Are you feeling angry, annoyed and frustrated by your boss, your colleagues or your team? Are they just not doing what you need them to? Tempted to lose your temper? Or do you have a wave of seething anger inside you much of the time?
As humans we have emotions – that’s normal! We don’t want to be robots after all! So claiming that you never get angry is probably foolish. But what you do with heightened emotions at work is what counts.
Let’s talk anger, tempers, and how this can be used in the workplace: when is anger appropriate, and when it isn’t (or indeed if it ever is!).
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Want to read instead of listen? Here’s the transcript:
Hello! It’s Tuesday (if you are listening to this the day this lands in your podcast player!) and we are back with another episode of Leading women in Tech podcast – the place to go to uplevel your career and leadership as a woman in tech – we are all about building extraordinary women extraordinary careers – yes that’s you my love – around here! So welcome.
I’m Toni, from ToniCollis.com – head over there for show notes, more episodes and articles on developing your tech career to the fullest.
But let’s dig straight in to today’s episode: tempering our tempers.
Leading and managing can be extraordinarily emotional. Even the apparently most even tempered of us can have our emotions challenged by the very nature of leadership – the pressure it puts on us to succeed and work with other people to help achieve that success. And believe me, every person in leadership, even those who you think are super cool headed, loose their temper. But what happens when we unleash our anger at work on those around us? Is this ever a good idea? Does drama help you achieve more and get more from your team? Does your heightened emotional state have to turn into anger? And is there ever a good time to express your anger at work?
So let’s dig straight into consequences.
We are surrounded by a world where the likes of Elon Musk and Steve Jobs are held up as pinnacles of how to thrive as a leader in tech business. Both have (or had in the case of Jobs) a reputation for a bit of a hot head and a fiery personality. Sadly, as with many examples of leadership… one of the reasons their personalities make the news is because they are different. They are the exception – the people who have achieved great things in spite of some aspects of their leadership style.
So let’s go quickly to some studies about anger in leaders and management. Historically I’ve always urged everyone I work with to control their anger and tempers, raise their emotional intelligence, and channel any anger they have towards good action instead of loosing ones temper. But let’s just have a quick look at the research to find out of this is actually the best approach.
There is general agreement in organisational psychology literature that expressing anger generally backfires. There’s one particular study I want to discuss a study by Shao et al (at RMIT University, Melbourne) on the effectiveness of leader anger expressions and whether anger expressions are good or bad. Prior to this study in 2018, there had been some suggestion that sometimes expressions of anger could be powerful leadership tools. But the reality, as found out by the authors is a lot more subtle. The key is whether or not the followers of a given leader view anger as part of the personality of that person. The research suggests that if we view someone as having a fixed personality that includes anger, that they are a less effective manager and leader.
The study also found that seeing a manager who is viewed as angry also means you are less likely to want to work for them.
So in general, if you could guarantee that those around you didn’t have a view that personality was fixed as a trait in humans, then you can probably get away with demonstrating anger at work, but given that most humans have a fixed mindset, this is probably a bad idea. Having said that, building a growth mindset in everyone in your organization will help us all achieve more, and could possibly help deal with the consequences of everyone’s angry outbursts.
When we are angry we come across as uncertain leaders. Think about a time when you’ve had an angry manager… did you think they were a stable decision maker or a volatile decision maker? I’ve certainly experienced my fair share of managers where I felt that their decisions were entirely unpredictable. Those same managers were viewed as ambiguous, complex and with no idea what they were doing. I’ve worked with many clients who feel that there are people around them in management who anger when you make decisions, then other days of the week will be angry that you didn’t make your own decisions and that you are bringing apparently trivial stuff to them.
Because this is the thing: if you come across as angry, even if you feel that you are being entirely rational, firstly you probably aren’t as rational as we think – we all think we apply rationality all of the time, but just look around you and ask yourself if you could possibly be different from everyone else – another great reason to have a coach by the way, as a good coach will lovingly call you out on that! But secondly, you come across as complex and ambiguous. Anger is a really difficult emotion for others to read and understand. I know many people who just shut down when someone in the room is angry – they stop listening because it is just too much. And this is far more common than you might think.
