How to keep your temper at work? It can often be rather tricky, can’t it? For most of us, there will come a time in our working lives when we feel as if we have been pushed too far.
Whether it’s just one badly conceived project too many with a deadline only God could meet, or a task delegated by someone whose management style close mirrors that of Animal from the Muppets, the urge to lose it rears its ugly head.
But how we respond to this may make the difference between staying employed and finding yourself back down the jobcentre, or endlessly scrolling through internet job sites.
Let me share some of the things I learned during my 20+ years working in a corporate environment, culminating in my role as Practice Director and Head of Marketing for a large law firm.
You might have heard of “The Peter Principle” which says, simply, that “managers rise to the level of their incompetence” and lord knows, I’ve seen this borne out a fair few times.
But when you’re pushed to the edge, in today’s economically uncertain times and with hoards of younger, possibly better qualified, and more ambitious workers nipping at your heels, you need to think smart and act smarter. The need to keep your temper at work comes with the territory for many of us, particularly if we work directly with the public.
How to keep your temper at work
Here’s my 20 point primer. Go get a cup of coffee. Take 5 minutes. Breathe and read.
1. Calm down
You can’t afford to make any rash decisions or take any actions which will result in a summons by HR for performance-related issues.
That way unemployment lies.
You have bills to pay and a career you’ve probably trained hard for and spent years working towards.
2. Don’t cry
I know some people actually cry when they’re angry, rather than just upset, but particularly in a corporate environment, you’ll look like you can’t handle it.
If you must let it all out, hide in the toilets till you feel you can face everyone again.
3. Consider what is actually being asked of you
If you have a rocky relationship with your boss, it’s easy to assume instructions come with a hidden agenda.
This isn’t always the case.
Sometimes your boss gets dumped on too.
What are you actually being asked to do?
Is it a reasonable request?
4. Don’t take on a task you don’t understand
If you don’t know what you’re being asked to do, ask for clarification upfront.
If it’s a task you are supposed to understand, you need to ask yourself why you’re struggling with it.
Can a colleague help you out?
5. Clarify the deadline
When does the task need to be completed?
Is it reasonable?
Asking for a report by the end of the day may be perfectly reasonable if it’s comprised of data you were supposed to be keeping tabs on.
6. Is it your fault?
Have you let things slide, for one reason or another?
If things have been getting on top of you, rather than going off like a firecracker, it’s time for some honest self-reflection.
If your heart isn’t in your job, you may be better off thinking about making a move.
See my post on hating your job.
7. Do you need training?
Now is probably not the best time to ask for it, but if you feel you need training (for example in spreadsheets or Powerpoint), make a mental note to discuss this with your boss.
A note of caution though, I’d advise against asking for training for aspects of your job you were expected to know when you were employed unless you can get away with asking for a ‘refresher course’.
8. Can you delegate it?
Remember that when you delegate, you are delegating the responsibility but not the authority aka the buck still stops with you.
I’m sure you know in your heart which elements of a project are yours and yours alone, and which can be delegated.
9. Did you delegate it and it’s gone horribly wrong?
Following on from 8. if you did not delegate well, for example, you didn’t give clear instructions and deadlines, then you may have a problem (plus this is a bit of a case of the pot calling the kettle black, don’t you think?).
Did you delegate to the appropriate level of expertise?
Getting junior staff to do the bits you don’t like is just asking for trouble.
If they get it wrong, you’re still in trouble and they’re unhappy. If they do a sterling job, you can bet your boss will know it wasn’t you who did it.
10. Document it, document it, document it!
For heavens’ sake, make notes, save emails, back up files on your PC, take screenshots.
11. Remember to C.Y.A. (Cover Your A**)
If you delegate something verbally, follow it up with a confirmation email.
Queries to your boss can also be recorded the same way.
Just make sure that the emails are appropriate to the project concerned and written as professionally as possible.
12. Communicate without emotion, in professional language
There’s a world of difference between “so you want me to prepare a report on XYZ about DrearyCorp for you to discuss at the board meeting on Thursday” and “so even though I’m completely snowed under, you want me to drop everything, stay late and scrabble together some data”.
Repeat after me. “Attitude is a Luxury”.
13. Manage your time
Break the project down into manageable chunks.
Estimate how long each piece will take.
Assess which tasks can be delegated.
Call a brief team meeting if you need to so that everyone is clear about what is required.
Check in with team members so you know whether you are on course to meet your deadline.
Having a quick look at Facebook and three cups of coffee while you “get your head around it” will not help, trust me.
14. Offer solutions
I’m sure you’ve heard the hoary old management chestnut “I don’t want you to bring me problems, I want you to bring me solutions”.
Well, sorry but it’s true.
Rather than just carry out the project like an automaton, get involved.
How would you deal with the issue?
What would your approach be?
The solutions you offer may make your boss look good, make you look good and make you a more attractive candidate for promotion.
15. Use positive body language
Parents will be familiar with the phrase “take that face off” or “don’t look at me like that when I’m talking to you”.
Yes, I’m afraid even as adults we are prone to what body language experts refer to as “leakage”.
Looking like a bulldog chewing a wasp when someone is trying to delegate to you is not a good thing!
Also be aware that crossing your arms looks defensive and worse, stretching back and supporting your head with your arms is tantamount to saying “I am listening, but basically I think you’re an idiot”.
16. Build bridges
If you have a rocky relationship with your boss, this could be an opportunity to build bridges and get to know them a bit.
Could you try to suspend your frustration for a short while and see things from their point of view?
If the boss invites you out for a drink after work, are you the one that always has to rush home? (I’m not including parents in this obviously).
I was a bit like that when I was younger, prioritising the needs of my obese and usually completely inert cat over the social discomfort of making small talk with management.
Looking back, I probably missed the chance to get to know my bosses which would only have improved our working relationship.
18. Everybody’s Human
And everybody wants to be liked.
Sometimes, your boss will have problems you know nothing about. It doesn’t hurt to cut them a little slack sometimes.
19. Ask, are you being bullied?
If you feel that you are being unfairly dumped on, or set up to fail, or that your treatment is a form of bullying, then you must take action.
Keep a diary to record the events of bullying.
Keep pertinent emails.
Make sure you ask yourself, however, if you are contributing to the behaviour. Sometimes, for whatever reason, personalities do clash but are you being unnecessarily unhelpful or combative?
20. Take it to HR
Human Resources has a difficult role to play, keeping both management and staff happy.
That said, if you feel your treatment is unjust, you must talk to HR.
You will probably find that if you are having problems with a particular boss, others will be too.
Keeping silent helps nobody.
Your complaint may actually help HR to deal with an unpleasant boss, particularly if you can provide solid evidence.
So, keep calm and carry on, as they say, but with a strategy.
A bit of honest and open reflection may save hours of future misery, for you and your colleagues.
Hopefully, you’ll now have the ammunition you need and some ideas about how to keep your temper at work.
Do you struggle to keep your temper at work? What tips would you add?