Everybody gets angry sometimes, even great business leaders. While some may misdirect their anger and cause issues with their employees or damage their reputation, excellent leaders understand how to harness the force of their anger and channel it in a productive manner. Many leaders believe that the key to handling anger when one is in a leadership position is to bury it and stay professional.
More recent research suggests that this impulse is actually not the most helpful and that, instead, leaders should recognize their anger and learn how to stay in control when they are experiencing this emotion. Losing control can lead to regrettable conduct, and burying one’s anger can result in passive-aggressive behavior. Leaders need to learn how to avoid both of these outcomes. Following are some tips for business leaders on how to deal with anger:
Direct your anger toward an action or behavior rather than a person.
Employees make mistakes, but becoming angry with underperforming members of your team will accomplish little other than to make them upset. Telling someone that they did a bad job is not productive. However, explaining to an employee why he or she did not complete a task successfully will set expectations for the future.
Instead of pointing out a person’s shortcomings, good leaders should express why a certain action caused them to become frustrated and use those emotions to open up the channels of communication. Employees will feel less defensive if they are asked to explain why they made certain decisions than if they are told that they did not do a good job. Once employees can explain the decision-making process, leader can point out their issues with it and explain the ideal approach for the future.
Express anger instead of hiding it from employees.
When leaders try to hide their anger, they will fool very few people, if anybody. Anger is an all-consuming emotion, and leaders who try to hide it from their employees can lose credibility. Bringing unexpressed anger into the work environment creates a toxic atmosphere. Employees will avoid contact, become angry themselves, or simply freeze. At any rate, productivity will fall sharply, and both time and energy will be wasted.
Leaders need to learn how to express anger in a way that is neither toxic nor aggressive. Simply admitting to being angry is the first step in addressing the issues that caused it. Expressing anger is different than placing blame. While leaders can state the circumstances that caused them to become angry, they should avoid making accusations.
Avoid repressing your anger by recognizing it when it arises.
Leaders may have been taught to suppress their anger, or they may simply want to avoid confrontation by pretending that they are not angry. At the same time, great leaders realize that anger cannot be suppressed. Anger will find its way out of people somehow. Sometimes, people will become physically ill when they repress their anger. Anger-related illnesses can include high blood pressure, headaches, depression, and chronic back pain. In addition, individuals can experience heart disease or even temporomandibular joint disorders.
The other way that anger can express itself is in wasted energy. Repressing anger consumes a lot of energy. Great leaders know that energy is a valuable resource that should not be wasted. Instead of expending energy, individuals should focus on what their anger feels like in their bodies and take deep breaths. In a couple of minutes, they will start to feel better.
Harness anger to overcome fear and anxiety.
People often regret what they did not say when they were nervous or scared. Anger often arises with fear. However, anger can be used to overcome that fear in order to turn the situation into a productive one. For example, say that a corporate partner did not deliver on a contract on time, which caused a major sale to fall through unexpectedly. Some leaders may be fearful of damaging an important relationship and angry that their partner did not live up to an agreement.
Expressing a bit of anger toward the situation will provide a rush of adrenaline that can help propel leaders out of their fear into a place where they are passionate, yet not irrational. Having a conversation while in this spot can help to preserve the relationship while clearly setting expectations for the future. A conversation about the issue can ensure that it does not become a pattern moving forward.
Treat anger as a learning opportunity.
When anger becomes about placing blame, then drama ensues that can waste time and cause hurt feelings. Leaders should not get pulled into the trap of trying to prove that they are right because this is a waste of time and is really just a way to stroke their egos. Instead of looking for someone to blame, great leaders can learn from their anger and use that knowledge to become even better at their jobs.
Typically, anger is a reminder that leaders need to stop doing something, change direction, face a new reality, or set new boundaries. Other times, the lesson is simply that leaders need to learn how to say no. Finding lessons in anger is critical for avoiding it in the future.