Anybody can become angry. That is easy,but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy. Aristotle
Aristotle was right – is right. Though clearly a natural feeling, knowing how to handle anger is not something every one of us does well or easily. Anger is a legitimate feeling we all experience. It is how we handle anger that makes it a negative or a positive, destructive or productive experience.
Managing anger effectively has to be one of the hardest soft skills any of us, and especially effective leaders, need to learn.
While I’ve seen many anger behaviors, I’ve boiled them down to these two styles; I observe these the most often in struggling leaders. I think Aristotle would agree with me that neither represent ‘right’ ways of handling anger. See what you think. Think also – how would Aristotle assess you?
Style 1 – The Stuffer. Some of us regard ourselves as nice people because we do nice things for others. We play by the rules, uphold traditions, sacrifice for and respect others. But others often don’t play by these same rules. They’re unappreciative of our efforts. They don’t conduct themselves according to the traditions and values we honor. There comes a point when disregard for what we value reeeealy makes us ang….uh, “annoyed”. Remember. We are nice people and nice people don’t feel not nice things about others, right?
So what do we do? We ‘stuff it’, pretending but never really dealing, dismissing or forgetting. Those unresolved feelings accumulate and percolate inside us ultimately producing very negative side effects. Unacknowledged feelings of anger come out in sarcastic, condescending or belittling comments we make (“just kidding” we say with a smile). Or maybe we become overly critical or knit picky (“just trying to help” we say ). Worst case? Outbursts at someone or in some situation or place that doesn’t warrant all the emotion.
Result: loss of respect, embarrassment and regret. Stuffers aren’t fair, professional or productive and this approach doesn’t contribute to our health either!
Style 2 – The Use it-er. (This style is a cousin to Stuffers). Maybe our communication skills are inadequate. We know we’re never graceful getting out of our mouths what we have in our heads. Maybe we aren’t comfortable with leadership or maybe we’re just plain conflict averse. Maybe we don’t have confidence in our own decision or idea or thought or possess well developed persuasion and presentation abilities.
Maybe we have delayed dealing with something too long and realize our procrastination has contributed to the escalation of this problem. It doesn’t feel good that maybe we have screwed up. We just want to get away from it now.
Whatever the cause, in order to address something or someone about some unpleasantness we first have to get ourselves emotionally worked up – get angry! So we store up criticisms about a situation or a person – or even about ourselves! We recall all the wrongs, work up defensiveness, dwell on mistakes or obstacles, dig up all the negatives about someone or a situation. “Stinkin thinkin” some call it. All this becomes fuel and ‘the force be with you’ stuff that propels us forward into whatever it is we have to deal with.
Using it-ers blind side others. We seem to suddenly come out of nowhere with things never brought up before. We’re often unilateral in tone, don’t invite other thoughts or suggestions. Others don’t learn anything or grow from this avoidance behavior. Ours is often a red face and a heartbeat everyone within 5 miles can hear!
Result: isolation; anxiety (self and others); reputation as loose cannon that can’t be trusted.
I’ve been very surprised at how few leaders have ever had their style brought to their attention so that they can change and grow and become more effective in their roles. I don’t believe people consciously choose their anger behavior. I do think both nature and nurture play a part in how it develops, though.
Did you see yourself in either of these styles? Learn anything? Uncomfortable to consider? Well, cheer up and remember this other observation Aristotle left for us.
The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.