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Aug. 28 2007 03:48 PM


The other day, I witnessed a CEO yell at an employee, You knucklehead! Why did you do that? Are you stupid or what? I saw the employees face redden as he stammered back an explanation. Now, maybe this boss thinks the employee needed a good tongue-lashing (in front of me). Possibly, he justifies his behavior by telling himself that he is transparent about his feelings, and his employees know where he stands. Or perhaps, this is how he lets off steam and is his way of venting when he is stressed.


Have you ever had your boss yell at you or call you names? How did it make you feel? I know that I have experienced it, and it did not make me feel good. My personal tendency is to take it all in, withdraw and get silent. I have seen others who yell and fight back. Our natural response is fight-or-flight.


John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington, uses the term flooding to describe the intensity of the fight-or-flight reaction. When flooded, a person can neither hear what is said without distortion, nor respond with clarity; thinking becomes muddled and the most ready responses are primitive ones anything that will quickly end the encounter. As a result, people will often tune out the other person by putting emotional or physical distance between them. It is not an effective communication technique for getting the task
accomplished or the problem resolved. It damages the relationship and physically harms the people involved.


Recent studies have shown that encounters such as these literally result in toxins being released in our bodies that damage our health, shorten our lives and can take days before dissipating. Case Western Reserve University Professor and author Richard Boyatzis tells us that these incidents create a state of dissonance that dispirits people, burns them out or sends them packing. Theres another personal cost to dissonance: people who work in toxic environments take the toxicity home.


I once heard motivational speaker Zig Ziglar tell the story about a man whose boss yelled at him; he sat through the rest of his workday and later, went he got home, he yelled at his wife. The wife, now frustrated, saw her young son watching TV and yelled at him for not doing his homework. The son, on his way to the room, saw the dog lying there and kicked it. Now, what on earth did the dog do that deserved that kick? The consequence of not managing our anger is that we are killing our employees, their families and their pets.


The Gallup Organization undertook a 20-year research project that surveyed over a million individuals from a broad range of companies. In the book, First, Break All the Rules, it was reported that how long that employee stays and how productive he is while he is there is determined by his relationship with his immediate supervisor. So if tenure and productivity are determined by relationships with immediate supervisors, my question for you to ask yourself is, does your relationship with your staff members increase their productivity or cause their children to kick their dogs? And, if sometimes you are the type of manager that creates this toxicity in your staff, what can you do about it?


The first and most important step is to become conscious of your anger. Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of several books on emotional intelligence (EI) informs us that, Awareness is the fundamental emotional competence. Fortunately, most of us know when we are getting angry. We may feel like we are getting warm or may notice the tension building in our muscles. Our stomachs might get tied in a knot; sometimes, it is our faces that tighten. A
second indicator may be your internal conversation. If you can hear yourself swearing or labeling the other (What an ass!), before it comes out of your mouth bite your lip. Stop yourself. Take a breath. The counsel that Thomas Jefferson gave is good advice: When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred. You need to buy yourself some time and delay your natural tendency to yell, call names or get nasty.


The best tactic may be to call a time out. If an immediate response is required, I will often announce that I need to utilize the restroom in order to give myself a few minutes to cool off and think. According to Goleman, There is perhaps no psychological skill more fundamental than resisting impulse. It is the root of all emotional self-control, since all emotions, by their very nature, lead to one or another impulse to act. I am not suggesting that you eliminate feeling angry; instead, you need to disconnect the automatic link between anger and harmful actions.


What to do next and how to deal with whatever happened that triggered your anger is difficult to address in a short article. In general, use this time to think about what you are committed to having happen. The key is that in order to even think, your body needs to cool down, and that may take some time. When you can, think about the issue and think about the relationship you want to have with the person. Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says to begin with the end in mind. Consider the ideal outcome. He also tells us, think win-win, where the problem can be resolved and the relationship with the employee is handled with dignity and respect.


Finally, if managing your anger is a recurring problem that seems beyond your ability to control, consider getting professional help. Resolving your behavior can affect the success of your entire company. As the experts have found, managing anger is the tool that successful managers need to keep the sharpest.


Mark Taylor, MBA, DLP, is the president of TAYLOR Systems Engineering Corporation and the Chief Logistics Officer of RedRoller, Inc. Mark can be contacted via email at