Angry Colleague? Here’s How to Respond.

by Susan Shearouse

We’re grateful to be joined by Susan Shearouse, conflict resolution expert and author of Conflict 101: A Manager’s Guide to Solving Problems. In this post she examines a new angle on managing anger in the workplace — when it originates in someone else. -HC

You might not know what started it. Maybe it was something you said.  Or something someone else said.  Or something you didn’t say – and should have.  It might have been a conversation that went from bad to worse.  Maybe it’s been building up for a long time, and you are the last to know.   Whatever it might be, it’s your problem now.

This person is suddenly in your face, angry at you and quite vocal about it. Everybody up and down the corridor knows that you are getting the full dose of their fury.

Or – and sometimes this is even harder to face – they won’t speak to you at all.  They won’t return your calls any more.  If you pass in the hall, they look the other way, even if the other way is nothing but a blank wall.

What can you do?  How do you keep your cool?  You can turn a potential argument into a discussion if you can hold on to your own sense of calm and keep a strong determination not to be sucked into their negative energy.

  • First, know and understand your own responses to anger, your defensiveness, hot buttons. This is the first step in developing empathy for others.  It also helps you to be aware of, and less likely to be caught by, your own triggers.  If you can avoid responding in kind, you have gone a long way in changing direction. Read more

How to Get Angry at Work

Our first guest post! The publishing arm of the American Management Association recently asked if we’d consider featuring their book Conflict 101, we said yes, and thus received a free copy of the management guide. It’s an emotionally-grounded look at how to fight fairly from 9 to 5, including how to reveal your anger productively. We asked if author Susan Shearouse would be up for writing an article for WN. We’re so pleased; here it is. -HC

When you get down to it, there are LOTS of ways to get angry at work:

  • The guy in the next cubicle keeps asking you the same questions over and over again.  When are you supposed to get your own work done?
  • Your boss comes in half an hour before quitting time with another assignment, plops it on your desk and walks away.  Seems like he pulls this every week.
  • The co-worker claims credit for the report when she turned it in.  Say WHAT???  There would be no report if you hadn’t spent hours feeding the information to her, then editing her work so that it made any sense at all.

We can work up a good mad-on just thinking about these things.  But then we hit the bigger problem: What to do with our anger once it has gotten to a rolling boil?

Blowing up can feel so satisfying in the moment.  Just telling them what you think will surely clear the air and then you can get back to work.  But it usually creates a bigger mess that is difficult to clean up. People’s feelings get bruised and a wall of distrust starts to go up.

Stuffing it doesn’t often work any better.  The problem isn’t resolved, sometimes it just gets bigger. Even though you try to forget about it, the resentment lingers, lying in wait for the next offense.

There must be another way…

Here are some things you can do the next time you feel yourself beginning to simmer with anger: Read more

Crazy Good Leadership

We could also call this post “Come Out at Work: With Depression, Part 2″ as we uncover more about the positive attributes of mental illness at work, now as it relates to leadership.

Psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi, author of A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links between Leadership and Mental Illness (Penguin Press, 2011), wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal about the benefits of mental illness, namely depression, for people in leadership roles. He writes:

In business, for instance, the sanest of CEOs may be just right during prosperous times, allowing the past to predict the future. But during a period of change, a different kind of leader—quirky, odd, even mentally ill—is more likely to see business opportunities that others cannot imagine.

Ghaemi sheds light on the nature of depression, in particular, relative to leadership greatness:

Depression has been found to correlate with high degrees of empathy, a greater concern for how others think and feel. In one study, severely depressed patients had much higher scores on the standard measures of empathy than did a control group of college students; the more depressed they were, the higher their empathy scores… Depression seems to prepare the mind for a long-term habit of appreciating others’ point of view.

He then looks at the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who attempted suicide in his adolescence and experienced severe depressive episodes as an adult:

Nonviolent resistance, King believed, was psychiatry for the American soul; it was a psychological cure for racism, not just a political program. And the active ingredient was empathy.

As a society, we can help ourselves by removing the taboo associated with having depression. And as an individual, if you’re in a leadership role and live with depression,  it’s sounding increasingly wise not to spend energy hiding it. Rather, determine how to overcome any embarrassment about being depressed so you can leverage what’s natural in you and become a better leader.

What gets in your way of coming out as depressed at work?

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Come Out at Work: As Atheist [video]

Religion is a touchy subject; just reading this post’s title makes us go “eek!” inside.

In many organizations, executives promote a message that people of all faiths are welcome, and that no one religion is espoused. Then they close on Christmas, which suggests that the Christian persuasion indeed is most valued.

So in a work environment where having a religious identity is expected, what can we do if we’re atheist?

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, increasingly the go-to spokesperson for atheists, has an answer: come out as such.  The author of The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 1976 and 2006) was recently featured in the New York Times, and he spoke about his upbringing, his beliefs about the world, and of course, his work. Michael Powell relates several facets of Dr. Dawkins, including:

His impatience with religion is palpable, almost wriggling alive inside him. Belief in the supernatural strikes him as incurious, which is perhaps the worst insult he can imagine.

