I’m a fan of healthy workplaces that appreciate that we are all human and rich emotional lives come with our humanity – so why not let our emotions show? Yet for a leader, showing your anger in a way that tears others down can be destructive to your attempts to build a solid team and other workplace relationships that are open and honest.
One leader I know wondered why her team wasn’t responding to her attempts to get them involved in conversations around strategic decisions. She also noticed that her team rarely came into her office with problems to talk through. She saw this as a good sign that they were smart and capable of taking care of things themselves.
She was pleased to have such a skilled team… until something really big happened involving one of her managers that should have required an early intervention on her part. Her manager heard about it before she did. And then she was fired.
On later reflection, she realized that her previous approach of “shooting the messenger” of bad news by getting angry didn’t serve her or the organization well; it kept people from being involved and from telling her things she needed to know.
I know how destructive a show of anger can be in the workplace and together with some very smart clients, I’ve learned some ways to help them recognize and deal with their anger before it becomes destructive. This is one method that often works well:
Learn your anger triggers: What causes you to “go off”? Think about the times that your anger has taken you over; can you recognize some common themes that indicate what your anger triggers are? For some leaders, it might be finding out about an important problem later than they’d like. For others it might be a missed due date or a broken commitment. If you recognize your triggers, you can move on to the next step.
Learn your bodily reaction to triggers: When you get triggered, your anger has to start somewhere. Many people, if they pay attention, can feel it in their body. Some feel a tightening in their chest, or notice tension in their hands, shoulders, stomach, or throat. The next time you get triggered to anger, notice where you feel that impulse. Once you notice, you may be able to learn to start to calm yourself.
Count to ten or take a deep breath: Both of these will work to slow down the impulse to act irrationally. Do you really want to lash out? Pausing and replacing the impulse to act in a way that might be destructive will give you time to think of a response that might be less damaging – even if it means “let me think about what you just said/did and get back to you when we can sit down and talk about it rationally”.
Anger is what they call a secondary emotion. A show of anger is often the ego trying to cover up feelings of fear – of inadequacies, insecurities – in ourselves. Understanding what’s really behind your fear might help you curb your impulse over the long haul.
How have you been able to tame your anger?