How to Calm Down Crazy and Angry People sparked a debate, a flood of LinkedIn private messages and a pivotal question — how can we look at anger differently to affect change?

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


— Buddha

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The statistics are painfully staggering…

  • Workplace squabbling costs over $359 billion per year (U.S.)1
  • Workplace stress costs over $300 billion per year (U.S.)2
  • 53% of the global workforce report that they’re close to burning out (22K+ person study)3
  • 98% experience uncivil behavior in the workplace and 50% are treated rudely at least once per week (14K+ person study)4
  • 50-70 million Americans chronically suffer from sleep disorders with more than 30% of adult American men and women receiving less than six hours of sleep each night.5

No wonder our patience is wearing thin, our emotions are running high and our anger is getting the best of us!

So here’s the deal with anger…whether we’re the angry instigator, the angry responder or the angry ruminator:6

  • Anger leads to heart attacks, doubling the chance of a heart attack 2 hours after an outburst
  • Anger leads to strokes, tripling the chance of a stroke two hours after an outburst
  • Anger weakens our immune system by causing a dip in our antibody immunoglobin A, our cell’s first line of defense against infection
  • Anger makes anxiety problems worse causing excessive and uncontrollable worry
  • Anger leads to depression especially when we ruminate about whatever situation is bothering us
  • Anger can hurt our lungs by worsening lung capacity
  • Anger can shorter our lives

And if the above doesn’t grab our attention, shake us to our very core and affect drastic personal change…let’s realize that when we get angry over day in/day out workplace STUFF, and it really is just STUFF, quite frankly…

We look DUMB!

Now I’m not referring to isolated events that cause us to feel occasionally irritated, perturbed, annoyed or frustrated. We’re human. That’s life. Deal with it. Move on. Likewise, I’m not referring to anger that invokes major societal change. I’m specifically speaking to patterns of angry behavior where we find ourselves on the initiating or receiving end (or both) on a frequent to consistent basis.

The five following scenarios capture real-life people and situations, names changed of course, as a way to illustrate why not only angry instigators look dumb (aka lacking intelligence), but why the angry responders and ruminators look just as dumb. And who are the angry instigators, responders and ruminators? They’re US! The reality…when we get angry about this, that or the other, we’re not only jeopardizing our mental, physical and emotional health, but we’re also self-inflicting dumbness!

Why would we choose to look dumb?

Scenario #1: The Angry “I Want it NOW!” Co-Worker

Senior Partner George was renown for his the world revolves around me mentality. Whatever George wanted, he wanted it NOW! Not a day from now. Not 4 hours from now. But NOW! And if George didn’t get what George wanted, George acted out.

At first, George’s tantrums scared people into drop everything action, until they became desensitized. Soon thereafter, delayed responses to George’s demands inevitably became the norm because no one wanted to work with George. Then on 09/13/2001, just two days after the World Trade Center attacks, George single-handedly annihilated his personal brand.

While many people were reeling from 09/11’s sheer horror plus devastating and unfathomable impacts, George, who was operating out of Manhattan (New York City), was crazy upset that his Verizon cell phone coverage was poor. Despite the bloodshed, George was myopically focused on his ability to conduct business and angrily berated his company’s IT Department for not having devised an emergency cell phone back-up plan that would somehow seamlessly and magically operate even though: 1) Verizon’s 10th floor World Trade Center telephone switch and their basement communications had been blown to smithereens; and 2) Verizon’s overloaded NYC network had come to a screeching halt hours and days after the attack because people were desperately trying to call their loved ones.

How could George NOT look utterly foolish (among other things) in the eyes of his co-workers? Eventually the company jettisoned George.

Take-Aways:

  1. If you’re Angry George, stop! Recognize that by choosing “I want it NOW” antics, people will actually become less responsive to your needs, they may even undermine you plus you’ll look foolish. Why would you make such poor self-sabotaging choices?
  2. If you’re experiencing Angry George, stay calm! Of course if George is impacting your work, constructively address it, but recognize that if you choose to be angry or stew over George’s 2-year-old antics, you’re wasting precious time and energy, jeopardizing your own health plus looking foolish.