OK, so we now know that angry outburst are, in general, a bad idea. But what do you do when you find yourself short tempered, frustrated and genuinely upset?
Some of the common reasons I hear for allowing our emotions, and in particular our anger to get the better of us include:
– Too much work to do – we get swamped, overwhelmed and are less able to process complex situations and flucations in our team and our performance. By the way we often process fluctuations in our own performance as a lack from our team!
– Not being clear on priorities – yes even if you are in the C-Suite I’ve seen his one.
– Not enough direction to ensure clarity on priorities. OR lots of conflicting feedback. If you are always criticised and flaws are pointed out but without solutions this can have a huge detrimental impact.
This results in two common feelings:
– That’s not my job; and
– I’m lacking training/education/some personal development thing.
If this sounds like you, or indeed like someone who reports to you. Don’t worry! I’ve got you here! We are going to talk about what to do to process anger and ways to reduce its impact and frequency. Because if I’ve learnt anything in my career, it is that the best leaders are lit-up leaders who are generally happy and content, with space and time to think and explore. And that is where I want to get you to as well. And of course, this podcast is all about that, but if you want to accelerate then book a discovery call with me my love and we can chat about taking you along that journey to great and lit-up-leadership even faster.
So let’s start with how to tackle your anger when it is right here. Because it is all well and good me telling you that you should be less angry, or not show it, but the reality is we all have emotional outburst from time to time, so lets understand how to effectively tackle it. Here are my four steps for dealing with your anger head-on.
1. Pause and understand what is causing your anger.
This might sound obvious, but so many people just take action on their emotions and allow it to control them instead of examining why.
The pause part of this first step is incredibly important. Now I know you may not feel that you have time to pause, but are you genuinely telling me you can’t find 5 minutes? That’s what we are talking about? Yes, walking into a board meeting 5 minutes late might not feel like an option – though everything we do is a choice! But I bet you could be 5 minutes late (as long as it isn’t a normal thing) for most meetings. Or you could just tell someone – hey I need 5 minutes. And now we are remote working, you have the opportunity when someone calls you to just ask if you can call them back in 5 minutes. Generally speaking there are very few situations where a 5 minute pause is going to cause damage. But your anger might! So if you can. Pause.
Then use this space to step outside of yourself, analyse and assess what is going on. Is your team being lazy, inconsistent, ineffective? Where is your anger coming from? What situation caused it? Where there other triggers and one thing just tipped you over. Get honest and brutal with yourself about where that came from. A lot of anger comes from embarrassment as well – so don’t shy away from seeing something you don’t like in yourself – perhaps you don’t like the way you handled something that then was exacerbated by a colleague, which is apparently the source of your anger, but the reality is that it is your embarrassment which is making you angry first and foremost. And sometimes it is just 20 things piling up in a day and one small final thing tipped you over.
Avoid making assumptions. Give your emotions space and identify the what or whats that are pushing you to boiling point.
2. Get mad about the thing, not about the person.
This will help you process your emotion, and when (I suppose if) you have to tackle someone about something, this will make you more effective.
Remember that if you hired these people you didn’t hire them because you didn’t like them or felt they were stupid. This is just a bad moment or bad episode. So if you are thinking:
‘How could they be that stupid’
‘Why didn’t they use their initiative’
Then it is time to reframe and think about why they did that one thing. When you are tackling the person (if you do) use phrases like ‘Help me understand why you did that < insert one specific thing>? This helps to remove their defensive ness and will get to solutions faster. And when you are understanding what is going on, thinking this way will help you figure out what really matters and let go of anger towards the person, which in general is never productive.
