Keep Calm and Boost Your Self-Control — Even When Negative Emotions Arise
At one point or another, we’ve all felt totally irritated while at work: You pull an all-nighter on a project that then gets scrapped, a client criticizes your team for no apparent reason or your co-worker shows up late for a meeting again, dumping all the prep work on you.
These office aggravations can make your blood boil. Your focus is immediately hijacked from the important task at hand. Instead, your mind goes into fight-or-flight mode and you become reactionary; not thinking clearly, blaming others or beating yourself up for getting upset. In this state, you’re prone to poor judgements and saying things you may regret later.
It’s perfectly natural to experience a wide range of emotions in the workplace — including anger. Negative emotions are bound to come up on the job just as they do in our personal lives — and that’s not a bad thing.
Learning to productively communicate your emotions is key to boosting your emotional intelligence, which can make you a better leader and boost success across the board. In fact, getting fired up can motivate you and give you more focus to solve the problem at hand.
Learning to manage feelings of anger in a constructive, professional way can help you channel your frustration and get what you want — without earning you a reputation as the person in the office who can’t control their temper.
Here are five ways to deal when work’s making you angry:
1. Don’t Fight The Feeling
When anger arises, we’re often quick to respond by rationalizing, blaming others or trying desperately to calm ourselves down. Instead of jumping straight to intellectualization, acknowledge that your anger is legitimate and normal. Anger is deeply embedded into our evolutionary code. It’s how we fend off dangers and threats to our wellbeing. The next time you feel yourself getting angry, understand that trying to simply avoid it won’t help. Find a way instead to release or disarm your anger in a healthy, self-respecting way. Try telling yourself, “What I am feeling is natural, but it doesn’t serve me.” Accepting your reaction — rather than fighting it — will calm you down and free you to focus on problem solving.
2. Disrupt It
If your temper is about to boil over, the first thing you need to do is find a way to disrupt the automatic thought pattern that’s been triggered. Physically disconnecting from the situation can help: Take a walk, step away from your desk to call a friend or take a few deep breaths. Practicing visualizations is another tactic that can help you manage anger in the long run. Picture yourself when you’re reacting to your anger. How do you look, feel and sound? Do you like this image of yourself? Then, imagine yourself managing your anger appropriately, addressing the situation in a calm, constructive way. By taking a mindful approach to your anger, you have a better chance of harnessing it constructively and not allowing it to dominate you.
3. Learn your Triggers
Understanding who and what makes you angry is key to heading off a full-blown freak out. Pay attention to the circumstances and people present when you get angry so you can better anticipate and manage your reactions in the future. For example, if one particular colleague pushes your buttons, build in breaks during times when you know you’ll have to work together. This will give you space to disrupt any rising emotions that crop up if he provokes you and will help you avoid a hair-trigger reaction. No one likes being angry, so by anticipating triggering situations you can stay calm and collected.
4. Choose your Words Carefully
If and when you do decide to confront the situation that’s making you angry head-on, be sure you’ve first spent some time identifying and articulating your feelings. Emotional labeling is important because it can minimize miscommunication and help you clearly assert your thoughts, opinions and desires. Speak to your boss or whoever is upsetting you the way they would like to be communicated with. For instance, if they value straightforward, results-oriented language, keep that in mind when addressing the problem. Ask them to describe the situation from their perspective as well to keep the lines of communication open and even.
5. Focus on the Solution, Not the Problem
While it’s easy — and can initially seem comforting — to dwell on what’s making you angry, this isn’t going to pay off in the long run. Ruminating is damaging because it takes time and mental energy away from problem-solving, leaving you stuck in negative emotion. Instead, focus on what lessons you can learn from the situation so that you move on in a productive way. Avoid making sweeping statements like, “Whenever Jane asks me for reports, she never gives me enough notice.” Instead, try saying, “I was late on a deadline because I was asked for the reports at the last minute. I’ve noticed that this has happened in the past. How can we put a better protocol in place to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future?”
Throughout your career, anger is an emotion you’ll confront and need to learn how to manage in order to become a leader. The key is to be sure you’re equipped with the right tools to handle and communicate your anger effectively, professionally and in a way that’s beneficial to your career over the long-term.
Originally published on Forbes on June 1, 2016.