Most of us get defensive and angry when our goals are frustrated or when we feel attacked by other people. Anger is normal, and it should be expressed: failing to express anger, and bottling it up, can build feelings of intense frustration and eventually lead to depression. However, if in your case being angry regularly turns into “losing your temper”, and if this is the only way you know how to deal with criticism and problems, it will not only damage your reputation and personal relationships but also cause stress-related diseases.
Aggression is not the same as assertiveness
Working with, or living with, someone who regularly loses their temper is extremely unpleasant and demoralising: it’s hard to trust a person when you are constantly worrying that they will turn on you and unleash their anger, often unpredictably. Don’t make the mistake of confusing fear with genuine feelings of respect: your employees are almost certainly looking for another job. And if you are looking for promotion, it is unlikely to happen: a good manager is assertive but not aggressive; a good listener and not a shouter.
However, the good news is that there are ways to help control anger and even channel it into a positive force, helping you explore problems more effectively and find real solutions. So next time you feel your temper rising, try the following:
- Stop. Don’t say anything. Breathe deeply, then silently count to ten. This will really help calm you down and relax. And it means you won’t just say the first thing that comes into your head – something you may regret later.
- You’re in control. Losing your temper may feel good at the time, but it won’t help in the long run – in fact, it will probably weaken your position and make you feel bad about yourself. Remember that you will command more respect if you stay calm, and that assertiveness and authority have nothing to do with loud aggressiveness.
- Take a break. If possible, say that you need some time to consider what has just been said, and arrange to meet again later. This will give you time to calm down, collect your thoughts and respond rationally. During this “time out”, try to do something physical to release your anger and frustration – for example, go for a short walk around the block. Repeat a calming phrase to yourself, like, “Keep calm,” or “Take it easy,” “Relax,” or “This too will pass.” When you come back, you will feel calmer and more positive.
- Win time. If you can’t go for a walk, reduce the tension by saying, “I’m not quite sure I’ve understood what you’re saying,” or, “Could you explain to me again what you mean?” This delaying tactic puts the ball in their court and stops you going on the offensive. Remember, staying calm and listening does not mean you aren’t in control.
- Don’t take it personally. Other people are not necessarily trying to annoy you on purpose. Difficult situations are simply part of the complex fabric of our lives, so approach them objectively. For example, it’s possible that your work was criticised because it simply wasn’t good enough; it was probably not intended as an attack on you personally or your ability in general.
- Remember. Different people have different standards, values and goals in life. Is there a good reason why they should conform to your standards? If so, tell them. Do you have unreasonable expectations? Maybe you should modify them. People who have strict standards for themselves tend to impose them on other people and then tend to react angrily when they don’t conform. Maybe you need to reassess your expectations for yourself. Sometimes you just have to accept the world the way it is.
- Think. Choose your words carefully. We often come to regret words spoken in anger, and in a professional situation particularly this is not going to help your reputation.
- Move on. Yes, you’re angry, but instead of wallowing in self-pity and anger, try to find a solution to the problem. Have your employees missed yet another deadline? Think before you shout. Is it really because they are lazy? Or are there real problems in the workflow? Are they unmotivated? Underpaid? Working weekends without any bonus or time off? Instead of working yourself into a rage, try to consider how you could help the situation, perhaps by praising their efforts more, or taking them out for lunch or a drink when a rushed job is complete. Take your angry feelings and channel the energy into solutions which benefit everyone. Similarly, if you are an employee, don’t bottle up your frustrations until you explode and shout at your boss – which could jeopardise your job. Instead, as soon as you start feeling angry, ask your boss for a private meeting and explain what you are feeling. If your boss is consistently unsympathetic and unhelpful, don’t waste time in negative thoughts: either accept the situation and try to make the best of it, or take action and start looking for another job. Either way, remember: losing your temper is only going to make it worse.
- See it with a sense of humour. Though this may not always be appropriate, a laugh will often help defuse tension.