Management Skills: How To Handle Anger in the Workplace
Of all human emotions, perhaps none is so satisfying—and unproductive—as anger.
Of all human emotions, perhaps none is so satisfying—and unproductive—as anger. For when you get right down to it, getting mad accomplishes nothing except to constrict blood vessels, speed up heart action, and trigger headaches. But on a practical level—zilch.
Yet, at one time or another, on the job and off, we all experience it. And whether it manifests itself at home or at the office, it is a costly emotion because it not only wastes time and energy; it paralyzes judgment and positive action.
Of course, anger has its uses: Sometimes it enables you to manipulate others. They will do what you want just to avoid a scene with you. But they will resent you. Anger can even be an excuse for incompetence, as in, “I was so mad, I couldn’t think straight.” But these are temporary “victories” for which we invariably have to pay later.
Admittedly, anger is an all too human response to frustration; but it’s still no avenue to solid achievement. Ideally, if you want to do your best, you should eliminate it from your emotional vocabulary. If you can’t, you should aim at the next best thing—learning to cope with it. Here are some suggestions on how to do that.
4 Ways to Cope with Anger
- Work it off. Suppressing anger is not good for either your physical or mental well being. It can result in headaches, backaches, insomnia, and assorted personality disorders. It’s far healthier to get rid of it in a constructive way—through some demanding physical activity, for example, like jogging, squash, bowling, or punching a bag.
- See the humor in the situation. It’s perfectly all right to take your work seriously, but that doesn’t mean that you must also take yourself seriously. Whatever it is that is making you so mad must have a funny side to it as well, if you know where to look. Find the humor and appreciate it. The editor and writer, Norman Cousins, credited laughter with helping to save him from a debilitating disease by changing his mental outlook from negative to positive.
Whether or not you accept this, it does appear to work for many people; you may be one of them. It’s certainly worth trying.
- Face the fact that life doesn’t always live up to expectations. It never has; it never will—not all the time. Besides, if it weren’t for frustration, disappointment, and failure, how would we recognize fulfillment, contentment, and triumph? If this doesn’t work, consider the fact that whatever is making you so angry today won’t matter a hill of beans a year from now…perhaps sooner.
- Postpone your anger. Remember Scarlett O’Hara’s philosophy? “I’ll worry about that tomorrow,” she used to say. The same approach can work for anger. If at all possible, when something upsets you, busy yourself with something else that is emotionally positive. Time has a way of putting things into perspective and by postponing anger, you increase the odds of minimizing its effects.
Your Voice Level Can Influence Others
People tend to respond to the attitudes and actions expressed by others in similar ways. Act politely toward someone and he will respond in kind. Display hostility and you will also get back what you give. There is an unconscious urge to live up—or down—to the opinions others appear to demonstrate toward us.
There is nothing mysterious about all this except the amazing results that come when you begin to put this law into effect. For example, the Speech Research Unit of Kenyon College proved that when someone is shouted at, he can’t help but shout back, even when he can’t see the speaker.
Tests were run over telephone and intercoms to determine optimum degrees of loudness for giving instructions and commands. In the experiments, the speaker asked simple questions, each in varying degrees of loudness. The responses always mirrored the questions. When the question was asked softly, the answer was also soft. When the question was asked loudly, the answer was as loud.
Conclusion: No matter how hard they tried, people on the receiving end could not help but be influenced by the tones of the speaker. This psychological fact suggests that we can all exert a great deal of control over the emotions of those with whom we deal simply through the tone of voice we choose to use. For example, when a situation threatens to become explosive or get out of hand, you can—by deliberately lowering the tone of your voice—compel the other person to keep his voice soft also.
Dealing With The Poor Performer
One of the most difficult, but important, responsibilities a manager faces is dealing fairly and effectively with an employee whose performance is unsatisfactory. In these cases, you have basic obligations to both the employee and your company.
For many managers, it isn’t easy to sit face-to-face with an employee and frankly discuss performance shortcomings. And it isn’t always obvious what corrective action will put the employee on the path to improved performance. Some managers who want to avoid a confrontation may consider transferring an employee. Other managers may make a half-hearted effort to counsel the employee, hoping that performance will improve by itself over time. These courses of action are almost never effective. They waste the company’s human resources, risk the company’s reputation, and harm the morale of other employees. They are also unfair to the individual involved.
If you see an employee struggling with the requirements of the job, don’t wait until appraisal time to sit down and talk about it. Delay only exacerbates the problem for everyone. Identify the deficiency, have a counseling session, and work out a specific plan to improve performance.. Your own manager, perhaps more experienced in handling this kind of problem, can provide help. But first, you have to step up to the problem.
Set Realistic Goals For Your People
When committing plans to paper, in an effort to make themselves look good, managers are sometimes tempted to set deadlines that are unrealistic, or ask for too little money for a project, or claim that they can get a job done with fewer people than are actually necessary. In order to keep their promises, they then set goals for their people that are overly ambitious. In turn, employees either put in a great deal of overtime, or submit shoddy work.
The remedy: Before handing out an assignment, make sure you have enough people to get the job done; make sure each employee is the best possible choice for the assigned job; and make sure all deadlines are realistic. You may not end up looking heroic, but you won’t look foolish, either.
The Art Of Making Your Own Breaks
Some people appear to have been born under a lucky star. Friends go out of their way to help them. They get what they want. When things do go wrong, they have a knack for making them work out right. Upon analysis, however, it turns out that luck has very little to do with their good fortune. For these people have learned to make their own breaks. They don’t wait for things to happen; they make things happen. Here’s how:
They know their long-term goals. They know precisely what they want to happen and, consequently, avoid aimless drifting.
They have a plan. Knowing what they want, they can turn their energies to creating a master strategy. What’s needed? Money? People? More time? What and where is the best source for what is required?
They examine their plan for bugs. Is it practical? Risky? Based on wishful thinking? They don’t fall in love with an idea just because it’s theirs. They examine it objectively for flaws. They advertise. They aren’t above asking others for help. Toward that end, they recognize the crucial importance of reciprocity—whenever possible, they go out of their way to do favors for others. Consequently, when the occasion arises, they feel free to call on friends for aid and advice. And they get it—cheerfully.
They don’t rest on their laurels. The “break-makers” are seldom complacent. Rather, with their goal achieved, they begin to chart the next one.
Dan Nicholson is vice president of General Motors Global Propulsion Systems, the organization that had been “GM Powertrain” for 24 years.
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