Anger Management at Work – Aristotle’s Way in this year

“Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way that is not within everyone’s power and that is not easy.” Aristotle, 384 BC – 322 BC

Aristotle’s quote is probably one of my favorite quotes about anger due to its many implications. I agree with him on most of his statement – the fact that it can be easy to get angry and the many ways to get angry; however, there is one point that I don’t necessarily agree with – which is when he states that it is not within everyone’s power to change how they get angry. We tend to tell ourselves that anger is an uncontrollable emotion – that we “snapped” or said or did something because we were upset. I hear it often from clients, colleagues as well as friends and family. Sometimes we like to use anger to explain away our bad behavior, as if we are powerless to changing how we react. And honestly, it does feel that way at times, but the good news is that you can learn (with LOTS of practice) how to be angry Aristotle’s way. In the book, Emotional Intelligence, the author Daniel Goleman posits that Aristotle’s challenge is to manage our anger with intelligence. In this article, I will identify how to be angry intelligently.

The Right Person: Know WHO to be mad at!

Often times we become angry or upset with our spouse or loved ones when we are really upset about something at work. Or we chew the head off of our co-worker but we are really not happy about what’s going on at home. Or give the cashier a hard time about the line, or being too slow, or not having the peanut butter you came in for, when you’re really mad at yourself.

All of these are classic examples of displaced anger. I know this may not be proper grammar, but the idea here is to “know WHO to be mad at!” Or to put it more succinctly, target your anger to its rightful owner. You won’t solve the problem by being upset with the wrong people. It ruins relationships, friendships, reputations and could even cost you your job.

There are many reasons why we don’t express our anger to the right individuals. We may be intimidated by the other person, feel powerless, or may be unsure and/or unable to express ourselves and our anger effectively.

There are a few ways that you can use your anger intelligence to be angry with the right person.

o Uncover the “Real” issue – What are you REALLY upset about? I always say that anger is a secondary emotion and that there is another feeling beneath (hurt, disappointment, fear, confusion, etc.) that is driving the frustrations.

o Practice Assertive Communication – When you’re upset with someone and you have the right tools, you can let them know how you feel in an appropriate manner.

o Take a Time Out – If you know that you are stressed or upset about something, take some time to cool off or think about the issue before you engage.

The Right Degree: Somebody check the thermostat!

What does it mean to be angry to the right degree? It means how intensely you become angry. Imagine listing all of the anger inducing situations you encounter at work on a thermometer. What would you list at 5 degrees? What would you list at 50 degrees? What would be at 100 degrees for you?

Take a look at a seemingly benign issue of not having ink in the printer. You’ll notice that each person may have a different anger intensity when it comes to a certain issue.

5 degrees – There is no ink in the printer. No matter, I can print later.

50 degrees – There is still no ink the printer. I need to print this report before the meeting in two hours!

90 degrees – Okay, what idiot used up all the printer ink and didn’t replace it! I have to have this report printed and copied for 10 people in 15 minutes! This is ridiculous!

Monitoring your anger intensity is probably the most important technique of anger management. It has been reported that having very intense anger for prolonged periods can attribute to severe health problems including hypertension, digestive problems, migraine headaches, etc. Thus, check your “anger temperature”, how “hot” are you? What situations are at 70 degrees and may be more beneficial to you and those around you if it was at 40 degrees?

As I always say, it’s okay to be angry…it’s natural and normal but to what extent, degree or intensity will you let it take you?

The Right Time: Timing is Everything!

Have you ever thought to yourself after saying something that might have been hurtful, inappropriate, or just plain wrong: “I really should have waited to say that…” or “that was not how I wanted that to come out…”. Sometimes we have the best intentions – we know WHAT we want to say and WHY, but when we do say it, it comes out not only the wrong way but our timing is way off! Often times we wait until we are at 90 degrees to express our feelings. This OFTEN happens in the workplace… we wait for just the right look, word, or comment and as soon as it happens – we let them have it!

