Temper tantrums have no place at work

Leadership  Relationships
09 September, 2019

Learn to keep your cool and harness your anger to achieve more positive outcomes at work.

It’s quite common to see some leaders losing their cool. I am sure that you have experienced the angry tirade of a leader in a meeting. Or a boss berating a team member in front of colleagues.

We all go through the occasional bouts of anger and encounter situations that we can’t control. However, taking out our frustrations out on team members or letting the anger boil can make the workplace toxic. And if team members start doing the same, then the fallout can be disastrous.

So, this week, my message focuses on how to stop losing your temper at the workplace and, instead, manage your feelings of anger more constructively. 

Here are 10 suggestions to help you keep your cool: 

1. Take a pause

Instead of giving in to the urge to unleash your temper, take a deep breath instead. Step back from the situation and ask yourself – “Will I still be angry about this tomorrow or next week?” This simple question will give you some perspective by differentiating between genuinely upsetting situations and minor annoyances. If it’s something that isn’t going to matter in just a couple of days, let it go.

2. Get the full story

When emotions are volatile we tend to make quick (and often wrong) assumptions based on incomplete information. If you find yourself getting angry at someone, ask questions instead of lashing out. Get all the facts you can – you might just find your anger defusing as you grasp the full situation and realise the person isn’t completely at fault.

In an effort to hold team members accountable, leaders often express their disappointment in the form of anger. However, overly harsh reprimands can sap confidence and morale, leading to a downward spiral instead of improvement.

3. Think of the outcome

When a team member lets you down, your knee-jerk reaction is probably to express your displeasure in harsh terms. Unfortunately, this achieves nothing. In the Harvard Business Review article, How Leaders Should React When Someone Disappoints, Peter Bregman recommends focusing on the desired outcome to determine the right response: 

What does this particular person need in order to turn around this particular poor performance or failure? Maybe it’s help defining a stronger strategy, or brainstorming different tactics, or identifying what went right. Maybe they need to know you trust them and you’re on their side. 

4. Choose your venting outlet

It’s a given that you’re going to get angry at some point in the future – so why not prepare for it now? Instead of shouting at your team when something goes wrong, pick a healthy way to vent your emotions at a later time. For example, go for a run/swim, or call a close friend to get things off your chest. Try talking to someone who is a good listener, rather than someone who always tries to “fix” things. Unsolicited advice might make you even angrier.

5. Be the voice of calm

In 5 Tips on How to Avoid Losing Your Temper at Work, Jacqueline Whitmore advises taking the high road if you find yourself in an intensifying conflict: 

When someone raises his or her voice to you, take a deep breath and remain calm. Keep your voice steady and speak at a normal pace. Most people will quickly realize they’re the only aggressor in the situation and will bring their voice and their temper back down.

6. Identify your triggers

Anger is often triggered by hunger, exhaustion or stress. If you find yourself losing your temper frequently, analyse your lifestyle and environment. Are you getting enough sleep and eating well? Are you consuming too much caffeine? Is your workday over-scheduled, with no time for breaks? Is your workspace a calm and productive zone, or is it overrun with piles of paper and leftover snacks? Paying attention to your wellbeing is a core component of anger management.

7. Designate a trusted advisor

One way of getting a reality check on your temper and its impact is to choose a reliable colleague to act as a trusted advisor. Request this person to provide honest feedback on the pattern and effects of your anger, as well as any improvements they notice. A third-person viewpoint will give you more objective insights.

8. Create a de-escalation ritual

If you tend to lose your temper easily and over minor matters, come up with a process for de-escalating and calming yourself. For example, you could go to the bathroom, splash your face with cool water and say to yourself, “This situation can be solved. I’m in control of my emotions.” Positive self-talk, linked with a fixed action, is a good way of managing anger in the moment.

9. Apologise

If you’ve let your anger get the better of you and lost your composure, limit the damage by taking responsibility. Acknowledge your mistake and apologise for hurting the other person’s feelings. Don’t pass the blame or make excuses for your behaviour. A genuine apology can go a long way towards repairing the relationship.

10. Take a time-out

If you’re struggling to reign in your rising temper, take a time-out. This isn’t ideal, but it’s definitely better than saying something you’ll regret. So, excuse yourself from the conversation or meeting and go cool off – take a walk outside, do a quick meditation or listen to soothing music. You can think about how to handle the situation when your mind is quieter and clearer.

While it’s wise to keep your cool in most situations, remember that getting angry isn’t always a bad thing. Anger can get some people to be more focused. Some leaders also use it to motivate employees. However, remember that this won’t work with all employees. And overusing or letting your anger explode will backfire.

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