Strike While The Iron Is Cold

[Please note: The views and opinions expressed in each post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BayNVC as a whole.]

Have you ever gotten really angry about something and realized later that the trigger was quite trivial? Have you, in hindsight, asked yourself this question: “Why did that bother me so much, so fast?”

Andre Igoudala, basketball player for the Golden State Warriors, was once hit in the groin by a player on the opposing team. The television replayed the scene in slow motion from various angles as the sportscasters discussed whether or not the action was a technical foul and if the opposing team should receive a penalty. As I watched Igoudala’s body language, I was amazed at how quickly he moved through various facial expressions and body positions. Although I will never know exactly what he felt at that moment, it looked to me like it went something like this: Surprise —-> Fear and Pain —-> Anger.

And it all happened in less than 3 seconds.

Anger can happen this quickly. You are faced with something unexpected.
A displeased look from the boss
An unforeseen hospital bill
An “I told you so”

Your experience is then mixed with thoughts.
“I can never get this right.”
“There’s no way I can handle this right now.”
“She’s right. I should have listened to her.”

You might feel discomfort, shame, regret or hopelessness. Because you don’t want these feelings, you might lash out.
“My boss is so demanding.”
“The President should be impeached for his faulty healthcare system.”
“I’m such an idiot!!”

This can all happen in less than 3 seconds.

So what’s the deal?

Anger is a primitive response that once helped us (and still helps some) fight for our food and shelter and protect ourselves and our loved ones. When we are angry, our brains release a neurotransmitter called catecholamine which gives our body a burst of energy. The hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine are also released, raising our blood pressure and increasing our heart rate. This is why we feel powerful when we’re angry.

As someone who wants to have more choice around my emotions, I tend to focus on these questions: Where does our anger get us? Is it helpful in maintaining connection to the people we care about? Does our anger encourage others to respond with care, concern and consideration? Chances are, probably not. My mentor, friend and colleague Thom Bond, Director of the New York Center for Nonviolent Communication often uses the phrase “strike while the iron is cold.” In the heat of the moment, for example if we hear someone telling us how to think, feel, act or what we should or shouldn’t do, we can easily become defensive or freeze up. If we can find a way to slow ourselves down in those heated moments, respond to our thoughts with curiosity and ask ourselves “What’s going on for me right now?,” I think we can begin to see and connect with our unfulfilled needs.

So then what? Are we supposed to ignore our anger? Is anger bad for us? Nonviolent Communication has taught me that anger is a messenger. Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, PhD, used to say the expression of anger (as we currently know it) is a tragic communication of unfulfilled needs. Discovering what those needs are can be helpful in maintaining connection to ourselves and others. In order to understand which needs are not being met, we can actually allow ourselves to see and feel when we’re angry. So I think it’s not about getting rid of anger. Instead, I say let it come and have its full expression, but let it come with some cautiousness and care. Because when we get lost in the judgements of our anger, we tend to lose connection to our needs and the other person’s needs and start focusing on who’s right and who’s wrong. And when we’re just beginning to practice becoming aware of our anger, taking time and creating space to find our needs might just be the single most important thing we can do to maintain clarity and not lose ourselves.

Taking Non-Action: An Exercise in NVC Empathy

  1. Get out of there… fast

Next time you start to become angry and you can hear yourself making judgements or blame statements, try stopping the conversation for a moment and exiting the situation if you can. Let the other person know you are going to do this and why. Watch out for blame or judgement here. Instead of saying, “I’m leaving because you’re a jerk,” you might say “I’m getting angry and I’m afraid I will say hurtful things I don’t mean. I’m going to leave the room for about 10 minutes so I can calm down, and then I’ll come back.” Make sure you come back.

You can physically leave the room, close your eyes or sit in silence. The more you experiment with this, the easier it is to do this in the room with the person with whom you are arguing. The purpose is to slow yourself down and create a space for yourself to figure out what’s beneath the anger. What is it (a need) that you really want right now that would make your situation easier?

  1. Walk It Off

Remember that age-old “time out” many of our parents gave us when we were behaving badly? You know, the time when we were supposed to think about how bad we were and what we would do differently? Well, I suggest we take a time in instead, as my friends from NVC Santa Cruz suggest. Taking a time in is about getting quiet and figuring out what you need while separating your blame or should/shouldn’t thinking. By shifting your awareness to what you need, you give yourself a chance to calm your nervous system so that you can actually think clearly.

For some, physical movement such as a walk or a run can help support this shift. I have a friend who buys and stores cheap thrift store dishes. When she needs to blow off some steam, she takes a friend or roommate down to the basement with her for support and throws the dishes against the wall. She swears it makes her feel better, and she has a friend to help her clean up.

Only return to the person when you are ready. If 10 minutes is not long enough, let the person know you need more time. During this time in, you could try this calming technique: place your hand over your belly-button and inhale deeply into your belly. Then exhale. Do this a few times. Your hand should rise and fall as you breathe.

  1. Needs, needs, what are my needs?

Once you have slowed down your breathing and heart rate to a manageable level, take the opportunity to practice this downloadable exercise: The T Exercise



A special thank you to those who created these resources.
The Science of Anger

5 Yoga and Breathing Tips to Conquer Anger Issues


About Kat

A Mississippi native and New Yorker at heart, Kat Nadel now lives in the Bay Area with her husband. Kat’s background – trained dancer/actress, movement and dance teacher, yoga, meditation and travel enthusiast – along with her desire to skillfully and peacefully confront conflict head-on – led her to Nonviolent Communication.

Kat’s mission is to change the world one conversation at a time. She believes the way we do anything is the way we do everything and shares NVC as a way of life that engenders understanding and compassion. She is excited to lend her organizational and facilitation skills to BayNVC through her role as a Collaborative Trainer.

To learn more about Kat, visit