Over time the more situations where we hold onto our anger or even simple annoyance about a person will build up into dislike. I mean how could it not? If you have 40 examples of when this person messed up and let you down and you are holding on to them then of course you will be angry and upset with them and eventually hate working with them. The difference in great lit-up leaders is that they don’t hold onto this. They process, fix the issue (not the person!) and then let it go emotionally. And that is what I want for you. Yes there will always be a few people who just really are unpleasant for us to work with, but if you find that you end up resenting many people you work if you’ve worked with them for long enough then you are holding onto too much. Because believe me – we all make mistakes and mess up – you as much as anyone. It’s what we do after that really counts!
So we get to step 3
3. Get reasonable:
A lot of anger comes from unreasonable expectations. I see this a lot in startup leaders who are passionate about excited about what they are doing and then get upset and angry that stuff isn’t done. The question I always ask is what do you expect from your employees, individually and collectively? And did you make that clear? Provide resources and knowledge? And how well did you communicate this?
As always communication is often the key to the puzzle, but you might be surprised how frequently people have entirely missed making it clear what was actually required. I’ve worked with people who have there anger under control, apparently. Indeed, some of their staff will tell me in a 360 review that they maintain control of their emotions and don’t show their anger – and that is the key their staff are aware enough to know when their boss is angry but not showing it. Which means that the anger is governing the emotions. But all too often when I get that response, the staff also feel strongly that milestones, targets, goals, and high priorities change all the time – the hallmarks of a volatile leader which is often directly related to someone who doesn’t have their emotions in control, even if their outward appearance is ‘controlled’. Because remember, just because you aren’t showing your anger doesn’t mean that the consequences aren’t apparent!
So go back, and really examine if you are making it clear what is required, if you are sharing the how, the what and the why, providing adequate resources, and you are clearly communicating the requirements.
Then the final part to step three, getting reasonable, is to look at the consequences. What are the real consequences of what has happened. This is why it is so important to work on understanding what happened that caused your anger first. Because all too often if we don’t pause, slow down, understand why we are angry we start behaving like the world has ended, when the reality is very different. So examine, what are the financial implications and the time implications. What are the consequences, good and bad, of missing expectations. Get this reality check in place and you may find that your emotions are already disappating.
If you have done all this, you might not need the final step in dealing with your anger:
4. Deal with your remaining emotions
Do a final check through of your emotional state. How are you now feeling. Are you still angry, insecure, fearful, embarrassed. If yes, time to understand why. Take some deep breaths, go for a walk, do some star jumps/jumping jacks! Change your emotional state by changing your physical state.
Remember that your problems are not your employees’ problem, and taking it out on them is only going to make things worse. You’re setting yourself up for failure.
Because we all mess up from time to time.
So let’s just recap those steps for dealing with your anger, before we talk about dealing with the situation!
1. Pause and understand what is causing your anger.
2. Get mad about the thing, not about the person.
3. Get reasonable
4. Deal with your remaining emotions
Now that may seem like a lot, but as you practice you can do this incredibly swiftly – in 2 or 3 minutes. And it gets easier if you have you anger in control most of the time as well because you will find firstly that you have techniques to get this under control that work and secondly that your temper never gets so untempered! It’s like learning anything new – it is always harder at first.
Now you have your emotions under control, let’s actually deal with the consequences and bonus try and stop what happened from happening again. Often these should actually be done together. Great leadership only deals with something once or twice, but then builds a framework to ensure the right outcome in the future. We don’t want to waste our valuable time and knowledge dealing with repeat situations, so lets tackle what happened and prepare better for the future all in one.
Dealing with the situation:
The first one takes everything you’ve just done to control your emotions and steps it up a gear. So you’ve gone through the four steps to control your anger, but lets dig deeper. Preparation is key for tackling all situations, particularly the bad ones, because when we are angry, scared or unprepared we all too often regret our words and actions later.
Assess what happened. Then prepare for the difficult conversation. How can you frame your questions queries so remove people’s defensiveness and make this more about the problem and less about the person?
