By Prudy Gourguechon
On the surface, a business can seem to be about profits, strategies, products, innovations, capital, investments—all the processes and goals of an operation. But behind all those core components of an ongoing enterprise are individuals in relationship with one another, trying to think, create, make decisions and make things happen.
Business runs on relationships. I’m not talking about abstract relationships, like the ones the company has with “buyer personas” or even the institutionalized relationships attended to in customer service or HR departments. Rather, what I mean is the relationships individual people in the business have with each other as they go about their work.
Human relationships, whether between two individuals or within a group, are by nature and inevitably bound up with emotion and the personal history, temperament and needs of each person involved. The more pressured the environment the more intense emotional reactivity will be.
Because of all this, there will inevitably be times at work when you are angry. Even very very angry. ou were passed over for a promotion. Someone else was given credit for your work. Your idea was stolen. You were promised something that wasn’t delivered. Someone you looked up to turned out to be quite other than who you thought he was.
There’s another reason there will inevitably be times you’re very angry at work. The way our minds operate, we often (and unconsciously) displace a feeling from one part of our lives to another. So, if you’re very upset about something in your personal life (and the intense emotion doesn’t even have to be anger), you can find yourself inordinately enraged at the office about something that otherwise wouldn’t have evoked such a strong reaction.
Fortunately, there are a number of things to do when you’re very angry in the workplace. Perhaps even more important: know what actions to avoid.
Ten Tips for Handling your Anger at Work
- Deal with your body/mind equilibrium first. Don’t take a deep breath, take three. Inhale slowly to the count of five and exhale slowly to the count of seven with a puff of pressure at the end. You’ll be surprised at how different you feel immediately. Drink a glass of water and eat a snack that doesn’t skimp on carbs. Change the physical scene—best of all get outside and look purposefully at something not related to work—flowers, billboards, peoples’ faces.
- Separate feelings from actions. You’re angry—that’s a feeling. What you do about it is an action, and that requires planning and strategy. Pop psychology too often advises that you need to express, not repress your feelings. Actually, not always. Not often. Only when it is going to be productive and when the intensity of the feelings has died way down.
- Do not confront the person you’re angry with without thinking long and hard about the possible consequences—what you hope to gain and what you could lose by doing so.
- Spend some time thinking about what else could be adding to the intensity of your reaction. Are you really angry about something at home? Does the behavior of the person you’re angry with remind you of someone in your past?
- Think about what you might have done to contribute to the situation. Were you too quiet in team discussions? Have you actually asked for what you want at work or just hoped it would come your way?
- Never write an email to anyone about the situation in the first 24 hours.
- Be very wary about complaining to any colleagues at work.
- Try to elaborate a story about the situation in your head. Go as far back as you can to the beginning of the sequence of events that led up to your burst of anger. And then see if you can imagine the story out into the future. If you can think of a movie or TV show plot that parallels it that’s great. It’s rare to find a unique human drama. People have been enraging each other since the beginning of time. You’ll feel less alone and will calm down in the process.
- Get back to work. Any work. The more intense your anger, the more concrete the work you focus on should be. Re-write your to-do list, organize your sticky notes, clean your desk, empty the junk in your email inbox. When you calm down a little you can tackle more challenging work—a project task or a new piece of writing.
- Get even. I’m not kidding. But only play the long game and be extremely careful here. If you’re being mistreated, ignored or humiliated, think about what scenario would best right the wrong. Remember the wise dictum from the poet George Herbert, “Living well is the best revenge.”
You might have noticed that many of these ten tips involve the advice to think. That’s no accident. Your anger is an intense feeling. We all have intense feelings. Thriving in the workplace means having self-control and discipline. That translates into thinking before you act and acting only when your intense emotions have had the heat drained out of them.