4 Ways to Defuse Your Anger Before It Blows Up Your Career
It's part of being human, it's part of your current and future workforce, it's part of your leadership team. It's part of you.
A recent study by Harvard University found that nearly 10 percent of adults have a history of uncontrollable anger, while a separate Harvard study found that almost two-thirds of U.S. adolescents had a pattern of anger that resulted in threatening or violent behavior and an increased likelihood of growing into angry adults---i.e., future angry employees.
The workplace is loaded with potential anger triggers including: time pressures, financial constraints, unrealistic expectations, demanding customers, missed deadlines, unfilled orders, economic downturns, incompetent workers, competitive threats, lost business and declining profits, to name several on an unending list.
Chances are you've witnessed, or exhibited anger yourself, seething passive aggression or an explosive outburst while working. I've witnessed how angry leaders create a toxic culture of acrimony and anxiety that seeps through the organization.
There is very little good that anger produces, while its negative effects can result in substance abuse, impaired problem solving, depression, low morale and physical health issues, none of which contribute to business growth or positive results.
Given the trickle-down nature of enmity, senior leaders need to first manage their own anger issues. Next time you're ire is raised in a business situation, consider the following:
1. Pause for the headline.
The single most effective way to manage anger is pausing before responding. During that pregnant pause force yourself to imagine your next sentence plastered on the front page of the New York Times.
Is that a headline you would be proud to share with your loved ones, religious friends, someone you admire or a roomful of elementary students on career day? If not, don't say it.
2. Talk to grandma.
Envision you're talking to someone whom you want never to hurt. Pretend it's your loving grandmother, your innocent child or a respected mentor that you're addressing. Think about the impact that your angry words would have on that imagined individual and your relationship with them. Try to transfer that insight and understanding to actual individual in front of you who's ticking you off. Forget for a moment that they're an employee and remember they are a human with inherent value and worth. If not, why are they working for you?
3. Grab the egg timer.
One executive I worked for always brought a three-minute egg timer to his leadership team meetings. If there was a report or update from somebody around the table that angered him, he would set the egg timer for three minutes before he began talking in a calm, moderated tone.
This leader decided that his anger issues were out of control, so he committed to not raising his voice for three minutes when he was angry and had to respond to bad news.
It eventually became a bit of a standing joke that helped defuse tension when he would reach for the timer, but it was a highly-effective technique the he modeled to his leadership team. There was never a shouting match during any of his meetings when the egg timer was present.
4. Tap your inner Elsa.
While the annoying ubiquity of the mega-hit song "Let It Go" sung by the lead character Elsa in the Disney movie Frozen may have been anger-inducing a few years ago, there is a powerful message in those three words -- let it go. After you make your point to a subordinate or colleague, don't belabor it further.
Make sure there is mutual understanding regarding the situation and how it will be handled going forward and then -- let it go.
If you keep harping on the issue then you're only throwing emotional gasoline on your inner fiery rage. You're also reinforcing the likelihood that you'll resurface the issue privately or with another individual, reigniting your indignation. Don't do that. Let it go.
Offering employees access to anger management counseling, adequate time off and relaxation resources (e.g.. on-site massage chairs or yoga classes) are also great options to support a culture of harmony, but the key to managing an organization's anger starts at the top.
Related: Angry at Work? Have a Snack.