What to Do – IMMEDIATELY – When You’re about to Lose Your Temper at Work

Many of us have seen a manager yell at an employee or slam a door.  We’ve witnessed an employee throw a temper tantrum after an idea was shot down or someone else had taken credit for his/her work.  Just last night, I watched a customer at McDonald’s launch into a lengthy tirade just because the employee gave her barbecue sauce instead of ranch dressing.

Whether we’re overwhelmed by having too much to do and too few resources to do it with, or never learned the basics of emotional self-control, a short fuse at work doesn’t win anybody brownie points.  In fact, if it happens often enough, it can be career suicide.

Why Anger Can be Addictive

This is not headlining news.  Few short-fused employees would argue that their outbursts help them win friends and influence people.  So why do they happen so often?

Because – in the short term – it feels good.  Letting loose often gives us a short-lived “high;” it relieves stress and creates the momentary illusion that we’ve regained control.  It’s this temporary release that many managers I coach have such a hard time letting go of.   And, after a while, it becomes a habit

Then we hear the rationalizations. “That isn’t who I am.” (This is actually true; most people who blow up are calm and logical most of the time).  “I didn’t mean to be mean.” And the BIG ONE:  “I wouldn’t have to blow up if . . . John would get the job right the first time, Jessica wouldn’t interrupt me every time I open my mouth, I could get somebody to listen to me around here,” etc.

Here’s the Score:  You Lose

Here’s what happens if we lose our temper at work, particularly if this happens on a regular basis.  First of all, our reputation as a hothead takes on a life of its own.  In fact, it only takes one dramatically disruptive behavior to quickly become a story that defines the norm.

Second, we lose credibility and respect.  Sure, if we’re in a position of power, others might jump to do our bidding out of fear of being next in the line of fire.  But here’s what they’re thinking:

“My manager has no self-control.  He’s weak.”

“Heck, if he can’t even control himself, how can he manage others?  What a loser!”

“I’d like to show her how it feels.”

Anger Management:  Emergency Measures When Your Fuse is Lit

So how do we interrupt the momentum once we’re already on the way to a meltdown?  Just as our blood is about to boil over, we need very specific strategies that can bring us back from the brink.

Here are some tips for ways we can maintain our professionalism and handle emotions effectively:

1.  Get your head on straight.   When someone says something insulting, disagreeable or aimed at ticking you off, say nothing.  Hold your tongue no matter how tempted.  Under your breath, repeat after me:  “It’s not personal; it’s just business.” If that doesn’t work, try this:  Or, “I have a really good reason to be ticked off right now, but if I blow up, I’ll end up being the bad guy.”

2Do something else. Stall for time by asking questions. Repeat what the other person just said to make sure you understand what was just said and give him/her a chance to clarify any misunderstanding.   Take deep breaths and count to ten. Focusing on something else is a great way to derail the physical symptoms that build up steam.

3.  Get out of there. As soon as you feel yourself getting hot under the collar, remove yourself from the situation.  Tell the other person you need to think through what the two of you are talking about before you respond.  Fake a page or another call to extricate yourself from a non-productive telephone call so you can step outside to calm yourself. Whatever it takes; just give yourself time to cool down.

The Bottom Line

Reigning in a short fuse is torture when you’re already feeling out of control, overwhelmed, misunderstood or frustrated.  And, it’s true; exercising self-discipline under pressure doesn’t provide nearly the immediate release a good door slamming or ear chewing does.  However, as American author Jim Rohn once said, “We must all suffer from one of two pains; the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.  The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”

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3 Comments on “What to Do – IMMEDIATELY – When You’re about to Lose Your Temper at Work”


  1. I agree with your points; I too see clients/give trainings around this topic.
    Another thing to do is learn EFT and practice every day; it can help you to identify triggers faster and reduce reaction intensity.
    find out more: http://www.balanceandpower.com/eft.php


  2. Good advice. No one wins when differences deteriorate into arguments or shouting matches.

    Best,
    Chris Paulsen


  3. I agree with the information that has been presented. I believe in taking the high road and I have benefitted from the wisdom of taking the high road innumerable times!
    Find discussions of similar issues @http://www.workwithmepeoplenow.blogspot.com


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