‘Managing Your Anger’ Category


Managing Your Anger: Decrease Your Sensitivity

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

It never fails. When you find a leader who gets angry frequently, that leader is thin skinned. While their sensitivity to every perceived slight, criticism or frustration causes them real distress, they remain clueless. Year after painful year, they keep blaming others and expecting people to stop doing the things that annoy them. Their lack of insight would be laughable if it were not so pathetic.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

You have probably realized by now that the most successful and contented leaders grow thick skins. The same annoying things happen to them. They just absorb the nicks and blows and press forward without complaining or even giving the usual aggravations of life much thought. When their thin-skinned colleagues whine, they smile knowingly and think, “Put your big girl panties on,” or some similar leadership pearl.

How can you do it?

  1. Recognize the need. If you find yourself getting your feelings hurt often or becoming angry frequently, you need to toughen up. The sooner you recognize this need, the sooner you will begin to make some progress.
  2. Consult a thick-skin expert. You know who they are. These leaders are happy and content, positive about the challenges they face even when the hits they are taking would send you to the bathroom in tears. Ask them how they toughened themselves up and how they keep themselves in shape.
  3. Practice. Put yourself in the thick of things. Volunteer to take the lead on a project that you know will make you a target. When the hits start landing, act like you are enjoying them. Welcome criticism. Thank people for asking the hard questions. Before you know it, you will have calluses over your heart.

How have you thickened your leadership skin?

Managing Your Anger: Stop Venting

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Despite conclusive evidence that venting does not help, most leaders still believe it does. Angry leaders often believe it is their right—indeed their obligation—to express their feelings openly and vigorously without restraint. And they feel other leaders should encourage that! Some angry leaders will agree to vent their spleens privately. While this will diminish the emotional contagion and is an improvement, private venting does not help either. The truth is, angry people keep on venting because they feel like it. And it makes them (and others) feel even worse.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

You now know better. You understand that complaining repetitively and ruminating pointlessly is destructive to you and those in your neighborhood. You have observed that the servant leaders who are most successful in your organization don’t get angry often. When they do, they keep their mouths shut until their anger has died. That’s what happens to the fire of anger when you don’t feed it. It burns itself out quickly.

How can you do it?

  1. Just don’t do it. This is the flip side of the “Just Do It” mantra that advertisers have made a part of our motivational culture. You understand that there are some things that leaders just have to do—in spite of how they feel. And there are some things you must not do no matter how you feel. Ranting in the workplace is one of them.
  2. Review the evidence. Our brains are belief engines. People believe all kinds of stuff that is not true. The notion that venting helps diminish anger is one of them. Show your colleagues the evidence. Ask them to change this belief. Most people don’t change their beliefs easily—even false ones—but it’s a start.
  3. Clarify your expectations. Make it clear that you don’t expect to vent when you become angry and that you expect everyone to behave the same way. Admit that it is better to vent in private, but that it is best not to vent at all.

How have you decreased the angry ranting in your workplace?

Managing Your Anger: Beware Emotional Contagion

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

All emotions are contagious.  Anger is particularly so. When people are asked how they usually respond when someone becomes angry with them, most folks admit they get angry right back. Witnesses who are not directly involved become upset too. Asked about emotional contagion, leaders will usually admit this is a typical human response to any angry outburst, but they are quick to minimize the negative impact their temper fits have on innocent bystanders in the work environment. They are fooling only themselves.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

As a leader, limiting the amount of negative emotional contagion is a big part of your job. You will not be very effective at it if you are the source of most of the poison gas in the workplace. You certainly will not be effective in persuading other leaders to manage their anger effectively if you don’t practice what you preach. Because you appreciate the devastation that negative emotional contagion can cause, you will demonstrate your intent to limit its impact by containing your own negative emotions first.

How can you do it?

  1. Explain it. Don’t wait until it happens. Explain what negative emotional contagion is, how it can be prevented and how it can be contained.
  2. Ask for help. When unpleasant conflict occurs—and it is inevitable—recruit everyone to become a volunteer firefighter. By recognizing what is happening and calming themselves and others, the group can extinguish it and limit the damage.
  3. Lead by example. Keep your mood steady and predictable while you are on stage. Manage your own anger so that others are not affected by it. Make it clear that this is how you expect everyone to manage their anger. If you successfully persuade your colleagues that negatively-expressed anger is inappropriate in the workplace, they will strive to meet your expectation.

How have you contained emotional contagion in your work environment?