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Scenario #2: The Angry “My Life is on the Skids” Co-Worker

Anna, a Payroll Manager new to the organization, tangles with certain co-workers including the Corporate Controller, Joe, who has been with the company for years. Anna believes that Joe doesn’t trust her, speaks condescendingly to her and wants her to fail. Joe on the other hand, is frustrated because he’s not getting the information he needs from Anna, and when he tries to constructively convey his expectations plus coach her, Anna strikes back in an angry tone and words. They’re at a stalemate.

In walks the third party interventionist whose role is to help Anna and Joe find common ground, set clear bi-directional expectations and collaboratively move forward. So far so good until one day. The interventionist arrives at Anna’s office, walks in, sits down and enthusiastically says, “Hi Anna! How are you?” Anna goes ballistic! She’s angry with Joe, the company president, the CFO and a host of other people — including the interventionist. According to Anna, her relationship with Joe has further deteriorated and the interventionist is 100% to blame.

After a 20-minute diatribe, Anna runs out of steam. The interventionist, who has maintained a relaxed demeanor while taking copious notes, asks if she can share Anna’s key points then verify if the points are, in fact, accurate from Anna’s perspective. Anna agrees. As the interventionist calmly speaks and verifies, she asks Anna what Anna would like to see different moving forward. Anna is stone silent. Then her eyes fill with tears. In that moment, Anna shares that her life is unraveling. Anna is in the throes of a divorce, her teenage daughter is being verbally abused by Anna’s husband, the IRS is about to audit Anna and she’s on the verge of bankruptcy. In that lucid and tense moment, Anna recognizes that her anger has nothing to do with the interventionist, Joe nor anyone else in the workplace. Anna is excruciatingly unhappy with her personal life and recognizes that it has bled over into her work life. Anna, being a very proud woman, is catastrophically embarrassed.

Take-Aways:

  1. If you’re Angry Anna, stop! Recognize that by choosing to take your anger and frustration out on others, it’s not going to solve your personal problems. But it sure will add to your problems plus you’ll look foolish. Why would you make such poor self-sabotaging choices?
  2. If we’re experiencing Angry Anna, stay calm! Recognize that people act out for reasons that we might not even be aware of. Of course if Anna is impacting your work, constructively address it, but don’t choose to be angry or stew over Anna’s 2-year-old antics because you’ll just be wasting precious time and energy, jeopardizing your own health plus looking foolish.

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Scenario #3: The Angry “You Caught Me Red-Handed” Co-Worker 

Eric is in a leadership role. He yearns to be beloved and admired by his colleagues. Yet he has perfected some nasty, under-handed habits, specifically the art of trying to schmooze other leaders in an attempt to ride on their coattails. At first, Eric appears to be genuine. But then you soon discover the real Eric as he:

  • Grabs credit for other people’s hard work;
  • Misrepresents his capabilities, makes false claims and name-drops; and
  • Takes the lazy-way-out shortcuts.

So what do you do? Having nabbed him red-handed, you respectfully call Eric out. And what does he do? Instead of facing his demons, he hides behind baseless accusations, history-twisting and excuse-making as he makes a mad dash for the “I’m going to take my marbles and go home” escape route. And in the wake, angry Eric devises imaginary stories and claims to disparage you as a way to explain away why you’re no longer on speaking terms.

Eventually people catch onto Eric, one colleague at a time, as they recognize his pulling-the-wool-over-people’s-eyes ways. Sadly Eric can’t cultivate deep relationships, which has undermined his relevancy, sabotaged his marketability, crushed his image and severely limited his potential.

Take-Aways:

  1. If you’re Angry Eric, stop! Recognize that by choosing to play the deception and blame game in an attempt to cover up your own shortfalls, you’ll destroy your image, kill relationships, never become beloved plus you’ll look foolish. Why would you make such poor self-sabotaging choices?
  2. If you’re experiencing Angry Eric, stay calm! The Eric’s of the world can only hide for so long until they’re outed. Let your reputation, hard work, accomplishments and enduring relationships speak for themselves. Recognize that if you choose to be angry or stew over Eric’s 2-year-old antics, you’re wasting precious time and energy, jeopardizing your own health plus looking foolish.

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Scenario #4: The Angry “I’m Better Than You” Co-Worker

Smart-as-a-whip, charismatic and hard-working — the perfect trifecta! It came as no surprise that people rallied around Connie to help her stand-up a successful business. They opened relational doors, provided stellar references, helped move her company onto Preferred Vendor Lists and even purchased her company’s services. Connie was very fortunate to have been surrounded by colleagues who find joy in uplifting others.

