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Guide HR: When the fuse is too short

“My family is all a bit hot-headed. I am like my father and grandfather. We get angry quickly, but we cool down fast. The problem is that when I’m angry, I don’t really think about what I’m saying or doing.”

Strong emotions, whether positive or negative, significantly affect our judgment. They impair our ability to make good decisions, to be creative, and to find solutions. However, some people’s hot-tempered and impulsive nature goes further and can have destructive consequences for themselves and those close to them.

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When in a state of anger, they will say or do things that cause long-term harm to others. People with hot tempers often regret their actions and words, but they can’t fix damage that is done, even if they work hard to repair their relationships.

Moreover, uncontrolled anger can jeopardize your credibility as a leader, and you will lose the trust and respect of your employees. People will see you as a threat, and nobody performs well under those circumstances. Beyond that, frequent outbursts are bad for your health. One National Institutes for Health study found that people who get angry regularly are more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease, eating disorders and obesity. Research has also found a correlation between anger and premature death. Further studies have suggested a link between anger and conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Hot tempers stem partly from nurture and partly from nature. Some people are born with a hot temperament, while others do not have effective role models teaching them how to manage anger. However, there is good news: Anger management is something an individual can learn. Moreover, there is huge R.O.I. to learning to control your anger, with payoffs in money, well-being, and relationships.

People with short fuses have quick reactions. However, except in cases of severe mental illness or dementia, individuals are always responsible for their actions, reactions and words. While we have limited influence on people and events, our reactions to them are totally our own.

For example, let’s say it rains on the hay. You can mow it or not, but one thing is sure: You cannot influence the weather. Do you want to cry, swear, or have a tantrum? For how long? An hour, a day, a week, a month, or all year long?

It’s up to you to decide. So when you are angry for all kinds of “good reasons,” go to the mirror, look yourself right in the eye, and ask:

  • How much time do I want to invest in this issue?
  • How much time do I want to lose to anger?
  • How many lives around me do I want to poison?

Clients often tell me in coaching sessions: “Sometimes I feel great when I lose my temper, and then after a while I regret it.” This is because losing your temper does relieve tension in your body. In the short term, you might feel a release. However, the negative consequences are severe.

How can you find a more constructive way to manage your temper? Here are some tips:

  • Anticipate a trigger and prepare for it. Imagine you are reacting calmly when faced with a person or event. Mental imagery can prevent angry outbursts because you can prepare yourself for a more appropriate reaction.
  • Recognize the precursors to anger. You must be aware of your anger meter. When it rises, give yourself some space and quiet.
  • Recognize your areas of vulnerability. We all have subjects or people that make us touchy. Avoid relationships with people you don’t like and avoid discussions on subjects you consider delicate.
  • Take a momentary retreat. Learn to step back and ask for a time out when you feel too emotional to carry on a discussion. A 20-minute break can be enough to calm yourself down.
  • Close your office door or find a quiet space, and meditate for five minutes.
  • Exercise regularly. It helps you relax in tense situations. Go for a walk or a short jog or stretch. Do this whenever you start to feel upset.
  • Learn to be assertive. Remember, the word is “assertive,” not “aggressive.” When you’re aggressive, you focus on winning. You care little for others’ feelings, rights, and needs. When you’re assertive, you focus on balance. You’re honest about what you want and you respect the needs of others. Learn to express what you want and don’t want before you get upset.
  • Let it go. Choose your battles. Life is too short to be upset all the time.
  • Hire a coach. If managing your anger is a problem, invest in yourself. Prevention costs less than repair.

Finally, remember that anger has real power to take your intelligence away from you. How many times a day are you willing to be less intelligent?

About the author

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Pierrette Desrosiers

Pierrette Desrosiers, MPS, CRHA is a work psychologist, professional speaker, coach and author who specializes in the agricultural industry. She comes from a family of farmers and she and her husband have farmed for more than 25 years (www.pierrettedesrosiers.com).

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