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  07.08.05 Issue #174

If You’re Mad as Hell, Don’t Take it Anymore: Turning Anger into Constructive Action

Dr. Nancy Haller
Executive Coach
McKenzie Management

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Do you remember the 1976 movie Network ? The story centers on actress Faye Dunaway who plays a ratings-hungry programming executive who is willing to do anything for better numbers. Peter Finch plays a character named Howard Beale, a ‘mad prophet' of the airwaves. You might recall the classic scene in which he's dressed in a soaking-wet raincoat, hair plastered to his forehead, shouting, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore." Even if you didn't see the film, the phrase has become a part of our cultural language.

In my coaching work, I hear a lot of anger.

“I went to school to be a dentist. I don't want to lead people!”

I enjoy coaching people who are angry. I know that they're in a position to really improve their life. You see, anger is the most energizing emotion a human being can experience . Intense, focused, and determined, angry people are poised to take action. The problem is that many people act impulsively rather than mindfully - the action taken to fix the problem makes it worse, and then there's a real crisis.

If the problem isn't a fire, flood or earthquake, if there is no imminent life-and-death danger, there is no need to take immediate action.

Face facts…if you're fed up with employees, you have two choices.

  1. Terminate your staff, albeit legally, and work alone. Keep in mind that the reality of a one-man-band dentist just doesn't exist.
  2. Turn your anger into constructive action steps to resolve the problem. Train your employees to do what you ask of them.

If you choose the second option, you'll need to spend some time trying to figure out precisely what's triggering the anger. That requires self-reflection and clarity…which requires self control. Managing the disequilibrium of anger doesn't mean shutting down and burying emotions. Effective coping means acknowledging what you feel and taking responsibility to resolve it. To cope effectively means being aware of the physiological and psychological signals within you when something provokes irritation. It means channeling the tension that accompanies anger into calming strategies, such as exercise or writing.

Once you are clear about the triggers, it is often beneficial to get some perspective . Spouses and best friends are frequently the least objective. Talk with an unbiased resource to find out if your view of the situation is accurate.

Having identified the cause of your anger, you'll need to plan a course of action . Let's say the catalyst of your anger is an employee who's not doing her job. Make sure you have a detailed job description for that person. If not, write one. Be specific about what you expect her to do, and how you expect her to do it. Mentally rehearse the exchange . Anticipate her likely responses and how you will reply. Then talk privately with the employee to review expectations . Be curious about what she needs from you or others to meet her responsibilities. Agree to follow-up in a week or two.

Make no mistakes about it. Managing people is hard work, and it's constant. If you think you can tell an employee what to do and never have to revisit the issue, you're deluding yourself. If you're angry about that, go back to the two options above. Unless you can find a way to work alone, accept the fact that training, influencing, motivating, leading your team of employees is a part of your job description. The sooner you embrace that reality, the better off you'll be.

Remember, anger is an invaluable emotion. Translated into logical terms, anger means, “I don't like what's happening…I want it to stop ”. It's reasonable to feel angry about having to do things you don't like or want to do. But you'll be far better off if you l earn to harness the energy of anger and use it to improve your practice and your life.

If you're fed up, contact Dr. Haller at . She'll empower you to solve the problems facing you.

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