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The Real Message Anger is Trying to Deliver

On the first day of high school journalism class, Nora Ephron’s teacher taught the class how to write a lede. He began with a set of facts:

“Kenneth L. Peters, principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the faculty of the high school will travel to Sacramento on Thursday for a colloquium on new teaching methods. Speaking there will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, educator Robert Maynard Hutchins, and several others.”

Then Mr. Simms asked the students to write the lede for a news story based on those facts. The lede (or lead), considered an important part of a news story, is meant to catch the reader’s interest and draw them into reading the rest of the story. It should convey the main point of the story very concisely.

“Burying the lede” means to begin a story with secondary details and postpone the important points for later in the story. It’s considered poor journalistic form because it can cause the reader to lose interest.

Ephron and her classmates all typed away, constructing ledes. They handed in their attempts, which relayed more or less what the teacher had dictated, many in the reverse order — “Margaret Mead and Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the faculty…”

Mr. Simms smiled. “The lead to the story is,” he said, “There will be no school Thursday.”

Don’t bury anger’s lede

When we experience our own anger during conflict, it can swamp us and hijack us, embarrass and humble us. It can also make us feel powerful and strong in the moment.

When we experience someone else’s anger, it can startle and frighten us, intimidate and coerce us. It can also jolt our own anger awake, as we push back with our equivalent power and force.

I am asked by clients and mediation colleagues alike, How can I handle anger better during conflict resolution conversations? Often, the questioner is seeking help for managing the behavior, because anger’s behaviors can be unpleasant, even unacceptable.

My answer is this: Don’t bury anger’s lede.

Most times, the main point of anger’s story is not loss of control or unacceptable behavior, the need for better techniques or anger management tools. Any of these may be true, but they miss the main point. We’ve buried the lede.

The main point of anger’s story is that something important isn’t being heard or understood yet. Anger is its frustrated messenger. Understand the anger’s real message and the messenger can leave.

Most times, the lede is, There is a message struggling to be heard.


Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at… MORE >

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