How do you respond to an irritating person or frustrating situation at work? How about something more personal…like dishonest intent that calls your competence or character into question? For most of us, these situations manifest themselves in anger (a secondary emotion, most often the result of fear or pain). The emotion is natural, real, and logical. Our reaction to it, however, may very well be irrational unless we identify it at the onset and manage it intelligently. The key is self-awareness, and the practical application can be summarized in three practices that center on physical reaction, emotional momentum, and root cause.
Practice #1: Pay Attention to your Physical Reaction
Anger is an emotion whose intensity motivates us to take quick, prompt action commonly described in terms of fight or flight, neither of which are considered effective or appropriate for the workplace. Anger can either build over time, or be triggered in the spur of a moment, leaving nanoseconds between onset and reaction, which is why it’s important to understand how to recognize it as quickly as possible. That’s where your physical being comes into play, because the first indicator of intense emotion is physical. A simple, and highly impactful component of self-awareness, the ability to recognize your body’s physical reaction to anger is foundational to managing your response. Listen to your body, and recognize the signals that motivate you to take action. When you pay attention to your physical reaction, you literally prepare yourself to respond professionally.
Practice #2: Diffuse the Emotional Momentum
A few years ago, a very seasoned, and highly respected leader responded in anger to one of his executives by throwing his arms in the air and declaring, “I don’t think you get it. We can kill you!” What transpired from there was pure chaos, and the impact to the organization and the leader is still in play today. This is a perfect example of what happens when emotion gains momentum over intelligence. It is the reason our ability to diffuse emotional momentum is paramount to professional success. Emotional momentum is our automatic go-to response to intense situations. It’s what I know as auto-pilot, and it encompasses everything from inappropriate humor to threatening outbursts like the one described above. However manifested, emotional momentum typically leaves human debris. The ability to step back from our emotions and assess situations logically before responding is a skill, and a common attribute for truly effective leaders.
Practice #3: Identify the Root Cause of Intense Emotion
Intense emotion is all about you. It isn’t the situation, and it has nothing to do with the antagonist who may have triggered it. Anger, as mentioned above, is a common reaction to fear or pain. Considering this, the fear of a failed project or missed profit goal, might be the root cause of a manager’s anger when her/his performance review is hanging in the balance. Poor performance can lead to job loss, and fear is a reasonable, logical, human response; and unfortunately one that can perpetuate an undesirable outcome. By understanding the root cause of our fear, we can effectively manage the emotion, and respond to the situation with professionalism and expertise, thereby ensuring job continuity and career progression….a much better outcome.
Like it or not, and regardless of how much we may want to deny it, we are all emotional beings who experience anger, joy, fear, pain, and a whole load of other emotions on any given day. They are core to our existence and instrumental to survival…and when effectively managed, a critical component of professional success. The key is effective management, which can be accomplished with physical awareness, managed reactions, and root cause acknowledgement; the basic practices that separate humans from other animals.
Abby Foster is the founder of Ahnimisha Consulting. Foster blogs at www.ahnimisha.com, and is a generational dynamics trainer, Human Capital consultant, and a certified Birkman© consultant. She delivers workshops, training seminars, professional coaching, and consulting services utilizing proven tools and techniques to help companies maximize the efforts of every employee in today’s multigenerational workforce.
Contact Abby directly at firstname.lastname@example.org