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  • How to remain calm in the storm.
  • Navigate anger in others.

You come up with a great idea, but your boss and colleagues dismiss it. Three months later the idea was approved by your boss and a colleague has been put in charge of implementing it. You are having a casual conversation with a friend at lunch and a person you don’t know steps in between and interjects himself into the conversation with his back to you. You’re running late. You have your eye on that parking space and someone swoops in and takes it just as you signal to turn into it. Have any of these scenarios happened to you? Perhaps you’ve had myriad other experiences that try your patience at work. Or you could have had a heated discussion with a family member that you haven’t let go of yet and then brought to work.  

It is hard to be at your best when you are emotionally off balance. It might be difficult to give the people the benefit of doubt because it appears you are ignored at best or disrespected at worst. It is easy for me to sit in the quiet of my office and suggest that you take deep breaths and remain calm while in the midst of emotional storms, but that is a strategy to keep on hand; because things might not be as they appear. Flying off the handle and making accusations without having all the facts could result in retracting comments and losing credibility. Take those deep breaths, do the research and if you have a case you’ll be in a much better position to substantiate it.

But you can use controlled strategic anger. Most of us are raised to equate anger with out-of-control meltdowns. But this emotion is an important signal that something is wrong. And, harnessed effectively, it can give us the strength we need to make things right.

Use anger strategically to jolt those who take you for granted or feel they can pick and choose when to follow your instructions. Anger can also be used to effectively advocate for yourself. For example, if you feel you deserve a promotion but have been scared to ask. Controlled anger has the greatest impact when used infrequently because the contrast catches adversaries off guard. 

This line: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” should be the leadership credo. When others are angry, the leader has to stay calm to assess what triggered the anger among team members or clients/customers. Receptive body language, active listening, and a calming voice tone are important. However, telling people to calm down usually has the opposite effect. The last thing a good leader wants to do is contribute to the escalation of the situation. In many cases, people become angry because they don’t feel heard. That is why listening is so important.

When anger dissipates the persons at the center of the controversy often feel a little embarrassed at the loss of control. Appropriate support can help ease their discomfort. However, they need to be involved in planning and implementing a strategy that addresses the issues that triggered the event. Conversely, if the outburst was unwarranted appropriate disciplinary action needs to be taken.