Kicking the cat: How you manage your anger at work matters

Emotional stress is present every day and cannot always be avoided. Not all stress is bad and it can be managed without making you angry or allowing it to drive your emotions in the workplace. Executives and managers who fail to control their emotions effectively, however, will find it difficult to recruit and retain the most competent employees who more often want to be around positive managers and leaders.

We live in a “cat kicking” world in which one person’s anger is often taken out on a subordinate. If office frustrations are poorly handled at work, then the person who is the undeserved recipient of his or her colleagues’ anger is likely to take it out on other innocent people at home or elsewhere.

Stress and anger can be contagious

You’ve likely seen someone get mad and lose his or her temper over a minor issue. In such cases, it can be clear that there is something deeper that is causing the person’s frustration, something that has nothing to do with what is going on at the moment. For example, if you are walking in the park, minding your own business, and a man shouts, “What are you looking at?” it’s clear that it’s not your walk in the park that has angered him. Perhaps someone at his office unfairly blamed him for something that he did not do. Maybe he was not given the credit he deserved for quality work.

Regardless of the source of his anger, he is channeling that anger inappropriately. From the park, he might go home and get into an argument with his wife over a minor issue. His wife may not understand his anger and feel sad because she works hard all day long just like him. Now the wife is upset and stressed and may take it out on their children by yelling at them without much reason. The children will be unhappy and may take out their frustrations by actually kicking the family cat that is innocently walking by. So the anger that originated at the office is now snowballing down through the hierarchy of the man’s family, all the way down to his cat.

Choose your response

Being frustrated, sad and even angry at times is a fact of life for managers and employees in the workplace at one time or another. Instead of allowing those emotions to drive behavior, as managers and business leaders we need to realize and exercise our freedom to choose how we respond in such circumstances. Instead of responding based on the emotions of the moment, we can choose to respond based on our predetermined and clarified values. Consequently, mature human beings do not have to allow daily stressors or office politics to make them angry. Experienced executives and managers who exercise their freedom to choose can determine how, when, how long, and for whom to demonstrate their frustrations in a strategically fruitful manner.

There is no reason to permit other people to influence you negatively. Exercise your rights and know that you have the freedom to choose your response and future actions based on your values and goals, not emotions.

Choose to be happy and demonstrate a positive attitude regardless of the actions of others. Effective leadership is demonstrated through a positive attitude and professional demeanor. Know that how you respond will influence and affect others, so exercise your freedom to choose your responses wisely.

Dr. Bahaudin G. Mujtaba is professor of management for Nova Southeastern University at the College of Business and Entrepreneurship. He has served as a certified management development specialist and trainer. He is the author of “Managerial Skills and Practices for Global Leadership” and “Coaching and Performance Management: Developing and Inspiring Leaders”, published by ILEAD Academy, LLC.