The past 18 months have tested our resolve. We have tried to hold it together, seek distractions, and do what is necessary to stay healthy and play our part in reducing the spread of COVID. We have tried to be supportive of friends and colleagues as they deal with their own challenges. But for many, we’ve run out of patience.
Depending on where you live, the fourth wave seems to be never-ending. That, coupled with increased restrictions in many places and an overwhelmed health care system, has made tolerating anyone with a different viewpoint very difficult – at times, seemingly impossible. And this is being carried into the workplace, and worse, through video meetings and interactions.
Recently, a friend told me about a situation in a video meeting where it was very clear that a conflict was brewing between two participants. It escalated to the point of being very uncomfortable for all involved, but was hard to temper, especially because people weren’t in the same room. Traditional methods used to cool things down, such as taking a short break to settle, refocus and talk it out later, are not as easy to make happen in a Zoom meeting. Conflict has the power to derail conversations at the best of times. Right now, it can shut them down completely.
What does this have to do with anger? Lots. Look around: there is not much to be all excited about. Many people were angry in the recent federal election results, mostly because the composition of the government did not change the way they wanted it to – or that an election was even held in the first place. People want to resume travelling, only to be met with additional COVID testing and the costs that go along with it, even for the vaccinated.
Vaccination rates have stalled across much of the country, and some of the vaccinated are angry at the unvaccinated, while many of those people are angry at the increasing pressure to get the shot. The country’s COVID status dominates much of the news – and it is not good.
People are angry, so let’s recognize it and deal with it in a few different ways.
Make it okay to be angry
Over the past 18 months, we have talked about it being okay to be sad, frustrated and overwhelmed. This mostly came in the pre-vaccination days. The post-vaccination days have increased this anger and we need to be supportive and understanding. So long as the anger is not directed at someone personally, give them the space to “let it out” and explore why they’re feeling the way they are. Sometimes we need to vent. In turn, you don’t need to agree – just listen. And, venting feels good, especially when it is over.
Take a time-out from the video meeting
Many of us, especially if a conflict with colleagues is rising and anger is obvious, need a good old-fashioned time-out. Some use it to meditate, others to hit the wall or throw something. If someone wants to deal with it, give them time to exit the video meeting or go off-camera and either come back later, or take time to calm it down, without judgment. That said, someone on the call should be checking in on that person, making sure they are okay.
Step into an awkward moment
If you notice someone is angry, looking for a conflict, or derailing the entire conversation, it is okay to step in and shut it down, in a diplomatic, professional way. Sometimes we get carried away and need someone to dial it down a few notches. If emotions are high, deferring the conversation until the person is in a better headspace is good for everyone involved, and allows some breathing room.
Like all emotions, anger is normal, but can also be very detrimental if allowed to become the norm. Right now, with a vaccine program well under way, yet still no end to the pandemic, anger is going be more present, even if it is underlying. Think about this upcoming Thanksgiving weekend. For many, it is the first “family food holiday” since 2019 that they are allowed to have without capacity restrictions. Depending on what your family members’ pandemic opinions are, there could be a few uncomfortable moments around the dining table.
In uncertain times, it is understandable to be angry, and conflict is going to happen. Being supportive, inviting conversation about the source of the anger, and not becoming combative is going to help with shaking off the anger, and moving to just regular old annoyance with everything going on right now.
Eileen Dooley is a talent and leadership development specialist, and a leadership coach, based in Calgary Alberta
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