Now, is there a ‘right’ time to be angry? Of course, there’s no right or wrong TIME to be angry… if you are upset, you just are. But the issue isn’t necessarily when to be angry, it’s acknowledging you are upset and deciding if it is the right time to engage in something – be it a conversation with a co-worker, making a decision about assigning duties to staff, or even asking for a raise. All of these things may be necessities of a job, but when we are frustrated and try to tackle them at the wrong time the outcome is not normally the best one. The “conversation” we planned to have with that co-worker has turned into an argument; instead of assigning the duties fairly, you’ve clearly been biased; and instead of stating your case clearly and concisely for a raise, you demanded it.

Timing is everything, especially when it comes to being angry intelligently. Some tips on timing include:

o Take a break, a minute to cool off, an hour, maybe even a day. Cooler heads prevail when you take the time to think about what it is you really want to convey.

o Before you engage with staff or coworkers, acknowledge whether you are upset or not and what you are really upset about.

o If you are tired, sleepy, or hungry, get some rest, go to sleep or eat prior to dealing with any serious matters. You are much more apt to become angry quickly and more intensely if you aren’t rested or properly nourished.

The Right Purpose: Hot Thoughts

Now that you understand better who to be angry with, how intense your anger is, and when to be appropriately express your anger, we will discuss being angry for the right purpose. That is, how to be angry for the right purpose or rather for the right reason. I’ve noticed throughout my work with clients, my interactions with colleagues, and conversations with friends and family that much of what we become frustrated about is beyond our control. Think about it: When was the last time you became upset, I mean really upset about something you had no control over? Was it with your boss, your employee, a co-worker, the copy machine, your car?!

The truth of the matter is that you can’t control anyone and anything but YOURSELF! The main culprit here is our thoughts…about how things ‘should’ go, how we ‘should’ be treated, the way things ‘should’ be. But sometimes people treat us how they want to, things don’t go our way and things are not the way we would like them to be. In the field of anger management, we use a term called Hot Thoughts. Basically, these are thoughts that lead to anger every time you think of them.

Here is a list of Hot Thoughts. Do any of your upsetting thoughts resemble these?

o Demandingness – The notion that everything should and must go a certain way. Look for words like should, must, need to, ought, etc.

o Awfulizing – Thinking in extreme negative terms. (Making mountains out of molehills.) Looks for words like terrible, horrible and awful. Words like always and never are a cue as well.

o Condemning – The thought of putting yourself or others down. Beliefs that stem from the idea that people who don’t meet my expectations or some moral obligation deserved to be punished.

o Low Frustration Tolerance – Belief that comes from the expectations that things must go smoothly for us or we will not be able to stand it.

If you find yourself having these kinds of thoughts more often than you would like, there is a simple technique that only requires you to turn that very heated hot thought into a less intense alternative thought.

The Right Way: Way to Anger

How do you “do” your anger? What I mean is how does your anger display or express itself. How does someone else know you’re upset? Are you loud and rageful? Are you more passive aggressive? Does sarcasm ever come into play?

I always say, it’s okay to be angry; but it’s what you do with it that causes the problems. This especially comes into play in the workplace. Make a point to notice how you express yourself when annoyed or frustrated. Ask other people how they experience you. When your anger is expressed negatively, your coworkers notice, your employees notice, your boss notices…everybody notices and from there your reputation is formed. If you are thinking of being promoted or in this economic climate KEEPING your job, you may want examine yourself to see if you exhibit any of the below when you become angry:

o Yelling/Screaming

o Being Sarcastic

o Being “Snappy” (or an irritable reply)

o Holding Grudges

o Holding it in and then “exploding”

So before you decide to ‘go off’ on your boss… remember, somebody is ALWAYS watching. The way you handle any situation will follow you everywhere you go. The way you handle your anger can lead you into a positive or negative path… you decide.

Hopefully, you’ve received some helpful information that will benefit you on your job as it relates to anger. As Aristotle says, being angry with intelligence may not be easy, but I think it can be done if you put in to practice with you’ve learned.