Putting your anger to work


We are all familiar with the feeling of blood rushing through our veins when we get triggered and we feel so angry we could literally destroy what is in front of us. In cartoons, anger is often portrayed as steam coming out of the character’s head and a flaming red face. In reality, the physical response to anger is not that different. It is very similar to the fight or flight response where chemicals like adrenaline and noradrenaline are surging through the body. The anger is causing the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls emotion to go into over-drive  [source: Ellison] and the blood is rushing to the frontal lobe, the part of the brain that controls reasoning and is the one that often stops us from throwing a fist into the face of the person in front of us. Some research suggests that both these physical responses balance each other out in less than 2 seconds [source: McCarthy]. Thus, if we follow the general advice of taking a deep breath or counting to 10 before reacting when we are triggered, we probably could ride the wave of fury and have a more controlled reaction.

Let’s look at how leaders deal with anger and whether they should show anger in the workplace at all. Historically, many successful executives have had the reputation of being very vocal and expressing their anger openly. They were able to get things done through the fear that their angry reactions would create in their followers.

In reality, it is very difficult for anyone to mask their anger no matter how resilient, emotionally intelligent and emotionally mature they are. But anger is not always bad. It can be good because it triggers a sense of urgency and makes one realize that something needs to be done in a particular situation. Anger is passionate enough to want to make a difference and change the course of events.

It is the response to anger that makes or breaks a leader. In that moment when they are triggered, leaders can choose to give in to the amygdala and completely lose it, cursing, shouting and damaging a lot on their way. However, good leaders wait until the frontal lobe takes control of the situation again and then react. They choose to respond respectfully instead of inflicting maximum harm. Of course, this is not easy as it takes a lot of practice and a lot of skill. Connecting with the body to understand what is going on in that moment and choosing to react wisely is not effortless and doesn’t come naturally.

As Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc says in his blog in Harvard Business review “After feeling my anger, I made a strategic and intentional decision that I felt would be most useful in the situation: I would express my anger fully, but respectfully.” He adds: “To succeed in life and in leadership, we need to act powerfully in the context of strong emotions and still have the impact we intend.” Here are some practical steps on how this can be achieved:

You are sitting at your desk and you receive an email that makes you fume, it is exactly the opposite of what you expected your peer to say or your subordinate walks into your office feeling completely helpless and saying that they just did the one mistake you specifically asked them to watch out for! You feel your blood pressure rising, you get triggered. When you are triggered you go into a box. In that box, the lid is closed and it’s dark; your options seem very limited. You tend to react from that dark and limited perspective where the voices in your head are the loudest. The internal self talk covers a range of emotions that you would be feeling in that moment, emotions rooted in fear, insecurity or mistrust. So what do you do?

1.       Be aware of what triggers and pushes you into that box

2.       Listen to the voices in your head. What are they saying to you and what real emotions are they masking?

3.       Stop the cycle by choosing your reaction to these triggers and refusing to go into that box

4.       Identify the constructive response in a particular situation: be angry, express it, shout if you need to but always be respectful. The moment you lose control, your ego takes over and you can no longer communicate your anger in a way that will generate solutions

5.       Take the necessary steps to communicate the change you would like to see no matter how uncomfortable it might seem

6.       Reward yourself for choosing an alternative way and dealing with your anger constructively.

Anger is one of the strongest emotions you can feel. Being able to control it and choosing what to do with it is not only a leadership skill but a life skill as well. Practice it, meditate to learn mindfulness and the importance of letting go; connect with your body and listen to what it is telling you. Breathe deeply and do count to 10 if you need to. A controlled expression of your anger becomes easier when you have a better relationship with yourself, not allowing fear and insecurity to take over when they creep up to the surface. Trust that you can deal calmly with any situation and keep practicing your new found skill of control. You will get better and better at it over time.


About Rawan Albina

Rawan Albina is a successful self-made Executive and Leadership Coach who has coached more than 150 individuals from 60 different nationalities all over the Middle East; from middle management to chief executives. She is one of the eleven Professional Certified Coaches (PCC) in the Middle East.

She served for 10 years as a manager and leader with multinationals Tetra Pak and Nestlé. She is passionate about personal branding as it perfectly combines her marketing background and coaching expertise.

Rawan had her career breakthrough as a coach, trainer and motivational speaker delivering diverse programs to market leaders in the MENA region in English, Arabic and French. She also mentors MBA students and is a registered mentor coach with the ICF.

Rawan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Economics and is a graduate of the prestigious Coaches Training Institute. She is certified in the FIRO and WPB5 assessment tools. She is a proud member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC).

W: www.rawanalbina.com

LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/rawanalbina

T: @RawanAlbina


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