14 July 2006

Ready to detonate?

The most mild-mannered worker will get heated up sooner or later. So here’s some advice, whether you’re the CEO or her chauffeur.

The most mild-mannered worker will get heated up sooner or later. So here’s some advice, whether you’re the CEO or her chauffeur.

What’s your trigger? The guy who parks so close to your car that you need to become a human pizza to get out? How about the network crashing when you’re in the middle of a deadline from hell? No? Ever had someone who keeps meetings going because he knows that as long as he’s warming a boardroom chair he doesn’t have to work? Still not? What about the fool who always, always drinks the last of the coffee from the pot and never makes a fresh pot – ever, in his whole career!

Okay, so let’s acknowledge that all of us, apart from say, the Dalai Lama, will sooner or later allow something to get us riled. That’s mainly because we’re all human. So we accept that we’ll get irked sometime.

The Hidden Volcano
Now, how’ll you react? There are basically two standard reactions: We’ll call the first type the Hidden Volcano. This is the type of person who seethes and simmers gently, with nothing more than perhaps a clenching of jaw muscles to betray the fury within.

Keeping it all inside might seem like a professional way to handle your anger. After all, you’re not ranting, raving and chewing scenery, furniture or colleagues, not so?

Well, perhaps so, but bottling up your anger is unhealthy. It can lead to emotional problems, not to mention the possibility of finally exploding all over some unsuspecting passerby who happened to accidentally bump into you.

So your way forward is not perfecting the art of the Slow Burn – that’s what vintage Hollywood called the clenching and unclenching of jaw muscles by tough-guy actors.

The Hand Grenade
Perhaps you’re the second type: Let’s call them the Hand Grenade. This is the sort of worker who can be relied on to “lose it” on a fairly regular basis. Just about anything sets him or her off: deliveries don’t arrive on time, people don’t return calls, people call too often, the computers give trouble, the computers deliver too much spam – take your pick.

What follows is a pyrotechnic display that’s more spectacular than ol’ Clenchjaw Compact Molars in Accounts. And while slamming down phones and shouting may give all your colleagues the impression that you’re firmly in touch with your inner munitions dump, it makes you hard to work with. It might also make you hard to promote.

So what can you do?

Recognise the problem. Acknowledge that neither losing your temper and your volume control, nor stewing over a problem is any way to deal with your anger in the long term.

Make a decision to overcome it. The time may have come to tell a friend or a partner that from now on you’re going to change the way you deal with these issues.

Look for solutions, not blame. Examine the factors involved in your anger objectively. If needs be, chat to a superior about it. There may be some way of easing deadline pressures.

Be diplomatic. Resolve to be sober and constructive about the problem. Let’s say you have a colleague who arrives late, is tardy in his work and takes long lunches. A firm but level-voiced chat about the problem may be a far more effective then either glaring at the back of the guy’s head or bellowing at him. Try something along the lines of “What you’re doing is unfair on the rest of us. It would be unfair of me to allow you to continue doing so without chatting to you about it. How do you suggest we deal with it?” Not making headway after a discussion like that might mean it’s time to get your personnel department involved.

Take a break. Go for a walk, step out for a stiff espresso, put on some headphones and listen to some serene music.

Pinch yourself. Use a couple of general-purpose pressure points to alleviate the tension. Use your thumb and forefinger to grab the flesh inside the web of your thumb. It’ll feel tender and firm pressure for 10 seconds may feel like 10 hours. Now swap sides. Next, use your thumb to press the bridge of your nose, bang between your eyes. Hold it there for 10 seconds.

Listen before reacting. There may be a valid reason for something not happening on time. “Mr Jones, we’d been told that your house burnt down. It turns out that you’d overslept, as a result of which the Space Shuttle launch was late. How do you suggest we explain this to Nasa, Mr Jones?”

Don’t catastrophise. Watch out for the straw that breaks the camel’s back. If it’s an insignificant straw, you’ll just look silly.

Get counseling. If you’re flying off the handle regularly, speak to your GP about getting help.

Stare at a picture. Got a favourite holiday photo or a picture of some special scene, like a palm-fringed beach or Bill Gates getting a cream pie to the face? Keep it nearby.

Exercise. Working out is good for you. It alleviates the sense of powerlessness many of us feel at work. It also promotes the release of feel-good hormones – endorphins – which act like a potent but perfectly legal feel-good drug. One word of caution: Choose your workout. If you’re a bad squash player, having an angry morning then playing squash at lunchtime may just make you crosser than before.

Move on. If your job angers you constantly, generate positive feelings by looking for another job. (William Smook)

Read more:
Stressed at work? Rub it in
Is your job killing you?


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