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Keep Cool: Fighting Anger in the Workplace
February 1, 2011
Everyone gets frustrated at work from time to time, but an angry outburst at a coworker or superior can be a career-killer. Here we look at ways to control your temper even under the most aggravating circumstances. Even if you're working at your dream job, you're likely to have some bad days every now and then. But whether you are facing conflicts with your coworkers or feeling frustrated with management, it is important that you keep your cool in the workplace and avoid losing your temper even under serious strain. A rage-fueled outburst can have severe repercussions for your professional future and, moreover, it is unlikely to fix the problem that angered you in the first place. "Mad that you were passed over for a big promotion again? Livid that the bootlickers always seem to get ahead in your organization? Perhaps it's time to consider whether the anger itself, however legitimate, is holding you back," Monster.com advises. "Evidence suggests many of us are walking around the office feeling resentful, though we may be unaware of the cumulative toll bitter actions take on our careers and coworkers." Anger can come from a wide range of sources at work, and these factors are not necessarily controllable. According to WebMD, some of the most common reasons for employee anger are: encountering immoral behavior; being treated unjustly; others' incompetence; failures in communication; and exclusion from others. Of course, these factors may not actually be objective problems, they only need to be perceived as slights in order to trigger someone's temper. That means that preventing or controlling workplace anger is as much about internal, psychological considerations as it is about external factors. "We don't get angry at facts; we get angry at our interpretation of facts. This means, that we have a choice about how we respond to an event or person that triggers our anger," Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won't Get You There, writes at Harvard Business Review. "We're going to get angry this is a perfectly natural emotion. The problem isn't our anger; it's our attempt to justify it rather than release it. Let's be clear: if you put energy into justifying your anger, you CAN'T release it." The fact that anger most often originates from internal perceptions may actually be beneficial because it means that it can be dealt with on an individual mental level, even among those who have short tempers or are prone to public outbursts. Gretchen Rubin, a blogger and the author of The Happiness Project, recommends asking yourself the following questions when you feel your anger mounting at work:
- Are you at fault? People often hate to be criticized, but it's important to recognize when the criticism is justified. If you're guilty of making a mistake, try to accept the critique as useful advice, even if you do so grudgingly.
- Will this solve anything? Annoying events that recur again and again can be a powerful trigger for anger, but remember that snapping at people probably won't change their behavior in the long term. However, it will certainly hurt your chances for successful interactions in the future.
- Are you improving the situation? An angry reaction rarely fixes the problem at hand. In fact, it can often aggravate the trouble. Your anger may set you back even further than the actual source of your irritation.
- Should you be helping them? Sometimes people feel angry due to an inability to help someone they know they should be helping. The lack of control can create a sense of guilt that eventually leads to frustration. Look for alternative ways to try to assist someone instead of descending into rage.
- Are you uncomfortable? Even something simple, such as an uncomfortable outfit, a headache, hunger or lack of sleep can make a person irritable and more likely to lash out than they normally would be. Notice when it is the discomfort that's making you feel angry, rather than the people around you.
- Can you joke about this? If you could step out of your own shoes for a moment and look at the situation from a distance, would it seem silly or laughable? Look at the lighter side of your dilemma and remember that humor can be a powerful cure for your frustrations.