Four Tips for Controlling Workplace Anger

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

– Buddha

Last week I received a phone call from a friend of mine. She was livid because a colleague had attempted to one-up her in a department meeting.

“She actually stood up in front of everyone and used me as an example of what not to do – which would have been bad enough – but she was just flat-out wrong!!”

“So what did you do?” I asked.

“I called her out on the spot.”

I winced, preparing for a heated exchange, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear that my friend handled her situation remarkably well.

“I just said, ‘I’m sorry if I gave you that impression, but the client left on price – not service – and documented that in multiple emails to {the sales manager}.”

“How was your tone?” I asked, “Curious or scorned?”

“Curious,” she replied, “and we talked about the client for a few minutes as a group. Everyone knew it was price, so in the end it was a non-issue.”

If the story cut there, I probably wouldn’t be writing this. But it doesn’t. My friend’s anger towards her colleague was so deep and pervasive that she stewed about the meeting for the rest of the afternoon….

… and on her way home

… and at dinner with her husband

…and during play time with her one-year-old daughter.

Even as she tried to go to sleep that night, her mind was still racing with how wronged she felt and how utterly pissed off she was.

 “You’ve GOT to let go,” I said.

But we’ve heard this a million times. Let it go. I knew I was right; still, I couldn’t find the words to tell her HOW. So I stuttered and stammered, recited the Buddhist quote above…. and then got off the phone.


So…. this post is for you, friend. Here are four things I wish I would have said to help you off the ledge.

#1. Only ridiculously insecure people need to make themselves look better by putting others down. Yes, we all know this but when the arrow is pointed in our direction, we tend to forget.  We think everyone else in the room is not only listening to the musings of the insecure, but they’re believing every word. Trust me, they aren’t. They’re considering the source. So give your colleagues some credit for being able to catch “foul balls” and making their own decisions on what to believe.

#2. Your slip is showing.  When I was in 7th grade I had a red velvet skirt that I l-o-v-e-d. The only problem was I had to wear a slip with it that was constantly sliding down, exposing everyone to my lacy undergarment. As you’d expect, this was deemed inappropriate for a girl in junior high so teachers were constantly telling me, “Your slip is showing.” Slips, like our insecurities at work, aren’t meant to be seen. And when you let anger become all-consuming, your slip is showing.  Sure it takes someone totally insecure to try and knock you down, but it takes someone equally insecure to let them get away with it.

#3. This is perfectly normal.  The reason we get SO UPSET when things go wrong is because it deviates from our expectation that things will go smoothly. But nothing goes smoothly all the time. Particularly when it comes to dealing with other people. We make mistakes, we say the wrong things, we step on each other’s toes, we jockey for position, we beat our chests, we piss each other off, we drop the ball. That’s life. The question is not whether things will go wrong, it’s how often, how bad, and how can you deal with it most effectively. Switch your career paradigm from “worker” to “problem-solver” and you’ll see these kinds of hiccups are just that. Hiccups. Annoying in the moment, but they go away eventually.

#4. Every thought has energy attached. If your mind is charged and roaring like a volcano – it will erupt into your life. Maybe you’ll be crabby and irritated with your family. Maybe you’ll be sullen and withdrawn. Either way, you lose. You’re drinking the poison – and you’ll never heal unless you become self-aware enough to put some space between you and your anger. This is what Stephen Covey meant when he said “between stimulus and response there is a space and it’s in that space we choose how we wish to respond.” You don’t always get to choose how you’re treated at work, but you always get to choose how you react. Make yourself proud.

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