Reactivity and Your Career

THE HOLIDAYS are stressful. Add in this year’s recession, with one in five workers worried about losing their jobs, and it’s not surprising that many workers are downright grumpy. Many companies have cut back on bonuses, even sacred holiday parties, while asking workers to “do more with less.” As a result, nerves get frayed and tempers can flare.

Tempers flare when the amygdala part of our brain gets triggered and sets off an alarm, firing powerful adrenaline stress hormones in response to perceived threats (like fear of losing your job). There are many ways we can perceive “danger” in our workplaces. For example, believing a co-worker is trying to make us look bad to the boss can be seen as a threat to our livelihood (and therefore our survival). Hearing a co-worker say something that we perceive is insulting or demeaning can be seen as a threat to our self-esteem. Scenarios where we perceive threats put us at risk for losing control of our emotions — otherwise known as an amygdala hijack.

Losing one’s temper or composure in the workplace puts jobs and careers at risk. Most companies won’t put up with it. Workers with anger management issues are seen as a serious risk.

Feeling angry isn’t the problem; the problem is inappropriate behavior. You may not be able to choose how you feel, but you can choose how you respond. Here are tips for responding appropriately:

  • If you feel out of control, take a timeout and remove yourself from the situation. Walk around the block or leave for the rest of the day (infinitely better than losing it in front of your boss or colleagues).
  • Calm down your body’s natural adrenaline response. Try deep breathing from the belly, visualizing your “happy place” or silently repeating a calming word. This will help decrease blood pressure and heart rate, which naturally increase with feeling angry.
  • Identify and acknowledge your emotion. Just naming it can be helpful. Take responsibility for your own feelings and share them directly to clear the air by using an “I” statement. (“I feel angry when …”) Unexpressed anger can result in passive-aggressive behavior (like getting back at someone indirectly with cynical or critical comments vs. confronting issues head on), which can harm relationships.
  • Identify what triggers your anger. Self-awareness is key to controlling how you respond. Working with a coach or therapist can help. A professional can help you connect the dots, increase your self-awareness and learn new behaviors — work you can do to hugely benefit your career.
  • Find a release for your emotions outside work: exercise, kickboxing, chopping wood, etc. Exercise is a powerful release for pent-up emotions.
  • Check your assumptions and perceptions. It’s our appraisal of the behaviors of others that often cause us to react with anger. Humans often jump to inaccurate conclusions. We often guess at the motives or intentions of our co-workers. Electronic communication is particularly fraught with danger for misinterpretation. Check in with the “offending” person to see if your perceptions are accurate. Ask clarifying questions. Be open to the idea that you might have it wrong.
  • Slow it down. Think before you speak. Saying the first thing that pops into your head is rarely a good thing when you’re upset. Rapid-fire responses are what get people escorted out of buildings. Before you speak or hit “send” on an e-mail, check in with yourself and ask: How could this be misunderstood? What is my intention here? Do I want to vent, blame or resolve this? When you speak, use “I” statements and avoid blaming; if you respond with “You …,” odds are you will trigger a defensive response from the other person.
  • Take time off over the holidays to rejuvenate and recharge your batteries. Spend time “disconnected” from the office (that means no compulsive checking devices!). Give yourself a break — you deserve it.

Inappropriate outbursts can define how you are viewed in the workplace. Many people are unaware of how poorly their behavior reflects on them (or affects co-workers). There is help available for those with challenges in this area of emotional intelligence.

Workplaces are filled with frustrations. You won’t succeed trying to eliminate feelings of anger. You are still human. What you can change is how you react and respond.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com