s going on. It can actually be therapeutic to take in one deep breath and prepare a statement. It should go as follows: “When you do X, in situation Y, I feel Z.” (Jandt 123). With the addition of this statement, the conflict can be completed constructively. You can’t attempt to solve a conflict without knowing why it started in the first place. When you use this formula, you successfully move the conflict to a manageable state. A state where the causes are clear and you can attempt to resolve it. Especially if followed with the acknowledgement of the angry party’s feelings, as well as the clarification and self-realization of those involved emotions, the importance of the issue, and the attention to a possible rational solution (which is known as engaged buddhism). The first step is diffusing the potential flood of aggression, so it can be followed by the integration of emotions and then the resolution.

The Toraja people of Indonesia have a heretical way of dealing with anger. They treat anger as a display of shame and often ridicule those who are angry. Their approach to dealing with it is by not dealing at all. Anger is met with no interaction until it subsides. The taboo of anger encourages their people to overcome it quickly, which perpetually improves their society. They often incorporate a mediator in the resolution and agree to “not hold grudges” upon completion. In the west it is common to find anger responded to by management. There are outliers to every method, but upon examination, anger management can be profoundly beneficial.


Jandt, F. E. (n.d.). Conflict & Communication. Sage.