Honest Anger is Fine


I’m in Israel now (for workshops). I was traveling through Newark yesterday, and had to change terminals between the domestic flight that got me to Newark and the international flight that was going to leave from Newark.

Turns out, a bunch of other people had to change terminals too. The signs are so bad, none of us could figure out where we had to go. A nice gentleman in a red blazer gave each of us directions.

He was a nice man, but blind to the fact I was standing in front of him. (Ok, I’m five feet tall and he was closer to six feet, but I’m pretty sure he could see me.) I had to wave my ticket in his face before he could see me. So, I was a bit perturbed–my flight arrive late, the escalators were broken in one terminal, and now I’ve been waiting more than my fair share for the under 15 seconds I need to determine where I need to be.

A tall man stuck his face in front of mine, and started to interrupt. I exploded, “NO! You are NOT asking any questions. The next 10 seconds are MINE.”

Both the helpful gentleman and the interrupter were taken aback. The interrupter shrank back, looking as if I was about to use my fists. The helpful gentleman made sure I knew where I had to go. I’m sure they both wanted me gone 🙂 (I suspect the tone of my voice was so out of their expectation for my appearance and their assumptions, that I shocked them into submission. Works for me 🙂

I have a terrible temper, so I work hard on not exploding. Mostly because I’m never sure what I’m going to say. I’ve been known to say awful things when I was younger. I want to be sure that the situation is worth the explosion. This one was.

In general, if you’re a PM or a manager, there are very few times at work when you want to explode in anger. Sure, you can be frustrated. You can be angry at a situation. But unless someone is deliberately preventing the team from working together, it’s almost always worth counting to 10 and then using a reasonable response. However, when feedback or coaching of the person frustrating you is not an option, honest verbal anger is ok. I did manage to refrain from calling the interrupter names; I had several on the tip of my tongue. But that wouldn’t have gotten me what I wanted–directions to the correct line.

Being a manager doesn’t mean you don’t have emotions. It does mean you manage them and deal with them honestly. And you don’t use your temper to berate or belittle other people. (Journaling can help you recognize your emotions and how you use them.) Acknowledging your emotions and expressing them honestly are key to your management success.

5 Replies to “Honest Anger is Fine”

  1. I’d put it more that we need to acknowledge when we honestly feel angry and learn to understand why but I don’t consider even “honest anger” to be fine as an acceptable end state, especially for those in leadership positions. But then I’m quite the Yoda fan.

  2. Another thing that helped me sort some of this stuff out was reading a lot of Eric Berne’s stuff on Transaction Analysis (e.g. ‘Games People Play’, and see http://public.cranfield.ac.uk/sims_staff/wccw1/DIFFICULT_BITS.htm for more useful references)… and also some coping techniques (see http://public.cranfield.ac.uk/sims_staff/wccw1/When_the_going_gets_rough.htm). Since reading and thinking (a lot) about all that it really helped put many things into perspective.

  3. I can strongly relate to this post. One of the hardest things to cope with as you go up in the management ladder is that there are probably more and more issues that potentially cause you to get angry, but OTOH you have to display more and more composure, as people look up to you, on top of the fact that getting angry rarely gets the job done in the long term (although it sometimes works in the short term)
    One trick I’ve been using with various levels of success is to have a buddy around which “watches” you and has a secret word/gesture for “shutting you down” in case you explode.

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  5. I have to say your right its never right to loose your cool as a PM. However, I have been tested to the limits myself on a number of occasions. However, I take the opposite view with my project staff. I have always said to project teams that foul langage, and rudness is always tolerated providing as Churchill said “your right”. If your not then expect some harsh words in return. The thing I can’t bare and I always make it plain is spin and lieing within a project team. Without transparency and trust the project is doomed before it even starts.

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