Throwing a Professional Tantrum

As professionals, we cannot throw a tantrum like a toddler, even though some days we may want to. But there are ways that you can throw what we jokingly like to call a “Professional Tantrum.”

When you think about the right way to handle getting angry at work, you think simply “I can’t get angry and express it.” After all, the best way to remain professional is to stay cool, calm, and collected—right? As it turns out, this is not always the case: anger in the office might help you more than you think (if you know how to channel it correctly).

An article by Jeff Haden of Inc. reports that some of the world’s most successful leaders regularly express all manner of emotions, including anger. The difference between them and your co-worker who throws a temper tantrum when things don’t go his or her way? Leaders know how to stay in control of their anger and harness it for its benefits (extra focus and a boost of adrenaline-driven confidence) rather than make a fool of themselves.

So how can you throw a “Professional Tantrum”? Haden suggests two great ways to keep your anger in check and productive.

First, try handling these emotions as they come, rather than letting them bottle up until you explode with embarrassing rage:

  • When you feel irritated, don’t swallow those feelings. Think about how you feel. Think about why you feel the way you feel. Then work with how you feel. Say what you need to say, letting a little of your irritation show through. You won’t have to worry about losing your cool because, after all, you aren’t angry—you’re just irritated.
  • Then you can move up to the next level, expressing frustration. As you do, stay focused on how you feel. Ask yourself whether you’re using your frustration as a weapon or as a tool.
  • Then move up to the final level, expressing anger. Again, step outside yourself as you do. Are you in charge of your anger and actions, or is anger in charge of you?

Second, try channeling your anger toward an action, rather than a person. If a co-worker, staff member, or employee makes a mistake, yelling is counterproductive (and makes you look bad). By focusing on the situation that you’re angry about, rather than the person, you can use your anger in a more productive way:

  • Say “You do a great job, but I’m really struggling to understand why you did that. Can we talk about it?” Directing your frustration at the action and not the employee helps reduce his or her feelings of defensiveness while still allowing you to express your frustration—which will help you both focus on solving the problem.

According to research conducted by Henry Evans and Colm Foster, authors of Step Up: Lead in Six Moments That Matter, the highest performing people and highest performing teams tap into and express their entire spectrum of emotions.

“As we say to our clients,” write Foster and Evans, “don’t pretend. Be upset, but be intelligent while you’re upset.” That way you sustain your professional relationships as you work through challenges. That way you can be your authentic self–in a higher state of being.

Anger is an authentic emotion, and great leaders are genuine and authentic. Stop trying to hide negative emotions. (Besides, the chances you can successfully hide how you’re feeling are slim. You may be angry and think you’re hiding it, but you’re not.) So don’t pretend. Express the way you feel, but in a controlled and skillful way to help you achieve your goals. Used correctly, anger can take you and your team to places you haven’t been before.

Danette Peters