Real Story About Anger in the Workplace
Back in Ancient time’s life was much simpler. When King Solomon wrote in the Book of Proverbs, “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,” he probably could have never imagined what life at work would be like in the 21st Century. However, his words still hold true even in our time.
In the workplace we are faced with all kinds of challenges, frustrations and road blocks; not to mention interpersonal and communications problems. How we deal with those problems can make the difference between success and failure at work.
How many times do you hear someone in the workplace saying something to the effect of:
- “He or she is really a nice person but has a ‘short fuse.’”
- “He or she is a ‘loose cannon.’”
- “You don’t want to ‘cross’ him or her!”
The truth of the matter is YOU don’t want to be “that person!” How can you avoid it? How do you manage yourself when encountering the kinds of challenges at work where things don’t go according to plan?
Ambrose Bierce (1842 –1914), who was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist, and satirist, is quoted as saying, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” These are some really great words of wisdom… or as my grandmother often said, “Take a deep breath and count to ten.”
It’s All About How We React…
Learning how to control one’s reactions is one of the keys to dealing with anger in the workplace… or anyplace for that matter. This is not saying that we shouldn’t get angry; we’re all human and it’s normal. What we need to do is learn to manage our emotional reactions and respond effectively. It could be a work-project specific issue or an interpersonal relationship; how we respond as opposed to react to the unforeseen circumstance can be the difference between success and failure in the workplace.
It’s really about learning how to separate ourselves from our reaction to the incident and to respond appropriately. Think through and analyze the effects of our actions. Ask yourself the question: “Is there anything I can do about the situation right now, this minute?” If there is something you can “do” about it, then you should “do” it as soon as possible. However, if there’s nothing that you can do about the situation, maybe it’s a matter of a new policy or procedure being instituted by the company, or an incident that has already occurred. If so, then there’s nothing you can do about it, so an emotional outburst is futile and can only reflect negatively on you. The only way to manage “you” is to “accept” it, the circumstance or the other person as they are…It’s something you cannot change and you need to manage your behaviors and emotions within the parameters of the situation at hand.
While this is not an easy thing to do, I’m not suggesting that anyone “stuff” their emotions. It’s important to express them-- however, you need to express them in a positive way.
Following are some suggestions that might provide some assistance when having to respond appropriately and avoid saying something you might regret.
Take a Break
If it’s possible, sometimes it’s enough just to put some distance between yourself and the situation. Sometimes it helps to take a quick “break” and “clear the air” when tempers start to rise between individuals. A quick breath of fresh air or a walk to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee can often give us the time to think the situation through, calm down and think more rationally.
Assertiveness vs. Aggression
Using “I” statements is an assertiveness behavioral technique that is an effective way of expressing emotions including anger, without putting the other person on the defensive. Simply state: When you (describe the behavior or incident) I feel (state emotion, angry, frustrated, etc.). Then state the desired results: I wish that in situations like this you would (describe how you would like the behavior to change). For example: “While I appreciate your feedback I felt embarrassed and angry because it was given during the staff meeting in front of my fellow team members. Moving forward, I would prefer to receive feedback on my work in private. Would you be willing to do that?
Learning assertiveness techniques is an acquired skill and there are numerous books and classes on the subject.
“Vent” to a Trusted Confidant
Additionally it’s also important to have a “confidant” who will listen to you and keep whatever you say in confidence. This is someone with whom you can “vent,” or say whatever you need to say to get whatever is causing the anger off your chest. Then, when you’re done, it’s over.
These are just a couple of tools and suggestions. Ultimately, we’re all in a battle of sorts to control ourselves or have our reputation and relationships, not to mention our career, suffer. Sometimes we may only be able to follow the advice of my grandmother and, remembering the words of Ambrose Bierce, “Take a deep breath and count to ten."