Saturday, June 2, 2012
How do you handle anger, both your own and others? Recently I have been made aware of a couple of places where angry lashings out have several damaged working relationships. In one case in particular, a manager and an undermanager have each yet again lashed out loudly, publicly, and abusively toward staff members. Of course this is extremely inappropriate and unprofessional and needless to say the office has an on-going morale problem which has been going on for so many years that many feel things will never change. Tittle-tattle is encouraged. Accusations are made and believed with no evidence. It is a very unhealthy environment to work in. And unfortunately the situation is not that uncommon in our society.
I can sympathize with this situation because I too have been subjected to violent angry outbursts and I too have had false accusations leveled against me, accusations which cost me dearly, and for awhile, I was only angry and hurt. But as time passed and I did a lot of introspection and owned my part in the problem, I also realized that the person who was spreading lies and stabbing me behind my back was doing it out of her own fears, jealousies and insecurities, whether she was actually aware of that or not. Once I realized this, I felt pity not anger. I began sending positive energy her way, wrapping her at least metaphorically, in my love. I don't know that she will ever like me, but at least the open hostility is gone, and for that I am most grateful. My shift has done even more to heal me, to help me know myself better, and to help me in other interactions.
I was reminded of my experience when I was thinking about the dreadful dust-up at the office mentioned above. Yes the situation has been going on for years, and I can understand the anger and resentment around it. But the cycle needs to be broken. I don't think they will be getting in any consultants on dealing with anger, but what I have learned from my therapist is that when someone comes at you in anger, they are not rational and they are not listening. And no matter how many times they say, "You, You, You" they are still really talking about themselves. Realizing this helps even though it still feels horrible to be yelled at. But the very best thing you can do is maintain a neutral expression and be silent. The raging person won't hear a thing you say, and trying to explain or even apologize will only fuel the flames. Getting defensive just enables their anger further and the problem keeps escalating. The anger has to run its course, so just stay silent and allow the anger to run out.
When the person is finally done, then you want to say something neutral, a loving heartfelt honest comment, such as "I'm sorry you are having such a rough day," or whatever and then quietly and calmly walk away or return to your task, whatever is appropriate for the situation. If the person demands a response, then answer as calmly as you possibly can that they have given you a lot to think about and you will get back to them later or tomorrow or whatever after you have had a chance to give their words thoughtful consideration. Do not answer in the moment as it won't help and has every potential for re-igniting the situation.
And our natural inclination after being yelled at is to avoid that person at all costs, but I think the opposite is more effective. Again, love is the only answer to anger that has any chance of succeeding, so giving a cheery greeting the next day, or just saying a pleasant hello or offering assistance when it is needed or whatever will go a long way toward healing. You are by no means condoning their inappropriate behavior or enabling it in any way. But you are remembering that the person who lashed out is a wounded puppy in one way or another and you are caring about the person, not the behavior. This will certainly help heal you, and after all that is all you can really control. But if enough people in this office start what I could call a "love-in" toward these difficult managers, I can't help but believe that it will make a difference to the entire work environment. And think how surprised and bewildered the managers will be when people respond in love and compassion and don't just return anger for anger. It will have a strong disarming effect, as I have discovered personally.
All the philosophies and religions past and present that I have looked into have all had something to say on this. Personally, I like Snoopy's the best: "A kiss on the nose turns anger aside," but there is Christianity's "turn the other cheek" or Buddha's "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned," and there are countless other examples.
I am grateful that anger is not my primary defense mechanism (I hide or try to become invisible which has its own problems), but for those who do use anger, I am told that taking time to think first as to how your words will be receive can help immensely (the old count to ten approach), because anyone exploding in anger is actually shooting themselves in the foot These people are not bad people, generally, but good people making horrible mistakes and they will have to do damage control down the road. I have had my moments of lashing out and I know that for me nothing matched the pain of knowing how much my words hurt and the damage they caused and words can't be taken back. They are very powerful and words of love and compassion are every bit as powerful if not more so than words of anger.
Issues surrounding anger are very difficult and it is hard for any of us not to react badly in whatever way we do that when we are triggered. For me, it took a major incentive of not wanting to lose those I care most about. Whether or not those in this office can find a motive powerful enough to help them find the strength and courage to change past behaviors and look at the larger picture is something that only time will tell, but personally, I hope for their sake that the "love-in" starts and takes hold. Lives will be changed for the better, beginning with those doing the "love-in."