The Red Mist

Anybody can become angry – that is easy – but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

This quote from Aristotle goes right to the core of how one needs to understand and manage anger.

Anger, just like every emotion, is the brain’s way of sending a message and how one chooses to interpret the emotion and react to it, is critical.

If one feels anger, processes it and uses it to change a situation with which they are unhappy, then this is a positive outcome. On the contrary, if one fails to control one’s anger, the response can make a negative situation far worse.

A force for good

At one point or another, all of us will have been consumed by anger. It may be on our own behalf – perhaps someone has lied to us or stolen from us – or on behalf of another. We all know what it feels like when someone hurts or threatens a member of our family; anger can be overwhelming. However, one must learn to control it.

As explained in an earlier article, emotions are a change in physiological state caused by the production of neurotransmitters. In the case of anger, the brain produces more testosterone, which makes one want to confront or challenge a situation. At the same time, the body produces more adrenaline which pumps the arms and legs. 

These chemicals are the ones we use when faced with a fight of flight situation. As we explored with fear, adrenaline causes us to run (flight) but in the case of anger, we are ready to confront (fight).

Adrenaline and testosterone allow one to stand up to a threat and risk a physical altercation. That is not to say that is the desired outcome, but the body is prepared for it and may even be temporarily immune to pain.

These are important responses to give us the courage to stand our ground. We cannot always run from a situation, on occasion we must confront it.

At this point it is possible to say that the essence of anger is positive; we want to change something for the better.

For example, when employed skilfully, anger can galvanise people to challenge the status quo. Anger can motivate individuals to unite, perhaps to demonstrate against a political regime or to force employers to improve employment practices. Various marches against oppressive regimes have drawn public attention to causes, resulting in changes to the law. Similarly, direct action against poor labour laws have seen workers’ rights improved. 

The dark side

For all its positive potential, anger is no different from the emotions we have explored in earlier articles; if one fails to understand the message, one can react negatively.

The challenge with managing anger, is the overriding societal message that this is a bad emotion. We are taught from a very young age that we should not show our anger. Consequently, when one feels cross, we try to supress it. Rather than taking the time to understand why we might feel this way, we push it aside.

The danger here is that the underlying cause of the anger will occur time and again. Every time we suppress the feeling, it becomes a little more powerful. Eventually, the cause of the anger is all too much, and one explodes.

This can be especially destructive in the workplace. There may be an employee who makes little mistakes, nothing too significant, but after a time the repeated errors become frustrating. Rather than recognising that this makes the manager angry, they ignore it. Rather than set up an appropriate process to deal with each mistake as it occurs, the manager becomes angrier and angrier and finally explodes, possibly sacking the person on the spot, or worse, threatening them physically. Both these outcomes are disastrous in the workplace. Acting out of anger can never be a positive response. Throwing, shouting, being violent or destructive can only ever end badly and must be avoided.

The end of the dream team

In the 1990s, Manchester United had a footballing ‘dream team’ managed by Alex Ferguson, containing some of the biggest names in football, including David Beckham.

Beckham was one of the club’s most recognisable stars and was attracting attention from massive European rivals including Real Madrid. In response, Ferguson, renowned for his fiery temper, became increasingly annoyed with Beckham’s ‘lack of focus’ to his home club. 

In his autobiography, Ferguson writes: “In his final season with us, we were aware that David’s work rate was dropping, and we had heard rumours of a flirtation between Real Madrid and David’s camp. The main issue was that his application level had dropped from its traditionally stratospheric level.”

Things came to a head after a 2-0 FA Cup defeat to Arsenal, when Ferguson confronted Beckham about his poor performance. The level of intensity of Ferguson’s anger caused him to kick a pile of clothes containing a boot which flew, quite unintentionally, through the air connecting with Beckham’s face. That was the end of an illustrious relationship between Beckham and Ferguson, and was ultimately, if perhaps only temporarily, damaging to both parties.

It is possible that Ferguson could have worked with Beckham earlier. Had he discussed his increasing irritation at Beckham’s attitude it may well have saved them from a violent incident that saw the end of Manchester United’s dream team.

One must take this time to decide how to use the anger beneficially. For example, where an employee is not up to standard, rather than shouting at them use the anger to drive positive policy changes. 

Anger can be a powerful tool but, returning to Aristotle’s quote, it is not an easy one to master. Individuals will need to learn how to use anger effectively, if it is to be employed for the good.

Summary

Anger is not an entirely negative emotion. Indeed, it can be incredibly positive if used appropriately. Anger is felt when one wants to change a situation. The emotion can help power humans into action, to challenge wrong-doing and ensure standards are kept. However, once anger is out of control, it can be incredibly destructive. As with all emotions, one needs to listen to what anger is trying to communicate. One must take time to listen, process and respond appropriately.

Get in touch to find out more about managing emotions in business.

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