Taming Your Shrew


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?

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

3 comments on “Taming Your Shrew

  1. When I am angry, I usually count from 1 to 10 or more and simultaneously perform deep breathing techniques. At times, I write my emotional outburst on paper then I burn it or I jog/run for 1 hour or more depending on the tension and stress I am having. But there are times that as a human being, you can’t avoid having an emotional outburst, I think this is our human nature. But there are times when a well-timed outburst can do us some good too, but that anger must be manufactured and under our control. Then we can determine exactly how and on whom it will fall. Of course, the intention is to never stir up reactions that will work against us in the long run. And this blog’s intention is to avoid such miscommunication especially in the field of leadership and management. As a good leader, you have to employ those thunderbolts rarely, to make them forceful and meaningful, if only to stress a point. Of course, we have to realize that even if it is purposely staged or not, if the outburst comes too often, it will lost its intended purpose. I would like to share a quote from Aristotle on anger control, he said “‎”Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way… that is not easy.”

  2. Hi Nicasio, Thank you for sharing your personal quest to tame your anger; all good ideas for leaders!

    I agree that there are times when anger, well placed, is needed. But it needs to be “controlled anger” without getting out of hand. I also think it should not get personal – name calling, using past events that weren’t addressed to make a point. It should state the facts and feelings of the person addressing them, provide some specific indication of the impact, and request a conversation – either in the moment or at a later time. In short, I would call this “reasonable, respectful anger”. And it should be real – not staged. What do you think?

  3. Thanks Mary for responding to my comment. I agree on what you said. It should not be staged and when I said it is manufactured, I mean that it should be controlled. Even children can spot genuine emotions such as concern, smile, anger etc a mile away. I am learning a lot from your post. Thank you very much.

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