This week's question for Ask the Coach:
It's hard for me to keep my temper, even more so now with the global economic meltdown! Do you have any suggestions on how I can stop from getting angry, especially in the workplace?
MG: Anger can distort our self-perceptions and do harm to the relationships with people important to us, both inside and outside of work. Handling our emotions is a tricky process if we don't have the proper self-management skills. I've asked Mark Maraia, a relationship development coach and trainer who works with people, specifically partners in large law firms, on just such issues as yours. Here's his response:
MM: I'm often asked, "How do I stop from getting angry?" And the answer I give is, "You don't. What you need to learn is a process for releasing the emotion."
Most people are trying to control or manage their anger. It never occurs to them that they can release it--completely! Stifling our feelings or our urges to act out in anger doesn't work. People can read us... sometimes better than we can ourselves. Stifling our feelings will work against us because when we deny or suppress anger, we end up projecting it. Either we turn it inward, which leads to depression or disease, or we turn it outward, which leads to many of the annoying habits Marshall discusses in his book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There.
My own path of self-discovery led me to a startling conclusion: We don't get angry at facts; we get angry at our interpretation of facts. This means, that we have a choice about how we respond to an event or person that triggers our anger. We're going to get angry - this is a perfectly natural emotion. The problem isn't our anger; it's our attempt to justify it rather than release it. Let's be clear: if you put energy into justifying your anger you CAN'T release it. However, most people find anger or intense rage unpleasant and are highly motivated to rid themselves of it.
When people are hijacked by their anger, I ask them: What process do you have (in the moment) for dealing with negative emotions like anger? Most people don't have an answer. Some have coping mechanisms, such as stifling or projecting; some use physical exercise, which is useful, but not so much in the moment.
I've learned a thought process for dealing with negative emotions that I have practiced for more than 20 years. Anyone can use this tool to deal with negative emotions "in the moment" and later if the negative feeling resurfaces. This is a process of rejecting the negative emotion and it actually interrupts this "doom loop." Rejecting negative emotions can be used in many situations, both personal and business, in the moment -- without anyone knowing you're doing it!
Here's how it works. The next time you are overcome with a negative emotion, ask yourself this question: "What am I feeling at this moment?" Get in touch with the feeling or emotion first. Once you've done that, make a silent declaration to yourself that you don't want it anymore! For instance, when someone dangerously cuts you off on the freeway, your thought might be: "I do not want this anger" (or "rage," if it's that bad).
Then, replace the feeling with a constructive thought. In this way you make a conscious choice to have a positive state of mind. Your thought might be: "I do not want this anger. I choose to be at peace instead."
This new skill will take practice. It will probably feel awkward at first. But with enough practice it will become a habit and you will find yourself working through negative emotions in minutes or hours rather than obsessing for days, weeks, or years!