Why We Get Angry

You have probably experienced an “Amygdala Hijack”. This is when the part of our brain that detects threats to our safety or status (the amygdala) kicks into overdrive, making us feel intensely angry and even a bit paranoid. This makes it difficult to think clearly and the risk of overreacting — saying or doing things we later regret — becomes very real. For instance blurting accusations or sending vitriolic emails. Dr Daniel Goleman, first coined the term in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

One night recently, I and a neighbour had a simultaneous Amygdala Hijack. It was ugly. I was walking a dog I’d been minding for a friend up the street near my house. To my annoyance, because I didn’t have a poo bag on me, the dog squatted and began to do her business in the middle of the footpath. As I stood there wondering how I would clean this up, a car that had been slowly coming up the street stopped and turned its high beam onto us. I felt like an escaped convict caught in the spotlights. The car then edged slowly into the driveway stopping next to me. The window wound down and the following exchange occurred.

“Got you!!”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re the one who’s been leaving their dog’s mess outside my house.”

“What!? That’s ridiculous. I was going to pick it up.”

“So why didn’t you?”

“Because … I don’t have a bag.”

“Exactly! Because you never have a bag.”

“Rubbish. I was going to go back to the house and get one.”

“No you weren’t. You were going to just leave it there weren’t you? Admit it!”

I was so furious at these judgemental and unfair accusations that I was finding it hard to even talk. My neighbour, who I now saw as my enemy, was also feeling incensed at what he saw as my indecency and disrespect for his property. At this point his wife offered to run inside and get a bag so I could pick up the offending material. As she scuttled up the driveway we both waited, fuming, in the dark.

It took some serious self-awareness and self-control to prevent the situation from escalating into an all-out conflict. With bag now in hand I picked up the poo under his watchful, suspicious eye. The dog then happily trotted back to our house and flopped onto her rug happy and relaxed while I spent the next 15 minutes at home getting a sense of my composure back. Things that helped were breathing deeply, looking at the situation objectively, and from my neighbour’s perspective, and involving myself in a practical, enjoyable activity, in my case playing the guitar — heavy rock!

The psychology of franchising

When our amygdala is aroused we become primed for a “fight or a flight” response. This causes us to become mistrustful and edgy. In recent years neuroscientists, such as Dr David Rock at the Neuroleadership Institute, have been studying and identifying the conditions that either activate positive feelings in the brain of engagement and collaboration, or the negative feelings of avoidance, fear and threat stimulated by the amygdala.

For instance when faced with disrespect, unfairness or uncertainty about the future most people will react with defensiveness or anger. Interestingly these are the things that also typically trigger franchisee unhappiness and frustration. On the other hand, when we give franchisees respect, keep them informed and help them to connect with likeminded others they are likely to open up and engage in positive ways.

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