Getting Angry At Work
How do you handle yourself when you get angry at work?
My client Candace recognizes when she’s getting angry — she feels her face get hot, she’s aware of something that feels almost physical rising within her body, and she has the urge to erupt in some way. To blow up at someone, to pound something, to yell. But she doesn’t do any of those things she has the urge to do. Here’s what she does instead. She says to herself, “Candace, you’re being hijacked by an emotion. DON’T DO ANYTHING at the moment, because it will be your physiology doing it, not YOU, the larger person who actually owns the physiology. So just hold your horses.”
When she was a moody teenager she was taught to “count to three before you blow up.” But counting to 3 isn’t a good enough strategy if your mind is still seething from what set you off. If you’re still telling yourself the story in which you are entitled to be outraged, to speak your mind and set the other person(s) straight.
But the problem with blowing up at work or verbally swatting someone is that it doesn’t really work. It doesn’t contribute to your overall effectiveness or your being seen as an effective person. It doesn’t result in a good correction, if a correction is what’s needed. And if you’re a leader or an emerging leader, it doesn’t contribute to the evolution of your team; in fact it’s more likely to fracture any sense of connection that exists among your team.
So Candace does not swat, yell, or express. She’s actually fully deployed internally, working with herself. She knows her most immediate job is to somehow get herself grounded and centered.To get BACK into a frame of mind that’s not laced with stress hormones and the other chemicals of anger. Back to a simpler, calmer place — not in order to be “nice,” not because the anger is wrong, but simply in order to be the most effective she can be in addressing what needs to be addressed.
She’s had a learning curve with her anger. She’s learned that her anger response is a reliable prompt to pay attention: a boundary has been crossed, an agreement has been broken, something important has gone down. And after she recovers from the physiology — which can be a matter of moments — she can use her many resources — mental and otherwise — to respond in a smart and useful way. NOT with a swat.
She now has a track record (with herself) of turning this situation around. “I know it’s actually not about me, and it’s not about the other person. It’s all about the work we do. If I can re-focus on the work — our mission, the purpose of our work — then I know I’ll find a way to say what needs to be said in terms of the work. That’s my ticket to losing the red face and becoming my larger, more competent self again.” She’s also learned to say, in the heat of the moment, “Give me a minute,” or “Let me get back to you.” This buys her some breathing room. Literally.
Curious to know more about how to interrupt the anger response? This article has some great ideas. So does this one. (Don’t be confused, in this second article, by the use of the word “reactionary” at the end of the second paragraph. They mean “reactive.”)
Does Candace’s story sound like a fairy tale to you? This is how one person is working more effectively with anger at work. It may not be the right way for you to work with your anger at work — you may have to find a different way. Could you use some help managing your emotions at work? I encourage you to schedule an initial meeting with me to tell me about your situation and find out what I can offer you. Email me to get started.