I remember years ago that there was a news story about a woman in Pennsylvania who received a prison sentence of 5 to 10 years, basically for losing her temper and doing a most unthinkable thing. While having a fight with her boyfriend, as they were physically hitting each other, she picked up her own 4-month old baby and used it as a club to strike out at the boyfriend, fracturing the baby’s soft skull.

controlling anger

At first she plead guilty, then retracted it, and was then convicted of more crimes than she would have been if she’d stuck with her original guilty plea. Her reasoning for changing her mind was that, according to her, she didn’t realize what she was doing when she picked up her baby and swung at her boyfriend; she’d gotten so angry that she lost control of her mind and thoughts and just reacted. Obviously the jury didn’t care; as well they shouldn’t have.

There seems to be more incidences like this occurring across the world these days that have created what seems like there’s been a loss of common sense. Domestic violence is on the rise, the political climate has made enemies out of former friends, and people are injuring or killing each other without thinking about consequences or without thinking at all.

I do and don’t understand this loss of control when one gets really angry. I’m normally pretty calm, but I’ve been known to lose my temper here and there, though I never yell or scream at anyone. I’ve been known to react to stupid things initially, but I’ll usually calm myself before I go too far. I’ve always found a way to not only stop, but do something that would be way more appropriate to get my point across without getting myself fired, thrown in jail, or possibly killed. In today’s world, one never knows who’s armed and who’s not.

I remember many years ago when I lost total control of myself where I was employed as a director. I was a couple of days from turning 40, and stress was my friend. We were implementing a new computer system, and I was working 14 to 16 hour days. I was also fighting a bad cold that turned out to be strep.

I was in my office because up until that time I had never taken a sick day (this was the 90’s; take your sick days people!) and I was feeling miserable. One of my employees came in and told me about something going on in our department by people we didn’t know that I knew nothing about. I went out, met with the people to find out what they were trying to do, and told them they weren’t doing it. I had the authority to tell them no; they told me someone with a higher authority told them they had to do it. I told them it wasn’t happening, and if this person had a problem with it to have him call me.

He called me, told me it was happening, and that was that. I told him it wasn’t happening because it was in a heavily used confidential area that I was in control of, that I hadn’t been consulted on the project, and that I wasn’t going to allow anyone to do anything in that area, at least until it got addressed in a meeting where I had an opportunity to discuss the matter.

He then said something quite rude and hung up. After a few minutes I realized that not only was it rude, but it was a threat; I didn’t like that at all. With everything that was going on, in a somewhat reduced mental capacity, I lost control. I got up from my desk and started walking towards this man’s office, with the express intent to throttle him. At that moment I didn’t care what would happen to me.

When I got to the point where I was within 100 feet of his office, looking at his office door, my other mind kicked in and stopped me before I took another step.

I thought about how easy it would be to hurt this man, and how it wouldn’t have been a fair fight in the state I was in. I realized that I would not only lose my job, but probably my career, of which I’d invested 15 years at that juncture. I’d have probably also gone to jail.


I also realized that, unfortunately, I was still going to be the standard bearer for how black people would be judged in this particular community. My facility had merged with another facility, and I had only been over this particular department at both hospitals for a few months. This new community had never had to deal with a minority director before, and I realized that, even if I told the story, I wouldn’t get a free pass because, unfortunately, I would have thrown the first punch.

I stood in that spot for almost 5 minutes; it was surprising that no one showed up during that time to talk to me, or to even notice I was there. Then I walked back down the corridor (it was a long corridor) and decided upon another course of action. Luckily I had calmed down, realized how I could use this situation to my advantage, and decided to go a different route.

I won’t go into those details, but I will report that not only did I get a full apology later on in a written letter and in a full forum with other managers, most of whom didn’t know what had happened, but I ended the threat to my department being uprooted, the confidentiality of our clients being endangered, this man being demoted, and eventually dismissed six months later. His behavior had prompted investigations into his department, and, well, let’s just say that things were going on that shouldn’t have been. All of this because I was able to gain control of my emotions before I’d acted stupidly.

In Economics Of Efficiency by Norris Brisco, he writes that “losing one’s temper or retaining self control is a matter of habit”. He also writes that “the habit of self control is an important factor in business, and is almost a virtue in a superintendent or boss, because if he loses his temper at every trifle, it reacts upon his men and works toward inefficiency.”

No one expects that a person won’t get upset every once in a while. When you’re leading others, it’s imperative that those times are few, and that the way you react still maintains a modicum of control as much as possible. I’ve always been proud that I’ve never yelled at anyone in anger in a business situation, and over all my years in leadership I only lost control twice, calming myself before I did something I’d regret later.

I’ve seen many managers who believe it’s their right to get in the faces of employees, yell and berate them, and generally embarrass those employees in front of others, oftentimes for almost no real reason. I’ve had a couple of physicians try that on me over the years; they regretted it later (I’ll leave it at that).

Even if there are legitimate reasons to be upset, there’s never a true excuse for confronting any employee in an angry manner. The consequences in today’s world are indeterminable; it’s not worth the risk of losing one’s temper.

What can you do to manage your anger? There’s an article by William DeFoore, Ph.D., titled Anger Management Techniques: Gain Control of your Anger and Improve your Life which, if you click on the link, will give you 10 tips that you can use to try to gain control over your anger.

When you lose control of your emotions and act on your anger, you lose control of your life in more ways than one. Everyone needs to learn how to address their anger. If you’re in a leadership position it’s imperative you figure it out.
 

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