Get comfortable being open to new ideas that challenge you. All too often things go wrong because our assumptions as leaders aren’t aligned with what is going on on the ground. But if a manager just fails to acknowledge the reality presented to them, nothing will change. Indeed the manager – that’s you I’m talking about – may get more angry and present an even more volatile exterior. If you ever find yourself saying ‘well just get it done’ or ‘I don’t accept that’ then you have a problem here.
Remember that preparation in tackling any conversation is a good idea.
And also preparation for everything we do can often deal with the thing that caused your anger in the first place.
I often do this step when tackling the emotion – this four steps we just talked about, but just make sure it is done before you talk to anyway or send an email!
2. Improve your communication skills and make sure they are fit for purpose.
Do you communicate well online? Zoom? Email? Are you emails hitting the right tone?
Don’t forget that anger is often pushback on poor communication. So this step is not just about fixing the problem but very much about avoiding it in the future as well. Whether you or someone else is angry, it is time to look at communication. Are you making sure that everyone is clear on what they are doing, why they are doing it (because yes the why is incredibly important – we are not robots! We need motivation!), how it fits into the bigger picture, milestones, goals and deadlines? Do you have an open conduit for communication?
Do you right short emails that might be interpreted as upset or snippy? I’ve seen management consultants telling leader to cut down on their communication and be more succinct. Which while I see their point – make it short and simple to understand, misses the emotional needs of the people around them. A simple ‘Hi’ and ‘thanks’ can really help. Make it you default template if necessary to save you time!
Remember also when you are communicating an issue to do it the right way. Avoid statements hopefully obvious, such as, ‘How could you be that stupid’ or ‘Why don’t you use your initiative’ and instead ask them what went wrong. Focus on solutions not blame. If in doubt, write out what you will ask several times. If you are doing a video or phone meeting, you could have these written out next to you. But it is likely if you still need that then you haven’t dealt with your emotions yet. I should add that unemotional communication is critical. Emotions can be powerful in communication about vision and purpose but for everything else, your emotions need be 100% in check.
3. Effectively following up
Just because you’ve dealt with the situation, doesn’t mean you are done. And all too often bad situations can be avoided by effective following up in the first place. So this needs to be part of your toolkit.
This includes the dying art of meeting notes, reminders for re-connecting and thank you notes. I always urge sharing key decisions from a meeting by email. Don’t rely on a chat tool or an intranet because honestly, uptake is terrible on these tools. By all means keep a copy on a local intranet. But make sure you send a message with the key conclusions.
Get use to using CRM tools and calendars. Add reminders in your calendar for follow-ups not just with clients but with colleagues, and friends! We are busy people, and sometimes that means we forget to check in on those we care about, which can cause anger too.
Effective following up is also about checking in how work is progressing. Now when I did my phd, there was very much an attitude of ‘come back when you are done’. While this develops a certain level of problem solving it also encourages procrastination. I had to be trained out of this by some very patient managers! So encourage staff by asking them how they are getting on, but not making it such that they are useless if they haven’t done the work. Ask them how can I help you get unstuck. Check in on any actions that were agreed, particularly ones that are about fixing an issue that made you angry. But make effective following up a normal part of your communication toolkit and you will find far fewer issues raising your body temperature unexpectedly in the future!
4. Build trust
This is something so many managers, not leaders, really struggle with. Far too many of us don’t trust others. And over time, with each outburst (in whichver direction) trust gets eroded! Focus on building and maintaining trust in both directions. This means sharing your vision and purpose with the team. It means handing over decision making power where appropriate and then getting behind the decisions that are made. If you can’t get behind them you didn’t provide a good enough framework for your team to make decisions.
But remember trust works the other way too: as you show and demonstrate your trust, their trust in you builds. But one short temper can irradicate a year’s worth of work on trust. Trust requires us to view someone as reliable, and remember that people who are viewed as volatile and emotional are not viewed as reliable. The more trust you can build will also mean that dealing with issues that cause you to get angry, become easier.
Remind yourself: if you don’t trust, why did you hire?
Which brings me to the final step:
5. Be proactive and choose not to be angry
This is sort of the summary of everything we’ve talked about. But bears repeating. You have more choice than you might think, including of your emotions. So step back and get control. Examine. Choose how you will act.