Managing Your Anger: Acknowledge Your Sense of Entitlement

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

The greatest danger for any person who rises to a position of power is a sense of entitlement. Everyone wants to feel special, so a sense of entitlement is a temptation for everybody. The higher one rises in any group, the greater the danger. It is this poisonous sense of entitlement that seduces leaders into believing they have every right to feel angry and lash out at others when they are frustrated. After all, they are so important that lesser mortals should not annoy them. Right?

What is the case for doing it anyway?

You cannot contain your sense of entitlement if you don’t recognize it. If you are a leader, you feel entitled. You have this problem. That is not in question. The question is, how will you contain this growing sense of your own importance? How will you respond when others defer to you, flatter you and seek your favor?

How can you do it?

  1. Face the problem. If you pretend this is not a problem for you, your lack of awareness will set you up for failure. You will start to behave and react based on your sense of entitlement without realizing you are doing it.
  2. Learn from others. You can see the sense of entitlement in others much clearer than you can see it in yourself. Observe the arrogant snobs and the workplace bullies. Watch how they act. Don’t act like that. Watch how the servant leaders in your organization behave. Behave like that.
  3. Ask your colleagues to monitor your leadership behavior. They can sense your growing snootiness quicker than you can. If you make it clear that you value frank feedback, people will give it to you.

How have you managed your sense of entitlement?

Managing Your Anger: Admit Some of Your Role Models Were Wrong

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Every leader learns about leadership from other leaders. Since many leaders don’t manage their anger well, this means we are always producing a new crop of leaders who believe that becoming angry and throwing tantrums is both their right and duty. Since many angry leaders are powerful, successful and lionized for their outbursts, concluding that the leader’s anger is justified is understandable—even if mistaken.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

You now have a choice. You can give your anger free rein as you have observed so many leaders do, or you can decide to manage your anger appropriately. You have seen leaders do this too. The goal is to make a deliberate decision instead of mindlessly adopting the behaviors you have observed. If you have concluded that anger is a leadership flaw and that angry behavior is a leadership failure, you will have to admit that some of your role models managed their anger badly.

How can you do it?

  1. Observe your fellow leaders. You will notice that they respond to anger differently. Some will slink away from conflict and ignore any angry outbursts. Some will respond to anger with anger. Some will manage anger quietly but firmly. Some will become angry often; others seldom will.
  2. Make a decision. How do you aspire to manage anger as a leader? Your need to parrot what you were taught may be instinctual, but you can choose to behave differently.
  3. Learn. When you have decided on your preferred approach, learn from leaders who have mastered that approach and from those who have not. If you decide to manage your anger effectively, you will need to learn both what to do and what not to do.

How have you learned from your role models’ successes and failures?

Managing Your Anger: Leverage the Power of Silence

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

A good many leaders have trouble being quiet. Angry leaders find it nearly impossible. Some leaders think aloud. Angry leaders don’t think, but they do it loudly. Most leaders would rather talk than listen. Angry leaders believe they should talk and everyone else should listen. Given the way things work in most organizations, it is not surprising that only a few leaders regularly leverage the power of silence. Angry leaders almost never do.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Silence is calming. Silence demonstrates self-mastery. In the context of arousal, it sends a strong message about what matters and who is really in control. If you can remain silent while everyone else is vomiting bile, you will become the person in charge. Eventually, everyone will realize they have surrendered their minds to fervor and turn to you for guidance. When others allow anger to rule them, rule them with silence.

How can you do it?

  1. Recognize emotional arousal. You may see it in others first or you may be the first to become aroused. If you don’t see it coming, you can’t manage it.
  2. Stop talking. For most angry leaders, this is easier said than done. But it can be done. Give it a try. You will be amazed at the power of silence.
  3. Breathe. Start taking long slow breaths. This will slow your heart rate, calm you and provide a pleasant distraction.

How have you leveraged the power of silence in emotionally charged situations?

Managing Your Anger: Become the Curious Spectator

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

The inclination to become emotionally aroused by workplace issues and events is not limited to angry leaders, but they are at particular risk for falling into this trap. Leaders who react impulsively when they experience anger, fear, disgust or any other strong emotion usually make matters worse. It requires mental toughness to hold back and investigate instead of reacting immediately based on the leader’s initial emotional response.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

There are always two sides, sometimes more. After you have jumped to a premature conclusion because of your anger and you find yourself digging out of an embarrassing hole when you learn the whole story, you will learn pretty quickly to restrain yourself. There is another important reason to observe for a time before rushing in. The protagonists in workplace conflicts often spin their stories in their favor. When you fall for it, you damage your credibility as a fair leader and invite the manipulators to try it again.

How can you do it?

