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For the Angry Employee

November 02, 1998|SUSAN VAUGHN

The Bard of Avon counseled, "O gentle son, Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper, Sprinkle cool patience." Four hundred years later, this is still excellent advice.

Know Your Anger


Many of us are unaware of our "anger symptoms"--the mental and physical changes we experience before we become very angry. Do you know yours?

Here are a few common warning signs:

* Flushed skin

* Shallow breathing

* Clammy skin

* Rapid breathing

* Tearfulness

* Loud voice

* Jitters

* Light-headedness

* Tensed muscles

* Loss of concentration

* Stomachache or headache

* Veins stand out

Pinpoint the Source of Your Anger.

Sounds easy, but sometimes the immediate provocation of your wrath actually is "the last straw" of a veritable haystack of problems. Did the receptionist leave you on hold listening to a Wham! medley? Before that, did that strange guy in Accounting close the elevator doors on your ankle? You could be angry about many things . . . or the fact that, last week, your boss informed your department that there'd be no salary increase next year.

If you like to write, start an anger journal. Record angry incidents--when and where they occurred, whom they involved, what you felt, how you behaved and why you think you got mad. What patterns do you find?

Don't Explode, Defuse

When you're angry, you "overkill and under-think." This means that, in a hot moment, you're more prone to judgment errors. Your mental and physical performance suffers too. Venting, according to a litany of studies, only tends to increase aggressive proclivities.

Take a deep breath and call a time out. Take a walk. Attend to your emotional and physical needs right away.

Dialogue With Yourself

"What disturbs people's minds is not events but their judgment on events," said Epictetus in the 1st century AD. Famed psychologist Albert Ellis, known as the father of rational emotive behavior therapy, advises that "it's not the situation that gets you upset, it's your thoughts and beliefs about the situation."

If you find yourself thinking irrational thoughts ("My boss and co-workers are plotting against me" or harboring impossible expectations ("Everyone in this office must treat me nicely"), follow "the Three Ds": Detect the irrational belief. Dispute it. Dispose of it.

Dialogue With Others

Be assertive. Should someone encroach upon your well-being, speak up eloquently. Practice saying to your boss, "No, I will not pick up your son from juvenile detention camp this weekend, Mr. Williamson. It is not in my job description."

Consider an "evening debriefing" as an anger detoxification method if you live with someone you care about or a large cat with whom you are on speaking terms. Ask this significant other for permission to express your feelings about the Terrible Day You've Just Had. He or she need only listen. "We think we have to solve each other's problems, but that's not so," says Bill DeFoore. "Simply listening without giving advice or solving problems enables the other party to talk out their feelings, so they can get on with the evening."

Should you be experiencing problems with chronic anger, consider visiting a psychotherapist. Tell the psychotherapist that you are having rage attacks. Say this before asking, "How much do you charge?"

Shift Your Attention

A Chinese fortune cookie contained the message: "It is often better not to see an insult than to avenge it." Every day in American business, millions of insults take wing. A few land upon you. Nonetheless, you don't have to take them personally. And you don't have to react. Distract yourself. Think of people, places, activities and things that make you happy. Keep a list of these positive influences with you, so you can refer to it next time you've been "dissed."

At day's end, take time for a gentle transition. Don't immediately fling yourself into family and housecleaning mode upon returning home. Instead, go for a walk, take a hot bath, read an inspirational book, work out or meditate before you spend time with loved ones. "Otherwise, the stress of the day will remain in your eyes, face and voice when you interact with them," says DeFoore.

Harness Your Anger

"Generally, people who have problems with anger aren't having very much fun," says DeFoore. When was the last time you truly had fun? Enjoyable diversions can dissipate your anger. Dance, exercise, hike, play sports, visit an amusement park. Also try to regularly participate in soothing activities. Listen to calming music. Try yoga, meditate. Indulge in luxurious bubble baths and sensuous massages. Preferably after work.

Find Humor in Your Plight

Right now, there's nothing funny about the scathing performance appraisal you just received from Dragonface. But in time, you'll look back on this moment with a certain wisdom and levity. Especially after you've sold your thinly disguised tell-all novel about Dragonface's company for a whopping seven figures.

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