As usual, I will be brutally honest about the things I have learned from my own experience even though it's more than slightly embarrassing for me. I have a temper — to be able to admit that fact has taken me many years. I believe the fact that I'm no longer 20-something (we will not discuss how many years it's been since that time) has more to do with my ability to control my temper than any self-help book or article.
Maturity has a way to helping you see things differently. Those things that would normally result in an explosion somehow seem less irritating. We see the bigger picture rather than focusing on a narrow section. Maturity also helps most of us think before we act. Rather than immediately reacting to a situation, we have learned to take a breath, think it through, and then respond. Of course, maturity is not a cure for a quick temper and neither is an easy-going nature. Anyone at any age or with any personality can lose his or her temper if the right button is pushed.
Blowing Up at the Office
Work seems to be the one place where we all struggle to keep our temper in check. If you're the boss, you have the freedom of allowing your temper to flare up at any time because you're not going to fire yourself. The worst that might happen is your employees find another job. If you're very abusive, your employee could file a complaint, but more than likely they'll simply put up with your bad temper or find another place to work. In my case, it took me 14 years but I finally got tired of my supervisor's temper and found another job.
As a paralegal, you must be careful to keep your cool at work because you have much more at stake — your job. If you blow up at a co-worker, your supervisor, the owner, or a client, the lapse in judgment will usually result with your applying for unemployment benefits while you look for a new job.
My secret for avoiding losing my temper at work was to allow myself to be upset somewhere private. For example, my last office had a fairly private back parking lot where they kept the big green trashcans on wheels for the trash collectors to pick up each week (I did say this would be embarrassing).
When I felt that I was about to lose my temper because one of the attorneys did or said something outrageous and unfair (that to respond would have resulted in an explosion), I would go outside and kick one of those huge trashcans as hard as I could. I actually managed to kick a hole in one over a particularly infuriating comment one day holding me responsible for something the attorney authorized.
No, this did not resolve the problem, but it sure did get rid of the frustration and anger. The physical release allowed me to focus my anger on an inanimate object. By the time the trashcan had been thoroughly abused, I was drained of the anger and I could think in a rational, calm manner. Sometimes when things are stressful and someone causes your temper to flare, taking a time out is the best way to keep from blowing up in the office.
Deep breathing, crying, kicking trashcans outside, getting in your car and screaming, or exercising are physical ways to get rid of frustration and anger. Physical activity is an excellent way to release negative energy. After I got rid of that anger, I was able to think calmly and rationally about how I wanted to respond to the situation or how I could resolve the situation.
Five Ways to Control Your Temper At Work
Physical “time outs” are not for everyone. We all process stress, frustration, and anger in different ways. You need to find a technique for controlling your temper that works for you. Below are five ways that others in my office use to avoid losing their temper at work.
- Take a Deep Breath – If you're taking a few deep breaths, you are unable to speak. You need to take a few minutes to think about what you should say before you respond to the person who has set your temper on edge. Speaking in anger is never a good idea in the office.
- Write Yourself a Letter – Some people, like me, get rid of our anger with physical activity while others like to express their emotions in writing. Write/type yourself a letter letting all of your frustrations flow out into the letter. Don't save a copy and make sure that it is destroyed (use your personal computer for this). As your anger begins to subside, focus your writing on a solution.
- Identify Your Triggers – If you have a serious issue with controlling your temper, try to identify your triggers so that you can avoid them. Unfortunately, if the trigger is a co-worker or your manager, finding a new job may be your only choice for controlling your temper at work.
- Laugh – This is another trick that really helped me avoid losing my temper at work on particularly difficult days. Pull up a YouTube video of cute kittens, babies, your favorite “I Love Lucy” clip, or something else that makes you laugh. It's difficult to hold onto your anger when you're laughing. My personal favorite is a clip from “Frazier.”
- Phone a Friend – Having a friend in the office is great but you need to be careful about venting to co-workers regardless of how close you think you may be. It's better to “phone a friend” from your car to vent when you feel as if you are about to lose your temper. Most of the time, all you need is to tell someone why you're angry and hear them say they understand.
A quick Google search for calming techniques returns over 10 pages of various news articles, self-help blogs, life coaching websites, and mediation websites offering tips and techniques for remaining calm. The key to staying calm is finding what works for you.
Tonya Pierce is a paralegal with over 24 years experience in several areas of the legal field (17 years as a bankruptcy paralegal and trustee paralegal).