  1. View anger as an emotional traffic light. Anger is not a green light. It is a red light. Except in a life-threatening emergency, don’t enter the fray until you have calmed yourself.
  2. Launch an investigation. Assume the role of a detective or investigative reporter. Focus your energy on finding out exactly what happened instead of further stirring the pot. Declare that you will announce your decision when you have assembled all the facts. This action will immediately return you to the deliberative leadership role where you belong.
  3. Distract yourself. The quickest way to choke off destructive anger is to focus on some other issue that demands your full attention. This works much better than just stewing in your juices and ruminating pointlessly.

How have you trained yourself to become a detached observer instead of an emotional participant?

Managing Your Anger: Practice Detachment

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

One of the excuses leaders make for their anger mismanagement is that they “just care too much.” They say this to imply that they are passionate about organizational results. Everyone sees through this. What these bullies really care about is getting their way by throwing their weight around and expressing their frustration when others don’t behave the way they want.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

If you are going to manage your anger better and lead a less stressful life as a result, you must learn to let some stuff go. This will not be easy to do. Look closely at your colleagues who are good at managing their anger. You will see that their most important strategy is not to become angry in the first place. And they achieve that by remaining indifferent, above the fray. They appear to ignore many of the daily irritants that you allow to drive you nuts. How do they do that? They are emotionally detached. They don’t care about that stuff. Really.

How can you do it?

  1. Make emotional detachment one of your goals. If you don’t see the importance of this and make up your mind to achieve it, you will continue to overreact as you always have.
  2. Acknowledge this is within your power. Just as surely as you can make any other decision in your life, you can decide to become more detached. “This is just the way I am made,” is a pathetic excuse.
  3. Don’t underestimate how hard this will be. Understanding what to do in life is usually not the hard part. Doing it is. Never is this truer than when you set out to change those instinctual patterns of believing, thinking, feeling and doing that you have fashioned and surrendered to most of your life.

How have you learned to exercise more emotional detachment in your life?

Managing Your Anger: Invite Feedback

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

For the recovering angry leader, feedback stings. First, no one enjoys hearing that their shortcomings were so obvious to everyone else. Second, most feedback is perception based and perceived reality is in the mind of the perceiver. This means that some of the feedback you will receive does not reflect the overall perception others have. It’s just that person’s perception. Third, some of the people you damaged with your previous outbursts will never forgive you or cut you any slack. And when you give them the opportunity to stick it to you, they will.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

No matter how painful and unfair it is, you have no hope of making significant headway in managing your temper more effectively unless you invite honest feedback from those who know you best. When asking your colleagues to help you begin your recovery, remind them you are human, that you will slip, that this process is a marathon not a sprint and ask for their patience. But don’t ask for or expect much.

How can you do it?

  1. Admit you are impaired. This is a lot like admitting you are alcoholic. Stand up at the next department meeting. Admit that you have an anger management problem and that you are taking full responsibility for it. Do not say you are powerless over it. You are not.
  2. Apologize and mean it. You have hurt people with your tantrums. And you have misled leaders who see you as a role model about how leaders should behave. Make it clear that you are sorry for both of these leadership sins.
  3. Ask for help. Ask them to tell you when they see any progress. Ask them to confront you when you fail. Ask them to persist in doing this even if you don’t receive their feedback gladly.  And make sure to thank them for their feedback particularly when you don’t feel like it.

How have you successfully solicited feedback from your colleagues about your anger management efforts?

Managing Your Anger: Identify Your Buttons

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

To reprise a recurrent theme throughout this blog series, angry leaders aren’t looking for their buttons—the recurring irritants that set them off. They are not the ones with the problem. The stupid people they have to put up with are the problems. The last thing such deluded leaders want to do is look in the mirror.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

But you have freed yourself from the delusion that other people are the problem. This is a critical first step. Annoying stuff will still happen and you will initially react in the same ways you did before you figured out you are the problem. Now you need some sort of early warning system that will enable you to see when an opportunity to manage your angry response more effectively is coming. Knowing which hot buttons you have mistakenly programmed to set you off would come in very handy.

How can you do it?

  1. Ask the experts. Those who work closely with you know you better than you know yourself. They have coped with your leadership failures by predicting how you will react and then managing your immature reaction. These people can tell you exactly what your triggers are.
  2. Ask them to warn you. If you convince them you are sincere, they will give you a heads up and remind you that have promised to manage your typical reaction better now.
  3. Develop some healthy reaction options. Do this now before someone or something pushes one of your buttons. Write these options down and keep them handy. You must be able to switch to autopilot and use one of these at a moment’s notice.

How have you identified your hot button issues?