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Turn Anger Into an Asset

These practical hints can help you to redirect your feelings of hostility into less destructive channels

ANGER PUSHES its way into business as it does into all human activity. Much of the time it destroys good relations and efficiency but it can be turned into a constructive force. By being aware that anger is a part of his personality and by understanding some of the ways to deal with it, an executive can reduce the harmful effects which anger can have on himself and his co-workers. A manager first should consider how and why his own anger arises, and how it can show up in situations involving other people.

Fundamentally, anger is hate. "Hate I consider as an internal sin," says former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David M. Shoup. "And hate is closely associated with fear. I think fear breeds defeatism and that is a disease we cannot afford in this country. . . ." The general is right in several respects. Hate is closely related to fear because impulses to aggression, or hate, are necessary for self-defense. But anger can be self-defeating.

Anger arises when a man feels he may be defeated, even if the feeling is so subtle that he is unaware of it. Every person has weak spots—situations which are more provoking for him than for others. And if you threaten a person he will automatically go on the defensive.



That is what Don G. Mitchell, chairman of General Time Corp., means when he comments, "How do you go about making things happen? Is it a case of applying more pressure? Is it a case of making the boys walk up and down the wall? Do you get yourself a sharper and longer needle? No, you don't do any of those things because all that's doing is pushing the door shut." Several guidelines can be helpful in managing anger.

• Find out what's making you mad and direct your energies toward getting it under control. For example, it's no! unusual for executives to be angry with a subordinate because of below-average performance. It is equally common to have differences with colleagues. Frequently, however, executives do not talk to the people with whom they are angry about their feelings of anger. They act as if the problem will go away if they do not discuss it. Sometimes it does. But more often it festers. The executive finds himself avoiding the other person, pretending joviality or quibbling over minor matters. He continues to be irritated. It is far better to get a problem out in the open where it can be discussed and resolved. That way anger can be used constructively.

Many people frequently find they can't discharg their anger at those who provoke it—or solve the problems which created their frustration in the first place. So they discharge their anger at helpless targets. Some men pick on their wives and children. People tend to look for scapegoats less powerful than they are, or who must take their hostility, or from whom they can easily escape. Store clerks, public officials, waiters, maids, subordinates, children are frequent victims.

An ordinarily gentle man may snarl at another driver because in a few minutes he will escape the other and never see him again. The same thing happens to some managers who act as though they will never run out of subordinates. The head of a large savings and loan office, now in his mid-fifties, has been highly successful and is widely known throughout the industry. He sees himself as a firm disciplinarian and taskmaster—the best kind of boss for developing others. His subordinates, however, regard him quite differently. They find him unjust and intemperate. They are aware that he needs to have a whipping boy; he is always highly critical of at least one of his subordinates and rides him so hard that the subordinate quits. A few weeks later the manager will transfer his highly critical attitude to another subordinate and the cycle resumes.

• Understand that sometimes when people become angry at you they are not necessarily angry with you. If you are in a position where it is easy for people to attack you, some will use you as a substitute for the real causes of their anger. These causes may be themselves, their husbands, wives, bosses or parents. If you are responsible for supervising people who are in such a vulnerable position, help them understand that one of their job hazards is the likelihood that customers or clients may at times become inappropriately angry at them.

This does not mean that you should disregard customer complaints about your own or your subordinates' work, but it does mean that you will have to take this point into consideration. Another side of this problem is how you—and your subordinates—react to criticism of your work. Everyone's performance is evaluated in some way. Even the most powerful executive is judged by his board, his stockholders, his creditors, governmental bodies or his customers.

Criticism of performance is not criticism of the person as a person. Although it is extremely difficult for people to keep these two ideas separate, unless they do they will have problems, for no human relationship is free of criticism. Criticism is a necessary precondition for growth, provided it is directed to the way a job is done and not to the person himself. When evaluating a subordinate, focus on job performance. If you are being evaluated try to help your superior concentrate on how you do your job. You might even ask what be thinks of various aspects of your work if he has difficulty recalling details.

Robert C. Wheeler, vice president of Corn Products Co., points out that one of the most effective ways of determining the potential of managers is to observe them, and that such observation is the responsibility of line management. "On the other hand," Mr. Wheeler adds, "the subordinate has a responsibility to communicate upward. He must keep his superior informed about what he is doing." The superior cannot observe all of the subordinate's performance.

• Keep cool. When someone becomes openly angry with you, that is his problem, not yours. There is much truth to the saying, sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. Words will not hurt you. If you are wrong, a simple apology and whatever amends are necessary are enough. If the other person persists in criticizing you or in trying to make a fight of it, something is itching him. You do not have to respond to his itch.



If you understand such behavior to be his problem, you will be less likely to respond with anger to his anger and become a participant in an emotional battle. Don't lash back at him or bend over backward trying to appease him. Both reactions will merely aggravate the situation. Extended apology tells the other person you feel you were wrong. It also lets him know you fear his anger. Like lashing back, it tends to provoke more attack. Make clear that while you won't trade hostile remarks you will not permit yourself to be exploited.

Sometimes people systematically use anger as a device for cowing others, knowing that most people back off from angry scenes. Nothing reduces them to good manners as quickly as stating in a calm voice that you will not let yourself be attacked. When a man is victimized by others, it is often because he permits it or even unwittingly encourages it.