Consider leadership training – often we start leading because we are passionate about something. Maybe you are building your own business, or you have taken on leadership responsibilities at work because you are enjoying the challenge. But once you show you have what it takes, the pressure can pile on and you’ll need new skills. If you have an ongoing issue with being unhappy with colleagues’ contributions then you could be setting unrealistic goals for yourself and then. That tension builds and eventually snaps. If this feels like you, consider a leadership coach that can help you examine the larger dynamics at play that are contributing to your stress. And of course, if you’d like to find out more about having me as a coach, head over to ToniCollis.com/workwithtoni, and you can read about working with me, or just scroll straight to the bottom of that page and click the book a discovery call link and we can have a chat about what you are struggling with right now, where you want to go next and whether coaching with me is the right support for you! I’ll pop the link in the show notes – available in your podcast player or head over to tonicollis.com/episode6.
OK, so now you’ve proactively taken steps to address the cause of your anger, and to hopefully minimise the situation occurring again, let’s examine: Is there ever a place for anger?
Anger as a reaction to something is never helpful. As you have hopefully realised by now, staying professional will always help you more than loosing control of your emotions. The fall out from anger can be enormous. You shouldn’t be expecting your staff to develop a thick skin from your anger… that’s a waste of their valuable energy. It likes in the same place as toxic behaviour – it is never worth the energy that it is put into it, and you are wasting valuable talent because those with talents who don’t like what you are showing with your anger, will leave. They aren’t employed to have a thick skin and put up with temper tantrums – because yes, that is what they are – they are employed for their skills.
BUT anger does do two things within you:
1. It can create focus. Use it to focus on the thing that is making you angry. Hold it front and centre and you can use it to swiftly fix a problem and be creative.
2. It can boost confidence. Anger boosts adrenaline which can help you power through a lack of confidence and develop fearlessnesss. Use it as a spark to get your started. But don’t make the mistake of holding on to the anger.
Remember that authentic leadership is incredibly powerful – listen to Episode 5 (linked in the show notes) if you want to find out more about authentic leadership. And that includes the full array of emotions, including anger. But powerful leaders are in control of their emotions. So step outside yourself, recognise you are upset, irritated, frustrated and angry. Think about why you feel that way, what is causing it, who or what the source is. What the REAL cause is. Then ask yourself: what can you do about it? And finally: can your anger be channelled to help improve the situation? If not, it is time to let go.
Totally loosing your temper is incredibly damaging and always counterproductive. Think about times when you have been on the wrong end of anger… it never makes you want to work hard for that person.
Before EVER expressing your anger, make sure you are in charge of it, and in control and that you genuinely feel that the situation will improve if you share your emotions.
But let’s finish up with a Leadership Mindset moment. In case you are new around here a leadership mindset moment is an actionable tip to help adjust how you act or think to make it easier to up-level so you can take more positive action on the topic of today’s podcast.
Today’s leadership mindset moment: be quick to listen and stop that passive aggressive behaviour. Oooh because haven’t we all been passive aggressive from time to time?
But let’s start with being quick to listen. Look out for the physical symptoms that come with heightened emotions. Can you tell for example, when you are emotional by a hot feeling, or a knot in your stomach?Identify why physical symptoms occur and you will be quicker to identify an emotional response because we are seriously slow at recognising emotional responses in ourselves! Next, when you have those emotions, LISTEN. Actively listen – write notes by hand and figure out all the things going on. Focus on listening and it will be easier to stop those snippy comments that are passive aggressive. Make sure action and words come from calm. So in the moment, listen. Then work through those steps already discussed before you take action.
That is all for today’s episode! If you loved this please do share.
And don’t forget that if you would like some help up-leveling your negotiation, leadership and career then do check out my coaching program at tonicollis.com/workwithtoni.
Until next time, remember to stay on your tech leadership game, and follow your dreams, because the world really does need that uniqueness that you bring as a leading woman in tech.