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Triggers of rage

No, I’m not referring to automatically executed SQL/DML code, but to an article I just read. It’s about the nature of things that can spark irrational anger, particularly in employment arrangements, and is authored by veteran software project manager Michael Lopp. In it he describes how simple things like a key slowly failing on his keyboard can evoke the same intense, aggressive and irrational thoughts and actions that discussions of the Big Three (title, salary, and location) can during performance reviews. He proceeds to advise managers to approach such conversations with patience while avoiding analysis paralysis (endless cycles of “should I give a bigger raise?” or “does he deserve the promotion?”). Ultimately he chalks these reactions up to the faulty mental wiring innate to all humans.

I instantly drew the connection from Lopp’s triggers to unmet expectations, a concept core to my own understanding of relationships. I chimed in with the following.

Revolving the discussion around the concept of triggers is an appreciable basis for giving advice, but as a student of interpersonal communication, I’d argue a better center is the concept of “expectations”. In fact, you touched upon this throughout the article.

Your concept of triggers, and the Big Three you mention, evolve from miscommunication of expectations. One party believes the other party has agreed to meet certain expectations, when in fact they have not. (This describes the vast majority of problems between rational, self-interested entities, including romantic relationships and business partnerships.) Most often, this is because the expectations simply have not been expressed, were vague, or have changed. One of the common traits of the Big Three are that they are circumstances of voluntary employment that are rarely discussed.

From there, different bits of advice might be derived, including: make ongoing efforts both to break down cultural barriers to discussing the Big Three and to explicitly identify other unexpressed expectations, to understand disappointment/rage in terms of unmet expectations (that you expect keyboards to have a long key life, and that others will not chew with their mouths open, perhaps because you don’t do so), [and] to frame disagreements in terms of unclear expectations. This can restore a sense of rationality, responsibility, and constructivity to the situation.

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