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Dealing with anger brought on by the threat of layoffs

Coach's Corner--March 30, 2009

The Client
Name: Andrew
Age: 43
Title: Senior Director, Data Warehousing
Industry: Health care
Issue: Anger and fear at work

Q. I usually agree with your "stay positive and focus on what you control" approach, but that's increasingly challenging. My employer is contemplating layoffs to close a budget gap that is smaller than some of the "bonuses" being paid to individuals at failing Wall Street companies. I'm seeing a lot more anger among my direct reports. Anger added to fear is a toxic mix, and I'm feeling it myself. Help!

A. Anger can be motivating, but it can also be corrosive, especially if it's directed toward a remote target, such as Wall Street. First, deal with your personal response; next week's column will focus on team dynamics.

The inner game
Understand your anger. Take time to examine what lies beneath. You may find envy or a sense of unfairness, all mixed with uncertainty-induced fear. You may be more aggressive or irritable, or passive and helpless.  Notice if it's carrying over into other aspects of your life. Don't get angry with yourself for being angry! Instead, use these feelings to fuel positive action.

Consider the effects. Chronic anger can affect your health, much as stress can make you sick. If it pervades your life, it can affect your relationships and the joy you take in everyday activities, and may detract from your ability to do your job well.

Assess your options. Look at what you can control or influence. Your options may be broader than you first realize.  Of course, you control your own response and your ability to support your team. You may also be able to influence possible layoffs by providing creative solutions to your company's budget gap.  Try listing all the actions you could take, even if they seem unrealistic. Your goal is to build your sense of personal power in the situation.

The outer game
Consider a combination of personal steps and public actions to build your emotional endurance.

Take it easy. Relaxation techniques can help deal with anger. Try breathing exercises, meditation or prayer, choosing an approach that fits for your values and belief system.

Burn it off. Physical activity is a great anger-management tool that provides an affirming sense of control of one's destiny. Any activity helps, be it a simple walk or intense athletic competition. Some people pound a punching bag when they're upset. It's also a path to clarity, with insights coming along when least expected.

Get support. Talking with friends, family or trusted co-workers may be enough, or seek professional help if you're feeling more distressed.

Make a difference. If your anger shows you that certain situations aren't acceptable to you, take action. Consider political action, such as writing a letter, volunteering for a candidate, or working on a community task force. Volunteer for other organizations that you care about, or get more involved at work. There are many ways to contribute; the challenge is to seek them out and follow through. This will give you a sense of strength and help ease your frustration.

The last word
Keep your anger from hurting you, and use it as a force for change. Next week: addressing the anger factor with your team.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted March 29, 2009
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