Dealing with anger – whether it’s you or the other guy
January 22, 2016
One of the most unpleasant and difficult experiences in life and business is dealing with anger. Whether it’s the rage of feeling like someone has double crossed you or the awkwardness of dealing with someone who feels you’ve undermined them.
We’ve all over-reacted by allowing emotions to control our behaviour, but have you noticed it rarely ultimately results in a good outcome? Instead, we often end up in trouble due to our angry words or embarrassed at having to back pedal. Anger expresses what we don’t want, but it’s unlikely to get us what we do want.
The old-school idea of instilling fear in people through angry outbursts is all but redundant in today’s world, where workplace culture and creativity are top priorities. Research shows that emotions are infectious and that anger and fear stifles creativity and growth. Those negative emotions and impatient words you unleashed on the receptionist will end up passed on to someone else – it’s a ripple effect that can only end in waves of negative emotions and wasted opportunities.
The answer to dealing with the issue making you angry is the same as knowing how to deal with someone unleashing their anger onto you. It’s not some feel-good, esoteric philosophy about finding peace in submission. What you actually need to do is toughen up and stop acting like a three year-old throwing a tantrum, by controlling those destructive emotions and working on a solution that makes the best for you out of a bad situation.
I got schooled in the futility of unleashing negative emotions and also in how to confront this type of useless anger by the CEO of a multibillion-dollar company that had made a bid on our company.
I was angry that his team had misled us into believing they were about to submit a strong and realistic bid to buy our company. A corporate buyout of this size usually consumes a lot of time, not just the time to manage a transaction, but also the lost time that could have been devoted to corporate strategy, execution and operations.
I felt his team had actively led us to believe in a transaction worthy of our time and resources, only to inadvertently discover they were planning on making a bid that valued our company at about half the market value, determined by trading on the Australian Stock Exchange.
We decided to terminate the transaction and continue developing the project ourselves. However, we felt it was important to communicate our dissatisfaction with their process and lack of authenticity. Personally, I was upset and determined to let them know it.
I called the CEO to express dissatisfaction with their process and people and confirm that we were terminating negotiations. I felt they had disrespected us and my reaction was emotional. I could feel the anger welling up inside me as I spoke.
He listened intently and when I’d finished my tirade, he quietly said: “Nick, I understand you’re upset. What would you like me to do?”
I felt like Clint Eastwood had just grabbed my gun and thrown it into the bushes. I was completely disarmed. The contrast was startling: one minute I was barrelling down the road on a mission to destruction and the next, I was standing there quietly, not quite knowing what to say.
I didn’t know whether to thank him for nullifying my anger or get even angrier at him for disarming me; but what would have been the point of that?
I ended up saying we were terminating the negotiations and wanted him to know we thought his team had acted unethically and undermined our company. He said he would take on the feedback and thanked me for calling.
Thanks in part to the way he dealt with my anger and subsequently kept the lines of communication open, his company later completed another deal with us that was mutually beneficial.
It took me a while to digest how he had disarmed me so effectively. Essentially, he had decided not to buy in to my negative perspective. He didn’t need to. It wasn’t his problem; it was mine.
He’d taken control of the situation by listening and allowing me to expel my rant, but remaining dispassionate. At the same time, he had handed me responsibility for my own problem. The funny thing is, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, I appreciated that.
These days, I often find myself appreciating that particular moment as I talk with other people who are upset or angry. And I find that by using this approach of removing negative emotions from my interactions and focusing on solving the problem I can pass on my experience to others.
When dealing with an angry punter, simply tell them what you’re hearing to make sure you understand clearly and are acknowledging their concerns and then ask what they would like you to do. If their request is unreasonable, simply say so and ask how else you could solve the problem together.
Above all, try to remain calm and avoid reacting emotionally. It’s important to remember that when someone is angry, they are expressing themselves and this doesn’t have to be a reflection of who you are.
More importantly, I guarantee that listening dispassionately will save you plenty of wasted energy and might give you an opportunity to see things in a different light. Spend your time getting what you want, instead of wasting it on anger.