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Anger Management: Taking the Presidential Route When Expressing Emotions at Work

While the world did its best to quarantine in 2020, companies and their teams became increasingly reliant on digital platforms as a means of communicating and achieving their goals. Being unable to report to the office, our former ways of collaborating, connecting with, showing appreciation for, and building camaraderie among employees suddenly was no more.

Add to this the impact of Zoom fatigue, childcare responsibilities, and generally sorting the best way to work from home and it should come as no surprise that all of our fuses have become a bit shortened.

The bottom line: we feel less in control of our emotions.

Recall a recent example, personally or professionally, when you instinctively spoke your mind and immediately regretted it. Odds are that more than one instance just popped into your head. The good news - you’re not alone. As humans, our brains are wired to respond emotionally, albeit not always reasonably.

The next time you feel angry, we recommend you take what we call the Presidential route to expressing your emotions.

Former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson once said, “When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, count to 100.” The key to this strategy is giving yourself a moment to think things through.

Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Harry S. Truman composed what Lincoln referred to as hot letters, letters that they'd write and then set aside until their negative emotions had fully subsided. These letters were neither signed nor sent. Rather, they served as a vessel for privately displaying emotions that could have had damaging consequences had they been publicly shared.

The hand-written hot letter, in today’s day and age, has evolved into an electronic format. Similar to the Presidents above, there are many individuals who use angry email drafts as therapy for unleashing their frustrations in a healthy and non-harmful way. In today’s world, professionals write their angry email drafts, take a day or two to cool down, and often delete the messages after rereading what they’ve come to realize was a likely overreaction.

We’ve all heard the saying, “The Internet is forever.” For this reason, we recommend using a less risky platform like Microsoft Word to prevent accidentally (or angrily) hitting send. It’s equally important not only to be mindful of the angry emails we send to those with whom we are angry but also to resist the urge to vent to coworkers via email or inter-office messaging about others in the workplace.

In a 2015 poll by The Wall Street Journal, 41% of people said that venting actually helped them “feel better.”

Don’t do it!

A 2002 study by Dr. Brad J. Bushman published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that venting actually makes us more angry and aggressive, a vicious cycle that can create a toxic work environment and pull others down with us. Certainly, it also goes without saying that this kind of careless venting can come back to haunt you.

True story.

Like many workplaces that use internal business communications platforms, such as Google Hangouts or Slack, to boost creativity among teams, this is also the case for a colleague of ours. One day, they found themselves in the following situation:

An employee, who for the sake of confidentiality shall be referred to as Steve, had sent an email request to someone within his department. Since joining the company more than one year prior, Steve believed himself to have a decent working relationship with this coworker; we will call him Dean. Much to his surprise, Steve received an accidental instant message from Dean shortly after hitting send. Given the nature of the message, it quickly became clear to Steve that this was not intended for him. Instead, it had been intended for venting about Steve with another member of their team - Dean’s supervisor, Tom. With no genuine or heartfelt apology to go on, the damage was done. Steve’s working relationship with both Dean and Tom was irreparably harmed.

The moral of this story: there are few good things that can come from venting and certain things are better left unsaid.

Regardless of how we truly mean to express our feelings, as a collective we tend to sound angrier in print than in person. Hiding behind our computers or phones, either intentionally or unintentionally, our words can become easily misconstrued due to a lack of nonverbal cues like body language.

As a manager or team member, we suggest that you reread your messages, sometimes more than once, and honestly ask yourself the following question.

“How would I interpret this message if on the receiving end?”

What can you do to enhance your emotional intelligence; to become an expert listener, problem-solver and relationship-builder with the ability to help your business survive and thrive - particularly in a digital environment?

It’s all a matter of taking a step back and finding ways to empathize with others and ensure we don’t let our emotions get the best of us.

Acting on impulse, expressing anger or venting emotions can damage relationships, cause embarrassment, and inevitably lead to regret. So, next time you feel the urge to express a gut reaction, take some advice from Thomas Jefferson himself and count to 10 or 100 (or higher) if that’s what it takes to avoid doing something rash.

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