Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.
Dear Crucial Skills,
How do I help someone who should be fired due to angry outbursts in the workplace, but who does not see the need for anger management?
Let’s assume you’ve had the conversation needed to bring up the topic—you stuck to the facts in describing the problem and used your best skills to make sure the other person felt safe. What if the person still doesn’t see the need for help—then what?
You can help motivate others by describing to them the consequences of their current behavior. So, why can losing our tempers be so detrimental to both results and relationships?
People who blow off anger at work in unhealthy ways are often unaware of exactly how they affect others. They’re also often unaware of how their outbursts are affecting their own reputations. I once lived next door to a fellow who would wake my wife and me up on Saturday morning when he was yelling at his family members. When I asked him about his routine tirades, he told me he was genetically doomed. He explained in great detail how his lineage was laced with angry people and that he had no control of his temper. But not to worry, his wife and children didn’t mind his outbursts. I was going to ask him if that was why his wife had recently called the police during one of his tantrums, but thought better of it.
So let’s set the record straight on this matter. People do mind. They mind a lot. They mind way more than the angry person ever realizes. In fact, when leaders or coworkers only rarely lose their tempers, no matter how infrequently, it almost always becomes their defining characteristic. When we’ve interviewed people about colleagues who have anger issues (no matter how rare), they’ve defined their occasionally angry workmates not by their technical brilliance or administrative wizardry, but by their anger. “He’s a guy who blows off steam and nobody likes him.” Or “She’s got a real temper. I’d never want to work for her.” When you ask how often the person loses control, colleagues may answer “Almost never,” but it doesn’t matter. It’s still the person’s defining feature.
Why is that?
With the rare but random outburst of anger, the effect can be long lasting. Coworkers never know when the next tirade is coming, so they’re nervous that this or the next discussion will end in a tongue lashing. This taints every interaction. Despite the fact that the other person’s nasty behaviors only rarely see the light of day, almost every interaction can be bad for those around them.
Of course, the person with anger issues can be completely unaware of what’s going on. When people who have been known to become verbally abusive work hard to control their tempers and know that they aren’t going to blow a gasket, they’re perfectly fine with the interaction that unfolds. They’re having a pleasant enough time and have no idea that others are secretly worried and may even be suffering.
This behavior—on both sides of the interaction—decreases safety in conversations. Important information gets lost and relationships get damaged. The cost of either is too great to let slide.
So, what’s a person to do? Remember that our emotions aren’t thrust upon us. We create them with our own thoughts and, believe it or not, we do have control over our thoughts.