The cost of anger

On his consulting blog, Jerry Weinberg says:

“Anger, for a consultant, is a costly luxury, and I am by nature somewhat of a cheapskate. By eliminating there-then-them anger, I cut my angry outbursts in half. By noticing my pattern of anger escalation, I dampen nine-tenths of the remaining half to the point where it doesn’t interfere with my consulting practice. That leaves only about 5 per cent of the angry episodes I used to have, just one in twenty. Although this seems a dramatic improvement in frequency, it doesn’t result in an equally dramatic improvement in the cost of my angry outbursts.”

Anger is equally costly for managers:

Managers who blow up when they hear bad news stop hearing information about problems until those problems can no longer hide. By that time, many avenues for action aren’t viable any more, and the manager is left with few choices and poor options.

Managers who display anger at the people who report to them — belittling them in public or private — lose trust, dampen creativity, and lower productivity.

Managers who rail against other departments, units, or managers crush collaboration and joint problem-solving.

Here’s Jerry’s explanation of there-then-them anger:

“…sometimes I find myself growing angry at my clients, only to realize that I’m responding to something similar the client said or did at another time or place. Or perhaps I’m responding to something similar my mother used to say to me when I was five years old. Clearly, I’m going to have to bring my mind into the present context if I’m to be effective.”

This is more common than you might imagine. One colleague, Todd, realized that part of his difficult with a peer was that when the peer was upset, her facial expression mirrored the expression Todd’s father wore when he was angry (and about to smack Todd).

The there-then-them trigger doesn’t have to be a person, it can be a situation.

When someone (maybe you, maybe someone else) is in a there-then-them dynamic, the task is to bring that person into the present. One way to do that is to differentiate the past from the present by consciously noticing what’s different about the person / situation in the present and the person / situation in the past. Sometimes it’s the physical details (Todd’s dad didn’t wear glasses, and his peer does. His peer is female, not male. His peer doesn’t have parental authority…etc).

If you notice that you have angry outbursts, try journaling to see patterns in triggers or explore similarities with past interactions and events.

The point isn’t to eliminate emotion, but to not be hijacked by it, so that you can choose how to respond.