You’ve likely felt angry at work, but have you expressed it? Many people feel like anger doesn’t have a place in the workplace, but Hesha Abrams, author of Holding the Calm: The Secrets to Resolving Conflict and Defusing Tension, says it does.
“Anger is a normal emotion, and if you don’t deal with it, it sits and compresses and then blows up and explodes out in an ugly, nasty way,” she says. “Rage has no place in the workplace, but anger does.”
Anger can be used to your advantage, but only if you express it in the right way.
Get a grip
First, get a hold of yourself and to decide how you choose to express your anger. If you feel out of control and so angry that you can’t see or speak straight, Abrams suggests closing your mouth and taking a deep breath. She calls this “holding the calm.”
“I’ve taught kids something I call ‘dinosaur it out,'” she says. “Bend your fingernails into the palm of your hand and squeeze hard. You get like a little tiny prick that’s enough trick your nervous system into thinking, ‘Something else is happening here.’ It breaks the anger-rage cycle. Quite frankly being out of control is scary to other people, especially when it’s someone higher up the power structure who can’t control themselves.”
Next, ask yourself, “What is the outcome I hope to achieve?” Then design your approach backwards to be strategic about the outcome you want to get.
Consider the receiver
When you express anger, Abrams says you have to speak to the ears that are hearing you. How you express anger is often based on how you were raised. For example, if you grew up in a family where anger and conflict were okay and people were comfortable with yelling, you might be a person who raises their voice when you’re angry. But if you grew up in a quiet, calm household, that type of expression might freak you out.
“One person may say, ‘This is awful. You’re invading my space. And the other person might say, ‘I’m just passionate, trusting my feelings,'” says Abrams. “If you’re talking to a yeller, yelling is comfortable for them. If you’re talking to someone who is quiet, yelling will shut them down.”
Abram compares anger to vomiting. Sometimes you have to throw up, but you should look for a trash can, so you don’t vomit in the middle of everybody.
“You have you have a moral and ethical obligation to see what you’re vomiting,” she says. “If you’ve got people that are timid, wounded, or uncomfortable with that, then it’s irresponsible to just vent out your anger. Choose how to express that anger. We have a gas pedal. You wouldn’t drive 90 in a school zone, and you wouldn’t drive 20 on the highway. Moderate your behavior for the speed limit of the environment.”
Share your feelings the right way
Anger can be a strategic tool, says Abrams. “Nice is very good for getting along with people and making pleasant workplaces, but nice doesn’t change policy or implement new things,” she says. “It’s true that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, but it’s also the first one to be replaced. You can be a squeaky wheel to get oil, but don’t be so squeaky that you’re also going to get replaced.”
It is more powerful if you can find allies, so you aren’t the only one who’s angry. “Odds are you’ll be marginalized if you’re alone, but if you can find other people who are also angry about what you’re angry about, then you can create allies,” says Abrams. “It’ll be taken more seriously.”
To express your anger, state it instead of acting it out, says Abrams. There is nothing wrong with saying “I’m really angry,” or “This is making me mad.”
“You’re expressing your feelings, and you have a right to express anger,” says Abrams. “It depends on the situation, who you’re talking to, and how angry you are. But you still have to have control of yourself.”
For example, you might say, “I’m really angry. This policy is just wrong. It’s going to impact and hurt a lot of people.”
“This statement requires somebody listening to you and interacting with you,” says Abrams. “You’re not scary, and you’re not pushing them away. You’ve raised your anger as an issue that has to be dealt with. It’s the responsibility of the other person to ask why or to find out if they can help you. Maybe they won’t agree with you, but that’s the normal speed limit.”