Quite often, life gives us a roller-coaster ride. We get pulled and pushed by forces beyond our control. Then, we suddenly discover someone on whom we can work off our pent-up feelings. In the house, it could be the unsuspecting spouse who ends up absorbing the shock. In an office setting, we ourselves could be at the receiving end. If so, we quickly find a scapegoat onto whom our own brand of vitriol could be off-loaded.
Consider this. The CEO, when things are going wrong, takes it out on the VP. The VP goes and ticks off the General Manager. The GM, the unpleasant interaction concluded, immediately proceeds to crucify the Manager. The Manager loses no time in giving a piece of his mind to the hapless Executive. While the Manager sits down to have a cup of coffee in an attempt to cool off, the fuming Executive takes the office boy to task. The office boy delivers a stunning kick to the dog. The dog, realizing that this is surely not his day, steps out in the street to bark at the cat. The cat starts scouring the drains for a mouse which deserves to be at least rebuked, if not devoured.
Note that down the line, each one is unhappy. Each one is looking for someone else to whom the baggage of anger can be passed on. It is like a relay race, where the torch of anger is being kept ablaze. As the day progresses, we find that the place is replete with dull faces, bent backs and slouching shoulders. People go around with a highly constipated look on their faces. Possibly the only people left suppressing a chuckle are the ones who serve tea and coffee at the tables of the high and mighty. For the better part of the day, white-collar productivity goes for a toss.
When Anger Becomes Predictable and Routine
Many bosses have honed their skills of managing and controlling affairs by using what they consider to be the most deadly weapon they have at their disposal – anger. A public display of anger leaves those around them shaking and shivering. This gives them a feeling of having overpowered their hapless subjects. However, when this becomes a predictable and a routine affair, several things happen.
One, the blame game starts. I did not do it, sir. It was she who forgot to ship the material on time, sir. Thus, the power of human ingenuity gets used up in inventing new excuses.
Two, the quick-fix approach comes into play. People get used to seeking look-good short-term fixes. The long-term implications are forgotten.
Three, some people develop resistance to it. Next bout of shouting and one could see them merely shuffling their feet and trying to put on a melancholy mask so as to hide their chuckles. In other words, there is no attempt at a genuine improvement in the situation.
Four, the boss willy-nilly acquires a reputation of someone who apportions blame without a fair hearing being given to all the parties concerned. All employees detest this disservice to the principles of natural justice. The respect for a senior is no longer real; it is feigned. A culture of hypocrisy gets perpetuated. Eventually, operational efficiency nosedives.
In such outfits, when the boss enters the work place, a frenzy of activity starts. Electrified at the boss’ presence, the employees run around like headless chickens. Physical presence and activity gets interpreted as a sign of efficiency. Those who can think quickly on their feet suddenly remember a very crucial issue for which they need to seek valuable guidance from the boss.
Five, seniors supporting the boss end up having to spend a great deal of time on mollifying the hurt souls. Invariably, they have an extra box of tissue papers readily available, just in case the tormented souls need to wipe off their tears. No senior is comfortable having to work with a sulking manager who might otherwise be a star performer. Many of them end up donning the extra hat of being Chief Listening Officers of the company. Seniors’ contribution towards company’s goals faces a real risk of getting diluted.
Handling Anger – Countering vs. Conditioning
Admittedly, there are juniors who feel they have been wronged and do not hesitate the register a protest. They have the guts to look the boss in the eye and make him/her beat a hasty retreat, much like a hunter with a shotgun who, while taking a stroll in the corporate jungle, suddenly encounters a lioness who has just had a fight with her soul mate.
In one such situation, the telephone operator, a sprightly and spirited soul from amongst the delicately nurtured species, failed to transfer a customer’s overseas phone call because the top boss’ extension was busy with another call. The customer got through finally on her third attempt to call up the boss. All hell broke loose as the boss lost no time in court martialling the hapless operator, with the head of administration and the head of HR also getting ticked off in the process. Drawing herself to her full height, the operator stood her ground. Eventually, the boss realized that it was his own secretary who had kept the extension busy and was responsible for the delay. The operator got a well-earned reprieve. In due course of time, she even ended up being promoted as a secretary to the boss!
In such organizations, one could often run into morose executives. When prodded as to the reasons for their despondency, they are quite likely to come up with the explanation that they were yet to get the daily ‘quota’ of shouting from the boss! Pavlov would have been delighted to include this form of conditioning as well in his research work.
Of Oceans and Immersed Volcanoes
Once, when I asked one such CEO what he thought of his frequent display of anger, he gave me a rather harsh look and said ‘Do you think I like doing this? To be frank, it ruins a few hours of my day. But what to do? These people are so very stupid…etc, etc.’ I ended up pitying the fellow. He was working on a wrong premise – that anger alone can resolve issues – and was causing long-term damage to his own health.
Anger is highly contagious, much like negative news is. Mankind can perhaps be divided into two kinds. There are the ‘ocean’ types – those who are turbulent on the surface but calm deeper inside. Then there are the ‘immersed volcano’ types – the vast lake may look very placid on the surface but could be seething with anger within. It is this kind which causes maximum damage to its own well-being.
Selective Use of Anger
There are no easy solutions to controlling one’s anger. One has to first learn to accept oneself and feel happy and contented inside. One also needs to empathize with others and accept them as they are. Then alone does one stand a chance of guiding others around oneself in rectifying the mistake and in ensuring that it does not recur. The basic quality one needs to have is the capacity of observing oneself at all times, and following a strict self-discipline as to when a display of anger is done and when it is not.
Soothing music surely helps. Agitated nerves can get calmed down by a bout of meditation. A ‘laughter break’ with a colleague who has a sunny outlook towards life could bring some relief. Getting busy with another challenge for the day is another anti-dote to anger.
Yes, I also happen to know bosses who have perfected the art of displaying anger selectively, while not feeling it within themselves. But they do so once in a while, when a situation really demands a show of temper. I admire them for their wisdom and sagacity.
How do you deal with anger at the work place?
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