On working in Britain:

It is a measure of Britain’s more resolutely secular culture that Professor Dawkins can pursue his atheism and probing, provocative views of Islam and Christianity in several prime-time television documentaries.

On perceptions of him by his peers:

Critics grow impatient with Professor Dawkins’s atheism. They accuse him of avoiding the great theological debates that enrich religion and philosophy, and so simplifying the complex.

And finally, his thoughts on the future:

He talks of the possibility that we might co-evolve with computers, a silicon destiny.

We ponder that too!

In revealing his philosophical beliefs as they connect with his research and areas of expertise, Richard Dawkins models coming out at work as an atheist. Which would seem scary, and yet he looks very comfortable.

Watch the video below, in which he talks about “coming out” as an atheist.

If you identify as atheist, are you out at work?

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Come Out at Work: With Dyslexia, Part II

We’ve covered the subject of revealing your dyslexic nature at work before, yet a book full of new supporting evidence is prompting us to get excited about it all over again. Doctors Brock L. Eide and Fernette F. Eide have written The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain (Hudson Street Press, 2011). Mm… the title basically says it.

To dive right into the good stuff, a review in Scientific American Mind relates:

[People with dyslexia] can excel at “big picture” thinking. [They] frequently prefer thinking in narrative form, a proclivity that makes them natural storytellers, and they tend to have exceptional spatial navigation skills, visualizing 3-D structures with ease.

Turns out that in addition to film and TV star Whoopi Goldberg, novelist Anne Rice, actor Danny Glover and entrepreneur Richard Branson live and work with the strengths that dyslexia brings. The Doctors Eide offer that:

It is time to stop classifying dyslexia as a learning disability and start appreciating that different brain-wiring patterns allow people to process information in unique ways. When it comes to learning, they argue, there is no good or bad, right or wrong, only a difference in style, which should be fostered rather than corrected.

Right on! The folks we’ve referenced in this post have flourished not in spite of their learning style, but because of it. Again from the Scientific American Mind article, you see:

Being dyslexic allowed them to break from conventional ways of thinking to dream of fantastic new worlds and create alternative solutions to vexing problems.

We’re not going to call dyslexia a “learning disability” again. It’s a learning difference, a learning style.

Do you have dyslexia? National Coming Out Day will soon be here. What are you waiting for?

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From Dee to DVM: Celebrity Career Makeover

One of our most adored TV shows growing up was What’s Happening!! starring Danielle Spencer as Dee Thomas. To us she was the main attraction, with dialogue that made us chuckle. To wit:

Momma:  Dee, where’s your brother?
Dee:  He gave me a quarter not to tell you. That he went to the party.

From 1976 to 1979, she was America’s bratty and lovable little sister, and today she’s an animal care advocate and author of Through the Fire: Journal of a Child Star.

In her memoir, the now Dr. Spencer-Fields recounts her love of animals from the tender age of 7. She raised Weimaraners, and often brought in abandoned dogs and cats near her home in New York City.

Even though she identified as an actor, the former sitcom star sought a mentor who encouraged her to attend Tuskegee University, and in four years she earned her D.V.M., or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. As she started working professionally with animals, her mentor taught her about being a woman in a male-dominated profession, and about being African-American in the veterinary field. Invaluable wisdom.

Spencer-Fields was prescient to have connected with a mentor for help in navigating this uncharted terrain.  In her role as a protege, she opened for herself many doors into the veterinarian world. That’s right, before giving her mentor credit for the guidance she gave, we credit “Dee” for pursuing a mentor in the first place.

As the story goes, her acting work hasn’t endured–although it may yet return–while her work as a veterinarian remains. So Dr. Spencer-Fields, along with the many animals she’s treated in Southern California, shines.

Have you read Spencer-Fields’ book? What do you think?

Exploring Ethnicity + Motherhood = Brisk Business

Today is Chinese New Year. Coincidentally, the Internet is ablaze with commentary about Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – 7,728 comments (and counting) on the Wall Street Journal piece alone. In this new memoir about raising two children, Chua reflects on her Chinese-American ethnicity coupled with her identity as a mother, to outrageous effect. There have been rebuttals, a public letter of support by her daugher, numerous appearances on television, countless book reviews, and ultimately:  brisk sales.

Currently #2 on the New York Times’ “Best Sellers List,” the polarizing book has become a phenomenon stemming largely from Chua’s candid discussion of how she’s raised her daughters. The examples already feel legendary. From the New Yorker review:

Chua’s rules for the girls include: no sleepovers, no playdates, no grade lower than an A on report cards, no choosing your own extracurricular activities, and no ranking lower than No. 1 in any subject. (An exception to this last directive is made for gym and drama.)

Publishing a memoir typically requires plumbing the depths of your existence in order to identify and share the aspects you find most meaningful. It takes sharp writing skills, and having a friend at a literary agency or publishing house helps too. Good timing is a final bonus. In looking into her self, Chua taps into the zeitgeist around China’s upward mobility in the world; timing like hers often translates into good business.

Chua brings her sense of humor to the prose, yet it seems some readers aren’t easily getting it.  That’s OK, having revealed intimate details about who she is, she’s laughing all the way to the bank.

Image by Larry D. Moore, used under a Creative Commons ShareAlike License via