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This sometimes seems like the Age of Anger, as people let loose their frustrations and vitriol on social media. But anger also might be on the rise in the workplace – and our own psyche.

Liz Fosslien, head of content and communications at Humu, and organizational consultant Mollie West Duffy found tensions high in the pandemic era while researching their book Big Feelings. People revealed that they had recently lost their cool over seemingly small triggers such as inconsistent WiFi, an e-mail from their boss that just read “?,” or a co-worker pinging them at 4:45 p.m. asking for a “quick favour.”

Anger can drive us into a frenzy, but it can also lead us to work harder and accomplish more. To channel your anger, they say you have to start by recognizing that a violation took place. You don’t want to take your emotions out on another person. And despite the belief that venting is cathartic, they say research shows that it leads your anger to escalate rather than diminish.

“Chronic venting, where you rehash the same problems without trying to understand or solve them, has also been shown to make both you and the people listening to you feel worse,” Ms. Fosslien and Ms. Duffy write in Harvard Business Review.

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At the same time, they note that even if the incident that stoked your fire is trivial, there is kindling underneath that should be examined. You need to identify the specific needs behind your emotion. Research shows that focusing your attention on the need behind what you feel allows you to take a more objective, detached look at the situation and better protect your emotional well-being.

“For many people, the emotion behind anger is fear. You might be afraid of being powerless or having something you care about taken away or go wrong,” they note.

Consultant Scott Eblin recommends asking these three questions to understand yourself better:

  • What are the situations or events out there in the world that are guaranteed to set me off?
  • What’s the “go-to” story in my head when triggered and what kind of language do I use and physical reactions do I have when telling myself that story?
  • What’s the impact on my performance when those stories in my head become super loud or overwhelming?

“I’ve learned that most people haven’t taken time to stop and learn more about their triggers and their impact. Getting to know your triggers is essential to living and leading at your best,” he writes on his blog.

He recommends finding a trusted colleague or friend and using those three questions to coach each other on getting to know your triggers.

Ms. Fosslien and Ms. Duffy stress that you must address your needs. “Sometimes, you’ll have to face the ugly truth that you’re angry because of something you can’t change. In those instances, look for ways to remove yourself from the situation or, if you can’t walk away, to indirectly address your needs (for example, by seeking out support from friends or a therapist),” they write.

They also urge you to channel your anger strategically. Ironically, given the episode may make us lose control and succumb to fear, research suggests that if we tap into our anger, channelling it, we can actually increase our confidence and the feeling that we are capable and strong. Navy SEALs are trained to use the emotions and adrenalin that erupt with rage to give them energy when they face dangerous circumstances. Consider using your anger as the motivation to effectively advocate for yourself.

“Most of us are raised to equate anger with out-of-control meltdowns. But this emotion is an important signal that something is wrong. And, harnessed effectively, it can give us the strength we need to make things right,” they conclude.

Quick Hits

  • Habits are not needs, observes entrepreneur Seth Godin. Imagining they are needs lets us off the hook and allows us to cling to or even become addicted to negative behaviours. If someone else is thriving without the habit that we seem to need, then it’s likely a desire pretending to be a need.
  • If you receive a poor performance review, executive recruiter Gerald Walsh recommends asking for another in one to three months – a check-in with your boss – rather than waiting for a whole year as is usually the case. He says your managers will appreciate your desire for further feedback and to keep in mind that the true test of your character is how you respond to get better.
  • Never fix the past, warns executive coach Dan Rockwell. Always build the future – starting right now.
  • Executive coach Dana Theus says those who mentor women – whether they are male or female – need to go beyond sharing their own experiences to developing a solid understanding of the actual biases women face, as well as skills in helping them see and respond to those biases. If you’re not careful and don’t take the time to understand your own biases, as well as others your protégé may be experiencing, you can help in perpetuating the very biases you’re trying to help a woman overcome.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.