When I'm upset - angry or enraged or disappointed or annoyed - the rule I try to live by is this:
It turns out that the words or actions that upset me today are often meaningless and irrelevant tomorrow. Almost nothing seems as bad the next day. So I try to say nothing whenever possible, particularly when I'm upset with someone whose relationship I value or depend upon.
I wait. Two days if possible. Two days of inaction often makes everything better.
This was not always the case. There was a time when my response to anger was immediate and direct. I was known for my biting, caustic, unwavering retaliation. And I was good at it. As one friend said, "You always know the worst thing to say at the best moment."
There are times when I still put this skill to use, but whenever possible, I hold back and wait. Some have said that I have "mellowed out" over the years. "Calmed down." "Chilled out."
Not true. The fires of retaliation still burn brightly in my soul. Those worst things at the best moment still leap to my mind. The two day rule was put into place for the sake of productivity. It turns out that a reduction in conflict and drama in my life yields more time for accomplish my goals. I get more done when I'm not trying to verbally assault my offenders. My mind is clear. My thoughts are directed toward more productive matters.
Unexpectedly, this shift has also caused people to seek my counsel on a regular basis. I spend much of my week offering advice on personal and professional matters, primarily (I think) because I am seen as someone who is thoughtful, trustworthy, and grounded. Stable. No longer as reactionary or unpredictable.
This is not as good for my productivity, but a reputation that has served me well.
The two-day rule doesn't apply, of course, to my children or my students. It is critical that inappropriate behavior be dealt with as soon as possible if you have any hope of affecting a meaningful change in a young person, so even if I'm annoyed or angry with the child for their behavior, I address the problem directly.
It also doesn't apply to situations like my podcast, Boy vs. Girl, where verbal repartee is expected and demanded. My co-host, Rachel, and I often disagree, but that is part of the show. There are times when verbal sparring is expected, invited, and even desired. There are moments when people demand my instantaneous reaction. In these cases, I don't hold back.
This rule also doesn't apply to encounters with strangers, since any delay in response will result in the loss of an opportunity at retribution. If I'm never going to see the person again, I may need to express my outrage or disappointment immediately before that person exits my life forever.
Yes, it's true that a day or two later, their perceived crime against humanity might seem decidedly less egregious, but I'm not willing to take that chance. I fire away.
But when it comes to family, friends, colleagues, and anyone else whose relationship I value, I try to exercise patience whenever possible. Wait a day or two before you open your mouth in anger or to complain and you'll find yourself almost never opening it in anger and almost never complaining.