From the January 1996 issue of Entrepreneur

How many times have situations like these happened in the course of your business?

  • You lose a major account because a competitor underbid you.
  • Without consulting you, your partner made a key decision you don't support.
  • A vendor's late delivery means you and your staff will spend the weekend working.

These and thousands of similar scenarios that happen every day are enough to make entrepreneurs very angry. This common and understandable human emotion is usually perceived as negative, but it is possible to turn your work-related anger into a positive and productive force in your business.

To accomplish this, you need to understand what happens if you don't use your anger constructively. Orlando, Florida, career consultant Barbara Adler says unmanaged anger can interfere with your ability to function in a rational manner, inhibit effective communication, and create external and internal distress by negatively affecting your relationships with your customers and employees, not to mention your physical health and well-being.

"Anger is a cue that something in a situation isn't working for us," Adler says. "The reason we sometimes experience difficulty is we don't separate out the cue that tells us something isn't working from the process that enables us to figure out how to correct the situation."

When you feel yourself becoming angry, an important first step to take is to acknowledge your emotions. You can't manage something if you deny it exists. Then decide what you need to do to maintain control in the situation.

Adler says you may be able to simply take a few deep breaths, mentally count to 10, and then deal with the situation. Or you may need to put some physical space between you and the others involved to regain your perspective before you say or do something you'll regret later.

"That may mean you tell the other person something like 'I am very angry about what has just happened. I need to step down the hall and get a drink of water and then come back and talk with you about it,' " Adler says. "Or you could say, 'I am very angry about this, and we need to discuss it. Can we take a break and come back in five minutes?' "

This gives you a chance to determine whether the situation itself needs changing or whether you can resolve the issue by changing the way you perceive the particular circumstances. "In your timeout, clarify for yourself what it is about the situation that is stimulating anger in you," Adler advises. "Does it have something to do with the nature of the interaction between the people involved? Does it have something to do with what your goals and expectations are? Or is it something that doesn't have anything to do with that situation at all? Maybe you're feeling anger that really belongs someplace else."

In the latter case, the simple realization that you are transferring anger from one situation where your feelings are justified to another where they aren't may be enough to resolve your feelings.

On the other hand, even though it's important to maintain a professional demeanor, don't make the mistake of always hiding your anger-as long as you can control it. "You can communicate anger through effective use of voice tone and body language," Adler says. "You don't have to scream or throw the pencil sharpener or otherwise indicate that you have lost control. If you need to take a timeout, do it, but you also need to evaluate what's really going on so you can analyze what's not working and think about what has to happen to resolve it."

The key to managing anger is to direct the energy it generates toward productive rather than destructive action. Both you and your business will be healthier because of it.


Jacquelyn Lynn is a business writer in Winter Park, Florida.