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Self Management

In the Valley of Darkness: When Anger Blinds You

It is Wednesday afternoon and two unexpected meetings you have to attend have disrupted your entire day. Your unread e-mail messages pass the 100 mark. You have recently learned that a critical deadline has been missed on a project that is due tomorrow. Your boss has just hit you with another change in the program specifications negating two weeks of work. You are getting more and more irritated. Anger is a very real emotion in the workplace.

Acknowledge, don't hide.

When you are angry acknowledge it. The feeling is probably legitimate and reasonable. Managing anger does not mean ignoring it or pretending that it is a different emotion all together. Anger is valid and reasonable.  Beware the common but dangerous strategy of sublimating the feeling often motivated by a sincere desire to be viewed as positive and a team player. Submerging the anger can produce high stress levels, sleep disorders, and truly hateful destructive thoughts. How you deal with anger at work says a lot about how successful you will be over time. Try these techniques the next time you see red.

  1. Take a time out. Strange as it may seem anger is actually a choice. We choose how to respond to a given situation. Allow some distance and time to pass before confronting the individual or the situation that distressed you. This is an ideal opportunity to engage in a physical activity (not throttling the offender) but taking a walk or going to get coffee. This allows the adrenaline that was pumping to recede and your shoulders to come back down.
  2. Think first before responding. Anger can easily make you inflexible which hinders problem solving. Are you sure that your way or interpretation is the only way? If you are inflexible, ask yourself if you are fighting to keep control rather than for any other motivation. The more flexible you are able to be in general, the easier it will be for you to find options. Reducing (not necessarily eliminating) the strong emotion allows you to identify whether there is room to accommodate or compromise about the issue. Note that there is a difference between anger and rage. It is almost impossible to think beyond rage but it is very possible to think beyond anger.
  3. Watch your mouth. It is very tempting to say hurtful things that will sour the workplace relationship. Similarly, statements filled with extremes such as "you always", "it never", "it's impossible", etc. slam the door on any negotiating opportunities. In anger you can steamroller over the other person. Overpowering others is not easily forgotten or forgiven and will come back to haunt you later. It is perfectly legitimate to say that you are angry, displeased, or disturbed about a situation. Just do not follow up with accusations or recriminations. That will not get you anywhere. Strive to identify and use constructive language.
  4. Listen before reacting. Try not to tune out as soon as words come your way that you do not want to hear. Listen to the other point of view because it is possible that you do not have all the information and your version or potential solution could be wrong. Try to see the situation from their point of view. Even though you may not end up agreeing at least their point of view becomes more reasonable and from reason can come positive outcomes.
  5. Don't sweat the little stuff. A colleague of mine who fought in Vietnam says, "I have been shot at and missed." His perspective is that we always have more little stuff than big stuff. So the printer missed the three o'clock deadline, the copier broke down, or the supply you were waiting for is a day late. These are fairly minor. Step outside and talk to a homeless person or to a single parent raising three on very little income, or anybody with a chronic illness, that is big stuff. Save your energy for the big things. A good question to ask yourself is, "What's the worst that can happen?" And if the answer is not too much, the situation is probably not worth your anger in the first place and certainly not your rage.

If handling anger and disappointment is not getting any easier with age or experience maybe a sympathetic listener or a professional counselor can be helpful. Talking it through will help you get to the roots of the problem and help you learn to respond differently when a similar situation arises in the future.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: odette@SmartWaysToWork.com. Visit us at: www.smartwaystowork.com call: 1-800-599-8463.

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