Sometimes subordinates or associates are testing to find out how far they can go and when someone else will take a firm position. Often they do this unconsciously. The late Irenee du Pont, one of three brothers who led E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. from a small explosives manufacturing concern to the position of the world's largest diversified firm, felt that sometimes a man has to swear at his colleagues to drive home a point. But this does not mean that anger should be used as a whip or club, for that will only produce fear, resentment and rebellion. Anger used this way should be used sparingly.

• Another way in which becoming angry can be a step toward solving a problem is to channel the anger into competition. A man whose competitor gets ahead of him wastes his time just getting mad about it. But if his anger becomes a stimulus to finding new competitive advantages for his firm—in the form of innovations in products or services—then he has turned it to constructive use.

Virgil B. Day, vice president for management development and employee relations services of General Electric Co., recalls this experience: "Four years ago the Japanese made their initial push with a shirtpocket transistor radio which spectacularly undersold domestic markets." Instead of responding with angry demands for high tariffs, GE was spurred to tackle the problem head on. It redesigned its products, obtained cost-cutting ideas at all levels and got union cooperation in adopting more efficient methods. "Where we once had doubts about our ability to keep on our 1959 labor force," says Mr. Day, "today we are employing one third more people in this operation."

• It's easy enough to know when you are clearly angry with someone. It is much harder to be aware of subtle hostility. Much of the time we overcontrol our angry feelings or turn them unwittingly on our selves. The man who is always clapping a lid on his anger, pretending he is not angry, is a good candidate for psychosomatic illnesses or worse. He is like an  automobile driver who is racing the motor with one foot and applying the brakes with the other. A man who constantly sits on his own emotions loses some of the spontaneity, sparkle and initiative he could have if he let himself he more free. Restraining or denying his emotions forces him to keep up his psychological guard continuously, an effort which requires much of his energy and literally wears out body organs, increasing the likelihood of hypertension, headaches, coronary disease, intestinal disorders and so on.

More than half the people who visit their family doctors seek help for illnesses which are psychological in origin. Fully 90 per cent of headaches, in the opinion of one neurologist, are psychologically caused. New York Telephone Co. physicians who studied 3,400 employees reported that 25 per cent of them accounted for more than half of all the disability, approximately two thirds of all days of disability and a similar proportion of the cost of sickness. The problems of these employees were primarily psychological and the doctors concluded, "Attention to an unsatisfactory life situation may be more important than any other aspect of treatment." Some forms of self-destruction, such as suicide and alcoholism, are evident to everyone. Most selfdestructive behavior is not recognized as such. It is often passed over as poor judgment or immaturity, as in this actual example:

An experienced, conscientious assistant to a corporate vice president does not seem to be able to accept a decision as final. He continues to talk about the issues. His persistence, which goes beyond good taste, annoys his colleagues and superiors. Occasionally, when he pursues the subject in the presence of others outside the firm, his talk can be very embarrassing. He does not mean it to be so, and he is not consciously trying to be difficult, but he continues this undesirable behavior even though it has been pointed out to him. The self-defeating aspects of his actions lie in the fact that he will not be given more responsibility. Some day someone is likely to become angry enough with him to fire him, despite his conscientiousness.

• When you are angry, your judgment is impaired and you are not likely to act constructively. The angry man is like the old fire horses which jumped into harness position the moment they heard the fire bell. A man cannot tell a false alarm from a real one until he has had a chance to take a good look at the situation—and some people, once aroused to defense, are never able to take a second look. They are too busy defending themselves by attacking. Sports, hobbies, home projects, travel, all serve a safety-valve function. Volunteer or service activities often enhance a man's self-esteem and provide gratifications that foster the constructive forces in his personality. The stronger these forces, the easier it is to deal with anger. Fast action advisable If anger threatens the stability and effectiveness of a corporate team, it is important to control it immediately. Otherwise it will mount in intensity until it becomes destructive.

Once control has been established, then you can do something about the anger. In such a situation avoid the tendency to concentrate on finding out who is to blame and to think the problem has been solved once the culprit has been found. It is too easy to find scapegoats. If there are problems which give rise to anger, it is far more constructive to have people talk the problems out, clarify them and suggest ways of working together more effectively.



Consider the common problem of cutting costs. Frequently a decision to intensify cost-cutting efforts results in pressure on first-line supervisors who in turn put pressure on the work group. Work groups often see dozens of ways in which money is wasted, ways which management cannot see because it is too far away. When the waste they see costs far more than they can save, the work group is likely to respond to cost-cutting pressure with a good deal of anger. If the work group becomes turbulent in its anger, management is prone to blame inadequate supervision.

And the supervisor is the closest managerial arget to the work group so the employees find it convenient to protest his methods. The upshot is often the discharge or transfer of the supervisor. The employees may be temporarily pacified by the sacrifice of the supervisor, but the anger will recur until the underlying problem is met and resolved. Anger is a strong and primitive feeling. It is the source of tremendous energy. That energy can be dissipated in various forms of explosion, which inevitably result in harm to a person, to a group of individuals or to a business. Or it can be harnessed and converted into problem-solving action. A fundamental task of every manager is to understand the origins, power and consequences of anger. Only then can he manage it sensibly.

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