But beneath Connie’s success mask lurks a hiding-in-the-bushes sniper, awaiting that exact moment to verbally strike her target. You see Connie can’t tolerate anyone else being successful because she has low self-esteem. Not surprisingly, her enemies are successful and happy people, including some of the same colleagues who enabled Connie’s start-up. Instead of Connie focusing her energy on appreciating her circumstances plus paying it forward, she:

  • Throws grenades in the form of vicious-speak, criticizing people’s looks, capabilities and successes.
  • Touts her material possessions with a “see me, look at me” bent.
  • Fixates on trying to one-up the person who is casually sharing his/her successes or experiences.

Unfortunately, as time marches on, Connie loses the support of many colleagues and friends who once rallied around her. And her requests to rekindle severely damaged relationships fall on deaf ears.

Take-Aways:                   

  1. If you’re Angry Connie, stop! Recognize that by choosing to push people down vs. lift them up and persist with your “see me, look at me” ways, they’ll ultimately reject being in your company, you’ll further deflate your already low self-esteem plus you’ll look foolish. Why would you make such poor self-sabotaging choices?
  2. If you’re experiencing Angry Connie, stay calm! Only interact with Connie when absolutely necessary and do so constructively, otherwise just walk away. Recognize that if you choose to be angry or stew over Connie’s 2-year-old antics, you’re wasting precious time and energy, jeopardizing your own health plus looking foolish.

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Scenario #5: The Angry “Choose My Side” Co-Worker     

Carol is a senior leader in healthcare IT. Carol needs to be liked. In fact everyone is Carol’s best friend until you respectfully disagree with her, which she perceives as no longer liking her. And then it’s “game on” side-taking, mud-slinging and grudge-holding. When you disagree with Carol — whether an idea, a viewpoint, a direction or decision — she erupts into child-like shenanigans.

First there’s glaring, next snubbing then full throttle war! Quite literally Carol yanks people into her office, slams the door then builds a colleague-shunning case against whomever wrongs her. How do we know this? Two reasons. #1…once Carol’s captive audience escapes her grip, they blab. #2…Carol’s voice carries through the paper-thin walls.

The battlefield maneuvering doesn’t end there. Carol uses her leadership position as a fear-inducing blackmailing tool  — “Don’t cross me because I’m your boss.” Driven by self-preservation, those reporting to Carol “lay low” to stay out of Carol’s sights. Carol’s beefs are typically with her peers and those who report to Carol’s peers, since she has no leverage to force Carol-conformity outside of her own functional vertical. How is Carol perceived by her fellow IT’ers? Sadly Carol has positioned herself as the punching bag for bad jokes and behind-closed-doors ridicule.

Take-Aways:

  1. If you’re Angry Carol, stop! Recognize that by choosing to glare, sneer, snub and force sides, you’ll destroy the coveted relationships that you long for, become the target of office fodder plus you’ll look foolish. Why would you make such poor self-sabotaging choices?
  2. If you’re experiencing Angry Carol (though not reporting to her, that’s a separate issue), stay calm! Only interact with Carol when absolutely necessary, do so constructively, and stay above the fray. Recognize that if you choose to be angry or stew over Carol’s 2-year-old antics, you’re wasting precious time and energy, jeopardizing your own health plus looking foolish. If you report to Carol and she’s blackmailing you, LinkedIn private message me. That can be a tricky situation depending on your company culture and how progressive your HR department is or isn’t.

 

Thought Provokers: How can we control our intentional and unintentional anger so we’re not: 1) quite literally killing ourselves; 2) self-sabotaging our goals; 3) acting ridiculously DUMB in front of our co-workers as instigators, responders or ruminators; and 4) contributing toward the already-staggering workplace incivility statistics?

Sources: 

Stop Conflict at Work Now With the Power of StoryForbes, 2016.
2 Workplace Stress: The Health Epidemic of the 21st CenturyHuffington Post Business, 2016.
3 Help Your Team Manage Stress, Anxiety & BurnoutHarvard Business Review, 2016.
4 The Price of IncivilityHarvard Business Review, 2013.
5 The Consequences of Sleep Deprivation That Will Keep You Up at NightHuffington Post, 2016.
6 7 Ways Anger is Ruining Your Health, www.everydayhealth.com, 2015.

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