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Keeping control of your temper.

Four steps can help prevent angry outbursts and lead to increased productivity in the laboratory.

The author, a member ot M LO's Editor al Advisory Board, is president of Answers & Insights, Inc., a management consulting firm in East Brunswick, N.J

That urge to lose your temper sometimes seems uncontrollable. No matter how hard you try to suppress it, the anger gets out, often with damaging consequences.

Consider Eleanor's situation: The group she supervises has been short-staffed and swamped with work for weeks. Nevertheless, one technologist spends time on the phone gossiping and making arrangements for her wedding. Even though Eleanor has known for quite a while that this technologist is slow on Stat orders, she loses her temper over the latest delay.

Anger is emotional energy generated automatically in response to the fear that you're not in control. You build up energy to exert control, but each new frustration blocks it from release in a productive way.

Everybody harbors angry feelings from time to time; that's neither good nor bad in itself. It is what you do with the emotional energy that can create problems. Some ignore it, hope it will go away, or try to stuff it down inside, while others project their angry feelings onto innocent bystanders.

Labs are filled with anger-provoking stimuli. Perhaps you recognize some of the following:

* Criticism. Justified or not, criticism can make you angry, especially when the critic is sarcastic and puts you down.

* Threats. Anything that seems to threaten one's status, livelihood, or career can generate anger. For example, if a work group is reorganized, some staff members may feel threatened by their new assignments.

* Anger in others. When someone gets angry at you, that may incite you to get angry too. For example, an employee may lash out because you keep correcting her technique at the bench. You blow up in turn because you can't see what provoked the tantrum.

* Pressure. Anger is apt to build up if you are rushed and feel harassed for a prolonged period of time. Most people get upset when they feel they are losing control of a heavy workload.

*Unnecessary "checking up." If you believe others don't trust you because they constantly check up on the quality or quantity of your work, you will probably become angry.

*Embarrassment. Being made to feel foolish or stupid is likely to trigger an angry response. For example, a veteran technologist who has difficulty mastering a new laboratory procedure or instrument may displace his or her frustration on others.

*Irritations. A buildup of little irritants, such as the annoying habits of supervisory colleagues or employees, can make you angry. For example, Daniel and Andrew have worked well together for more than a year. Then, one day Daniel erupts, complaining about Andrew's slowness, sloppiness, and other faults that have bothered him even though he never mentioned them before.

* Disappointments. You may get angry if your expectations are not met-for example, if your latest salary increase is inadequate.

The realities of working closely with others in a disciplined environment tend to keep us from expressing angry feelings. Most of us know from personal experience that there are consequences to losing our temper.

Nevertheless, frustration mounts when a series of irritations occur and there's no time to handle them. For example: On the way to work you get a ticket for inadvertently veering onto the shoulder of the road. When you arrive at the laboratory, a tedhnologist calls in and announces that she's taking a personal day. Then an analyzer breaks down. One after another, things go wrong, and by the end of the day you are primed to blow up over something you would ordinarily ignore.

There are positive ways to deal with growing frustration:

Recognize that irritations are upsetting but that nothing can be done about them at the moment. Nothing is to be gained, and something will be lost, if you let them bother you. Try to view irritations with a sense of humor.

Neutralize frustration by getting away from the problem temporarily. Daydream about something pleasant, take a coffee break, or go for a walk after lunch.

Attack a part of the problem that requires less interpersonal involvement. Sit at your desk, pencil in hand, and think about what can be done to ease the situation.

Sometimes all it takes is patience. Try to remember that 90 per cent of what might go wrong never does.

If you don't take positive steps to control your anger, you will feel its effects. Outbursts reveal an unpleasant side of your personality, and this makes fellow workers uncomfortable. In response to your loss of temper, others will become frustrated and fearful and find themselves in the same emotional dilemma that caused your blowup. They will have to stuff their anger down inside, ignore it, displace it, or become hostile.

You are less likely to see all the alternatives when you are angry. That is because you are not thinking clearly. Anger will interfere with what you need most at the moment: your problem-solving abilities.

Over a long period of time, anger can also become a habit. If this happens, it can negatively affect your health, your work, and your home life.

To avoid the adverse consequences of anger, consider the following four-step approach to temper control:

1. Recognize that you are angry. Stay in touch with your feelings, and you will know if you are about to lose control. Then you can act to regain your composure (by silently counting to 10, for example, or going to the rest room and washing your face).

2. Identify the cause of your anger. Remember, the incident that sets you off may merely be the last straw in a series of things that have gone wrong. What is the real cause of your anger?

3. Understand why the situation produced anger. Does your anger have a real or imagined basis? Has it been caused by threats to your personal feelings or to achievement of your goals'? Interestingly, the threats that cause the most anger are those that attack a person's self-esteem, status, and autonomy.

4. Deal with the anger realistically. If the cause of your anger is imaginary, try to focus on your main goals. If the cause is real, try to concentrate on solving the problem.

It often helps to share your feelings with someone you trust. A person who is not emotionally involved in a situation can provide a different perspective.

Wait until your anger subsides before planning how to regain control. Perhaps you can apply the built-up emotional energy to other tasks. Not only will the energy be consumed, but you also will retum to the problem in a better frame of mind to tackle it.

This four-step approach will help you control your own temper, but how do you deal with someone else's anger? Suppose a colleague storms into your office and demands to know why you didn't recommend a longtime employee-mne of your colleague's personal friends-for a recent supervisory opening. Your natural reaction would probably be to defend your decision and get good and mad at her for challenging your authority and judgment.

A better way to deal with her anger is to listen to her. She doesn't care why you didn't recommend her friend for promotion; she really wants to tell you that she is upset.

Don't argue. Right or wrong, let her have her say. She will feel better if she can let go of some anger. As she does, she may realize that her emotions are clouding her objectivity.

Explore what is upsetting her. Get all the details. Perhaps you will learn something that changes your own point of view. At the very least, you will find out if her angry feelings are caused by real or imagined issues.

Empathize. Put yourself in the other person's place and showby words and actions that you understand how she feels: It can be upsetting to think that a friend has been treated unfairly, or just to feel bad because you know how much the friend wanted the promotion.

As long as you can talk and share information and feelings, you can lower the level of anger. This paves the way for mutual problem-solving efforts.

Besides controlling your temper and dealing with the anger of others, you can try to prevent outbursts. Encourage staff members to be open and honest with each other, to discuss their frustrations and irritations one at a time instead of letting them accumulate.

When you must criticize, focus on behavior. Attack the issues, not the person. Instead of blaming a technologist for making errors, work with the individual to find ways to prevent future errors.

Most important, set an example for the laboratory staff. Be cheerful and face your own irritations and frustrations with some humor. If you show employees that you can control your own temper, they are likely to follow suit. Then the laboratory will be free of unproductive and damaging fits of temper.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Roseman, Ed
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Apr 1, 1989
Words:1503
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