Anger is one of the most powerful and feared emotions anywhere, but certainly in the workplace. As long-time assessors of emotional intelligence, Colm and I have always encouraged our clients to eliminate and suppress any form of afflictive emotions in meetings. Afflictive emotions are the types of feelings that make you feel badly, like anger; they feel afflictive, like you’re sick. We’ve realized, after a lot of research and study, that we and all the other emotional intelligence assessors we know have been doing this wrong, and that it’s time for a change.
As we’ve worked with and studied some of the world’s highest performing organizations, we’ve noticed that the highest performing teams don’t restrict the expression of anger. Instead, they’ve learned to use these emotions intelligently and found a way to express afflictive emotion in a way that can build relationships.
Our beef is with stupidity, not anger. The problem isn’t that people get angry – it’s that they get stupid while feeling angry, and they wind up saying things that they later regret and that causes damage to key relationships.
Think about a time when you found yourself starting to lose it. You felt your heart rate increasing, your breathing changing, and you felt like you can’t stop yourself from blurting out whatever was on your mind – even though you knew, in that moment, it was going to cause relationship damage.
So, you have a choice to make in these moments about how you’re going to respond to this emotional surge. We all feel them at some point: Is it going to control you, or will you control it? We don’t want you to suppress or eliminate these emotions, but we do want you to use them in an intelligent way.
In moments when your blood is boiling, the key is to manage your physical reaction so you can manage your emotional response. Do things like managing your breathing, or changing a body position. For example, sit back rather than leaning in. Open your arms in a palms-up posture, rather than crossing your arms with clenched fists. Or else, you could simply ask yourself any question.
It’s important that you manage your anger, and it’s also important, however counterintuitive this may sound, to use your anger intelligently. Anger has two big advantages: for one thing, it narrows your focus, which stops your paralysis by analysis; and it also makes you more confident in your decision. Anger is not a good emotion when you’re developing your ideas and attack plan, but it can be an excellent emotion when you need to action your ideas. For example: if my team’s facing a crisis, I want to plan our strategy in a calm and rational state.
However, he does not want his team to take a calm and passive approach to addressing the problem once they have a plan. In fact, he may want to get them a little riled up and in battle-mode, to attack that problem with vigor. That might sound something like, “Hey! We lost that last project because we were late delivering our proposal. I know this client hasn’t given us a fair amount of time to deliver this one, but we’re not going to lose another one. Let’s get this done!”
In our book “Step Up: Lead in Six Moments that Matter,” the idea of getting angry, not stupid, is just one of the counterintuitive ways that we recommend people lead, regardless of their title, or their position on the org-chart.
We thank you for your attention, and as always, we look forward to bringing you real-life examples in our next blog.
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