How to Tame Your Anger at the Office and Keep Your Cool

Do people and situations at work leave you fuming? Do you sometimes wish you had a better handle on your temper? Have you ever said something in anger that you later wished you could take back? If so, you need to tame your anger and control it. Before you do permanent damage to your career, that is.

When I was a teenager with (ahem) occasional anger issues, I imagined the emotion was like a wild animal. It seemed to come out of nowhere, surprising me with its intensity and leaving me unable to focus on anything else. The truth is, we create our own anger, and we alone have the power to keep it at bay. Anger is triggered by three factors: negative thoughts, perceived threats and physiological response.

Negative Thoughts 

When an event happens, instead of putting a neutral or positive interpretation on it, you put a negative interpretation on it. By thinking negative thoughts, you actually create your own anger. For instance, your colleague has gone to lunch, leaving a pile of proofreading on her desk. If you think, “Great, she’s never going to get through that pile before the end of the day, and we’ll both have to stay late to get them done tonight,” you are using negative thoughts to create anger toward your colleague.

If instead you observed the pile and thought, “Hmmm, I wonder if she is planning to finish those today, or come in early tomorrow,” you have not created any angry thoughts toward her. And when she comes back from lunch, you may very well learn that the pile on her desk has already been taken care of.

Perceived Threats 

Anger is triggered when you sense a threat to yourself. In the above example, you felt angry at your colleague when you saw the proofreading, because you believed that you would be called upon to do part of her work for her. If you just saw the pile and thought, “That’s an awful lot of proofreading to get through,” you are not creating anger because you are not faced with a threat.

Physiological Response   

Once you have a negative interpretation and sense a perceived threat during a situation, you have an immediate physiological response. Adrenaline rushes through your body. Your heart beats faster, your respiration increases, your blood pressure goes up, and your skin temperature rises. As a result, you are angrier than ever, and it is difficult to calm down and think rationally.

If you put a negative interpretation on an event, but do not perceive a personal threat, you won’t feel angry. And, if you have an adrenaline rush without a negative thought, you may feel anxious, jealous, sad or great joy. But you will not feel anger. The hormone adrenaline fuels your emotions. But it’s your thinking that determines what emotion you are feeling. You may be reluctant to believe that other people are not the cause of your anger, but it’s true. Your own thought patterns are the culprits every time!

Tame your anger

If you are interested in toning down your negative outbursts and staying in control, try the following technique. First, say to yourself, “I choose not to be angry, I choose to be in control.” Repeat it constantly, as often as you can. Within three days, you will notice a remarkable change. When a negative thought about someone’s actions pops into your head, you’ll replace it immediately with “I choose not to be angry, I choose to be in control.” You’ll cut off the negative thought and tame your anger before you reach the boiling point.

Another suggestion is to put an X on your calendar each time you allow yourself to feel angry with someone. Once you see how many times a day you make yourself and others miserable because of your anger, you will be able to take positive steps toward staying in control.

Remember, anger is a choice. You can choose to control your anger, or you can choose to let it control you.

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