Nina Spencer

Taming That Angry Tiger: Keep Your Cool This Summer…and all the seasons to follow!

Don't permit yourself to show temper.
Always remember that if you are right you can afford to keep your temper,
and if you are wrong you cannot afford to lose it!
-- J. J. Reynolds

Have you ever been fuming angry at work? Have your ever been so angry at a colleague or client that, as my mother used to say, "I'm so mad I could spit!"? I assume your answer is "Yes!" The person who declares they've never been angry at work is probably the most angry of all, holding it all inside. It may feel good to "let 'er rip" once in a while, but we usually end up regretting our spontaneous lack of professionalism. After all, we'll probably have to interact with the victim of our emotional eruption, another day. Think twice before you surrender to that primitive urge to vent now and pay later, to save your working relationships and also to protect your own good health and well being.

Here's what happens when you get "fighting mad":

  • you release a quick spurt of adrenalin
  • your adrenal glands become enlarged and discoloured
  • the lymphatic gland, crucial to your immune system, shrinks intensely
  • numerous blood covered ulcers line your stomach
  • your cardiovascular system speeds up and your breathing rate and heart rate increase by 25%, blood pressure rises, and more cholesterol is released into your bloodstream
  • chemicals that cause the blood to coagulate are released into your bloodstream to help your body form scabs more easily, in case of injury
  • your heart beats more forcefully, perhaps even irregularly
  • adrenalin dilates the bronchi to allow a maximum intake of oxygen, as your need for oxygen is momentarily increased
  • blood goes from your extremities to your vital organs, leaving your hands and feet cooler and lowering your skin temperature
  • your gastrointestinal functioning slows down, your sweating increases and your pupils dilate to provide a maximal field of vision
  • all your senses become more acute; even the patterns of your brain waves change!

When you get that angry, your body is fully in gear for "fight or flight". If you're going through this kind of a strain daily, you get fatigued...off guard. It's then that your daily stress and expressed anger causes damage to your personal and professional functioning and productivity.

These physiological changes take two seconds to manifest, but up to 72 hours to dissipate! Why does this statistic make so many of my audiences and workshop participants laugh right out loud, you may ask? Because so many confess that they find something to get angry about every day. They never get back to "normal", all the while they're working. The only time that they actually do get back to normal occurs when they:

  1. take vacation
  2. take stress leave
  3. win the lottery
  4. retire
  5. die, or,
  6. do all of the above!

So what's a solution?

Apply the Anger Cycle to your own experience. Think of a time when you were really angry with a customer, client, colleague or the person to whom you report. If you can't think of a work incident, try private life.

Next, draw a circle:

At the top of the circle, in the 12 o'clock position, place the word "Threat"

  • at 3 o'clock put "Assumption"
  • at 6 o'clock put "Power Assessment"
  • at 9 o'clock put "Anger"

Now back to your particular "anger" story. Flashback: you're having a perfectly "normal" day when, all of a sudden, the "thing" happens which causes you to "pop your cork"! Whether or not you realize it, your anger cycle has begun. First, you experience a "Threat". The threat could be emotional or physical, e.g. the emotional threat of the other's disloyalty to agreements or commitments, etc., or the physical threat of the other hurling a stapler at your head! Whether the threat is real or perceived doesn't matter. If you perceive the other's actions or behaviour as threatening...it is!

In a split second you advance your anger cycle by making some negative "Assumptions" about the other's intent.

From there, it only takes another second to travel to the 6 o'clock spot of "Power Assessment". Here, usually at a subconscious level, the triggered individual has a heated inner dialogue ranting away: "Are you going to let them get away with that? Are you going to let them treat you that way? Talk to you that way? They can't do that to you? Who do they think they are? What are you going to do about this?" Your ego nudges you on to strike back with "Anger". Wounded pride, a feeling of violation (and the ego) cause the angry individual to reel with thoughts about the level of power they feel they possess to deal with the situation. If the angry person feels full of power (powerful), they generally move to "Action", not "Anger". When the angry person feels less power (or no power, hence "powerless"), they generally move to "Anger" rather than "Action"; therefore, another quarter turn of the Anger Cycle is travelled.

The 9 o'clock mark on the Anger Cycle is the expression of "Anger". How did you demonstrate your anger? Some will use a loud voice and cutting words, others (who feel powerless to directly deal with the "Threat") will act out varying degrees of passive aggressive behaviour or use sarcasm, while yet others will turn their anger inwards, causing depression. Anger is either explosive/outwards or implosive/inwards. Either way, two or more people are headed for a lose-lose workplace situation.

Here are some self-talk strategies for breaking the Anger Cycle before the strike of "9 o'clock":

  • observe your physiology when you start to trigger. Listen to your body closely, then you'll be on guard and ready to counteract before things get regrettable. e.g. if your teeth are clenching, or your chest muscles tightening, you might choose to take ten deep breaths before acting on your triggers, or count to ten.
  • ask yourself, "Is this a real threat? Am I over reacting? Is this what I'm really annoyed about or is this merely the presenting issue? What else could be bugging me? What am I really angry about?" Dig deeper for some possible answers before travelling to "Assumptions".
  • if you do travel to "Assumptions", ask yourself, "Exactly what are my assumptions about this other?" Am I sure my assumptions are correct? Could they be faulty? What clarifying questions can I ask before I really lose it?"
  • if, after all this, you still travel to "Power Assessment", ask yourself, "Am I really as powerless as I say? What power do I still possess to deal with this situation in a positive way? Even if I acknowledge that I'm powerless to effect the result I want, what morsel of powerful thinking, or positive self-talk, can I declare, for the sake of my professional pride?"
  • there may still come a time, every now and then, when "going the distance" with your anger feels like the right thing to do. Even so, there are still some strategies you can demonstrate which will allow you to be constructive, rather than destructive, in your expression. Ask yourself, "Is now the right time for me to be expressing my anger? Am I calm enough to do so, or do I need to take five? What are the benefits of letting it all out? What are the dangers? Is this politically too hot to handle...is it worth it? What assertive (rather than aggressive) words and sentences can I use to express my anger? How can I express my anger while still maintaining the self-esteem and self-confidence of the other? Am I going to feel better or worse, afterwards? Will this matter tomorrow?"

If you do feel the need to take an "Anger Trip" around the whole clock, here is, perhaps, the best question of all to ask yourself...

"Is this a preference or a value?"

Too many of us "go there", regularly, over preferences. Values are worth sticking-up, and fighting, for; preferences (at least some of them) could be surrendered, for the sake of maintaining your ongoing professional relationships and personal mental health, too.

"Losing it" multiple times per day, over preferences, will keep you
hot-under-the-collar long after summer fades into fall. Conserve your energy
for workplace values that really matter to you. Tame that Angry Tiger and
keep your cool this summer (and all the seasons to follow), by taking only
the most necessary trips on the Anger Cycle.

"If you are patient in one moment of anger
you will escape one hundred days of sorrow"

Chinese Proverb