Early in my career I worked for someone who felt it was OK to scream at staff. Everyone on the senior team knew we were in for a rough meeting when the boss’s face would get red and the fist would pound the table over some project reportedly behind schedule. One time a staff member parked her car in the wrong spot and the boss with the bad temper had the car towed without ever asking the person to simply move the vehicle.
It is a fatal flaw to yell in the work place. The staff on the receiving end of rage will rarely if ever forgive it and they absolutely will never forget the behavior. Yelling at people doesn’t make them understand the issue better; it doesn’t motivate them to work harder. It merely motivates them to stay out of the way so that it won’t happen to them again and to start looking for the next opportunity to make an exit from the organization.
Yelling bosses, rude co-workers, competitors who do things that seem underhanded, being left out of meetings that you feel you should have been invited to - all of these issues are a normal part of the working world. The gut response when you feel you have been treated unfairly is to shoot back - either directly or through office gossip.
But the best way to address bad and unprofessional behavior isn’t to wrestle with the other person. The best way to deal with outrageous behavior is to maintain composure and move forward, keep focused and don’t let the noise distract you from your own mission. Take the high road. I know that the phrase “take the high road” sounds like advice your mother would give, but in today’s world more than ever it is advice that is worth listening to. It doesn’t come naturally. Wanting to get revenge and fighting back are far more common reactions than standing strong and not letting the negativity rule the day.
In my business, I work with CEOs and top executives of multimillion-dollar companies. I help them manage the change that comes along with growth as well as crisis. The ones who are able to stay focused in the face of adversity are the ones who achieve the greatest success.
Great leaders take the high road; they manage with integrity, knowing that the path to success is built by bringing out the best in others, not by putting them down. This reminds me of a saying: “The more dirt you throw on me the more ground you lose.” This is as true in business as it is in life.
Here are some tips on how to keep composure in the workplace even when you want to scream back:
1. TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND CALM DOWN. Excuse yourself from the room or meeting, or put the caller on hold if that’s what it takes to regain your composure.
2. SMILE. It’s almost impossible to yell back when you are smiling and it makes the other person wonder what you are thinking.
3. DON’T RETALIATE. Listen for the possibility that there is something to be learned from the person who is hypercritical.
4. KEEP A POSITIVE ATTITUDE. People don’t remember what happened — they usually only remember how you handled a situation. If you come undone over something, that’s all that will be remembered.
5. TRY NOT TO CRY. When women are mad, they often express that emotion with tears. I hardly know a woman who hasn’t cried in the workplace. If you feel as if you are going to cry, remove yourself from the situation. Take a break in a private area or go for a short walk. If you can’t do that, blow your nose. Blowing your nose helps to stop the tears from flowing; this is a physiological fact.
6. AND FINALLY… If you can’t find something positive and professional to say, don’t say anything at all. Tell the person you will have to get back to them.
Almost everyone I know has had a run-in with a difficult person in the workplace. When this situation strikes, taking the high road isn’t easy, but it is the way to build a solid reputation as a trusted manager and leader.