Is it getting hot in here?

Cool down the workplace when tempers heat up

by Katie May, editor, Communication Briefings


When temperatures rise outside the workplace, tempers inside can hit the red zone too. If you notice that staffers are reacting too often in the heat of the moment, share these tips to remind them to cool it:

  • Rethink anger. Many people believe that the best way to deal with anger is to hold it in and to “get over it.” They think that they risk damaging trust and destroying rapport if they vent their anger. However, the opposite is true. Unacknowledged—and unreleased— anger acts as a poison, infecting both your attitude and your relationships with those around you, so it’s important to express your negative feelings.

    The key:
    Never hurt anyone in the process. You must learn to express anger appropriately. Depending on your level of anger, you may first need to vent privately before confronting a co-worker. Write in a journal, take a brisk walk around the block or rip pages out of an old telephone book. Once you have physically released your emotions, you can verbally address them.
  • Recognize the signs. Before you can discuss your feelings, you must recognize them. When you feel your heartbeat pounding, your blood rising and your body tensing, take a break.

    Tip: The old tactic of counting to 10 is surprisingly reliable. When you notice the signs of anger, stop and take deep breaths. That allows you to collect yourself and move beyond your first emotional reaction. If you need a longer break, take one. A trip to the coffee pot or restroom—or a quiet half-hour alone to think—may allow you to lower your frustration.

  • Express yourself. Be careful when responding. You will inflame the conflict if you start by blaming the other person. Instead, focus on your own reaction. Say: “I am having a problem with …” or “I feel upset about …” instead of “You made me mad” or “You should not have …” Let the other person respond. Your goal is to initiate a dialogue that will satisfy you both, not to dump your feelings and then move on. Ask questions that signal your willingness to hear and consider the other person’s point of view. To encourage the conversation, use open-ended questions that start with “what” and “how.”

    Examples: “That is how I see the situation … What is your take on it?” “How do you think we should handle that?” Your curiosity will encourage honest responses, and you will gain information that allows you to resolve the situation to both your satisfaction.

  • Don’t hold a grudge. Be honest in asking for what you need, but remember to temper your expectations. Your satisfaction is not top priority; the relationship between the two of you matters most. Be willing to compromise, and you will be able to move forward. It is not realistic to demand that everyone conform to your expectations. Expect some give-and-take as you resolve the situation. Then shake hands—literally or figuratively—and move on.

    Remember: Anger can damage relationships, but when you handle your anger appropriately, you strengthen the bonds between you and your co-workers. When you listen and respond to others’ needs, you build trust and rapport that will benefit you in the future.

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