Manage Your Anger in the Workplace
Has anger ever gotten the better of you in the workplace? I hate to admit it, but I know what it’s like. There have been times I regret when I lashed out instead of cooling down. Times I’ve used an unnecessary, over-the-top tone of voice or sent irate emails (and instantly regretted that, too). My “best” was stomping (yes, stomping) out of someone’s office after delivering a tirade of accusations. Ouch.
Anger is such a powerful emotion, isn’t it? Anger can be constructive at times, but it’s toxic when misdirected or out of proportion to the situation. Toxic anger is not only detrimental to your company; it can also cause serious health issues, such as anxiety, depression and high blood pressure.
To be clear, I’m not talking about anger that is an appropriate response to actual injustice; for example, with workplace issues such as sexual harassment, discrimination, abusive bosses, favoritism and other inequities. These issues need to be addressed as the real problems they are.
However, toxic anger does not resolve issues. Worse still, it damages your workplace culture. Toxic anger looks different from one person to the next. What I’m referring to are unwarranted, negative outbursts of anger, irritation or frustration that disrupt working relationships, productivity or the office environment.
As a leader, if you are even slightly prone to this kind of anger, it is especially important for you to be aware of and address within yourself. Your employees are spending unnecessary time and energy trying not to trigger your anger or dealing with the stress of the aftermath. This hurts their productivity and may cause valued employees to leave your company for your competitors. As well, this anger hurts your own health and well-being!
If you have persistent difficulty managing your anger, you may need medical or clinical support. Not sure if your anger is normal or not? Check out these signs.
Power Challenge 1: Strategies for Managing Your Anger
You know what it’s like when your buttons get pushed. For example, your staff member screws up a critical purchase order. Someone sabotages a sale over petty internal disagreements. A client becomes unreasonable and demanding. I’m sure you can think of one or two times when your anger felt terribly intense.
Anger is a perfectly healthy human emotion; we all experience it from time to time. But what should you do when you’re at the office and about to go over the edge? How do you react? Are you able to get a handle on your own emotions?
Try these four proven methods to manage yourself when you feel angry.
1. Stop. Count to 10 and Breathe Deeply.
Your natural temptation may be to react and respond — but DON’T. Instead: Stop, count to ten and breathe as deeply as you can. Most importantly, resist the urge to respond. Wait until you can calmly compose your response. Counting to ten while focusing on your breath slows your heart rate and helps you reach a more constructive emotional and mental place. This method might sound cliché, but it works!
2. Walk Away from the Situation.
If you can, walk away — and I do mean walk, not stomp! Go back to your office, step outside for some air or change the scenery any way you can. The point is to put some distance between you and the situation to give yourself time to cool off. You may then find that the situation isn’t nearly as bad as it first seemed.
3. Talk it out.
Venting or talking over the issue with someone you trust at work can also be very healthy and cathartic. The mere act of recounting the story can help de-escalate your anger. Talking can help you feel heard and understood, and you might get some good ideas on how to handle the situation. However, ensure privacy by holding this conversation behind closed doors or outside.
Don’t have someone at work? Text or call a friend or spouse. Better yet, make plans for a coffee date or dinner. When things aren’t going well at work, it’s constructive to have an outside support network to help you feel valued and appreciated.
4. Write — But Don’t Send.
Writing or journaling about your anger can be very healthy. Whether you write an email or some other letter that you want to send to the person who has soooo deeply wronged you — listing all the ways that they’ve totally screwed up — writing it down can help you feel better and dissipate some emotion. Writing is a terrific stress-relief tool.
However, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you actually send what you wrote! Sending it will only make matters much, much worse. In fact, you should play it completely safe: don’t put the draft in email in the first place – it’s way too easy to hit send by accident! And you might not remember to address it to yourself. Later, when you’re calm, you can reread, rewrite or delete it.
Never send an angry email by accident! Put your name in the “TO” field when you’re writing out your anger.
Power Challenge 2: Recognize your Personal Triggers
When you are calm, take some time to reflect about what triggers your anger. Look back at other similar occasions. What buttons were pushed? Who and what were involved? Is it the same individual who keeps making you angry? Is it situational, such as delayed orders or client payments?
We all have personal “hot buttons.” The key is to know yours. Once you are aware of your triggers, you can start to catch yourself as soon as your anger begins to arise. That gives you the chance to use one of the methods above. You’ll be surprised how much they help — and how much better you will feel about yourself.
If you are the reason for someone’s anger, do not let the situation fester. Talk with the individual. Be prepared to take ownership for your actions and work out a resolution. Pony up!
Power Challenge 3: Train Your Body to Calm Down
For most of us, learning to manage our emotions — and calm ourselves down — can feel like quite a challenge. It takes practice and time. It’s a lot like training our body to become stronger through consistent exercise. So, when it comes to anger, we need to train ourselves to be able to handle it appropriately.
While breathing exercises are very effective, you can also try something different, known as “progressive muscle relaxation.” With this technique, you purposely tense up your muscles, hold, and then let go. It might seem counterintuitive, but this process helps you relax your body, and you gain more awareness of tension you tend to hold.
How to Do It
You can work from your head down to your toes, or the reverse order. Either way, you’re going to work through groups of muscle, one a time. Lie down or sit comfortably. Then do the following with each muscle group:
- Tense up the group of muscles as hard as you can.
- Hold for about 5 seconds.
- Completely let go (for more benefit, add a big, loud exhale).
- Wait (relaxed) for about 30 seconds.
- Repeat once with the same muscle group.
Muscle groups include your:
- Face (all at once, or do your eyes, then nose, then mouth and jaw, etc.)
- Neck and shoulders
- Arms and chest
- Hands and wrists
- Abdomen and hips
- Ankles and toes
Progressive muscle relaxation is effective whenever you feel angry, or just generally stressed out. A lot of people use it to relax their body before going to sleep. But don’t wait until you’re in the midst of an angry episode to give this a try! For real benefit, create a consistent practice for yourself, and truly retrain your body to be able to relax whenever needed.
You Can Do This!
If all of this feels overwhelming, start with just one thing above (pick any one) and give it a try. See what happens; then try another. Learning to manage your anger in the workplace is likely to take some time and practice — but it is well worth your effort. Your work relationships and office culture will improve, as will everyone’s productivity. And, you’ll be modelling healthy self-management behaviors that can inspire your employees to want to become their best selves, too!
Engage Carla to inspire and motivate attendees as a speaker at your next event. Contact her today.