“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger.”
…or for that matter, the anger of others when it’s pointed in your direction…
I snapped the cover picture for this post one evening this past summer. The sun was setting over Lake Tahoe and I had a couple hours to kill, so I grabbed the camera and headed to the Eastern side of the lake.
I patiently waited as the white hot sun drifted downward to become a glowing yellow ball, then a rippling orange mass and finally a deep red sliver slipping into the dark green trees on the Western shoreline.
The slow, dramatic sunset reminded me of that oft-quoted Bible verse regarding anger and our need to address it quickly and positively: “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger“.
Get Ready to Feel the Heat: As a Change Agent, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually end up in the middle of some fairly hot situations. Let’s face it: by definition you represent a threat to the status quo and anger is a common human reaction to many threats.
The key to performing well under this pressure is planning ahead and keeping your cool.
Let start this process at the moment loaded with the highest risk: the moment you’re faced with an angry outburst. Over the next few posts, I’ll share five ways you can unplug the anger, let go of the emotion and be more effective as a Change Agent the next time you face angry stakeholders or team members.
Here’s what I’ll typically do first:
1. Stop When You See RED! We’ve all been there: a person gets so upset about what’s going on that they lash out in anger. When this happens, try to:
a. Recognize what’s happening.
b. Evaluate the risk.
c. Delay any angry response.
First, Recognize what’s going on. If voices are raised and faces are turning red, it’s time to simply lay down what you’re doing. Let the other person(s) vent a little regarding whatever they’re upset about. Avoid the urge to swing back immediately – that would raise the chances of the exchange heating up even more. Just as importantly, don’t let it go as if nothing happened. Doing so would signal that lashing out is an appropriate response to the change.
Second, Evaluate the risk. If the person is gradually becoming more rational, maybe the venting can be followed by a civil, problem-solving exchange. If not, you might want to consider walking away and coming back later for another attempt at addressing the situation. Of course, if you sense that you’re in any physical danger whatsoever – leave immediately. No point in an argument is worth getting hurt over.
Finally, Delay your own anger. Resist the urge to respond in kind. (That could potentially undermine your credibility.) If you can bite your tongue long enough to weather the barrage, your calming demeanor could eventually be rewarded with an opening to address the person’s underlying concern.
It Isn’t Easy, But It Can Be Done: Helping an angry stakeholder or team member work through a difficult situation can be one of the most valuable skills you have as a Change Agent. However, your talent will not realize it’s full potential if you slip into the trap of responding to their anger with more anger.
Bottom Line: Angry outbursts happen occasionally in the heat of change. But anger will often cool off over time just as a hot summer day eventually cools off when the sun sets. Just remember to “Stop When You See RED”.
In my next article, I’ll get into how to address the content behind the outburst.
Questions for Chatter:
- In addition to the obvious emotional damage it can cause, what happens to our credibility as Change Agents if we give in to the urge to argue with an angry person?
- In your experience, how long should someone wait for another person to cool down before approaching them about an angry exchange?