The beginning of this month saw Serena Williams courting controversy as she hit the headlines for “blowing up” during a tennis match. The experience, which raised questions about female anger, racism, and inherent bias, was more complicated than just a tantrum. However, it did have people discussing their own experiences with rageful colleagues and whether a power imbalance impacts how anger is received. Most of us wouldn’t allow a friend to shout without some retaliation, however when the shouter is our boss, things get a little more complicated.
We’re taking this opportunity to discuss how to react when the one with power is ‘raging out’.
The Moral Cleanser
The character in a horror film that lures you into a false sense of security, the moral cleanser isn’t always angry, in fact more often than not they’re perfectly pleasant. A Harvard Business Review study recently showed that people will naturally attempt to balance their self-image and engage in ‘compensatory behaviours’, meaning that those who blow up one minute may attempt to counter their bad behavior by being sickly sweet the next. This is the Moral Cleanser. And their actions can leave colleagues walking on egg shells.
How to: Whether their anger was justified or not, their change in mood is a recognition that their behavior was wrong. If it’s a one-off, excuse their outburst and move on, everybody has bad days and they’re probably under a lot of stress. If it is continuously happening, catch them in a good mood and follow up on the bad. Asking if there’s anything you can do in the future to avoid the problem again will make you look proactive and subtly force them to confront their outburst.
Somebody who thrives on embarrassing employees, The Screamer is fortunately mostly a relic of the past. In some sectors however the public rager lingers on and their presence can make for a very uncomfortable workplace. The Screamer stands out against other angry bosses because they actually get their kicks from demonstrating their authority in such a way.
How to: Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix when it comes to this boss, so if you’re adamant you’re staying in your role, contact HR and get yourself a therapist.
The Emotional Reactor
This boss is a product of their surroundings. Under undue stress, they’ll lash out at those around them, regardless of whether the fault is theirs or not. Finding yourself dealing with the wrath of an Emotional Reactor can put you immediately into defensive mode.
How to: Resist the urge to scream back as this will only prolong the event and will detract from your own professional credibility. Instead psychologists suggest you talk in low tones, forcing your opponent to match your level. Once the dust has settled ask for a quiet word, repeat their sentiment back to them so that they know their complaints have been heard, and then ask how you can resolve the problem together. Sharing the burden of stress will help to ensure future tantrums are avoided.
“The least effective thing you can do is fight emotion with emotion by yelling back at someone who’s yelling at you. If one party is emotional and the other stays calm, the unemotional one has far more leverage.” – Steven P. Cohen, The Negotiating Skills Company