What to do if you fly off the handle at work.
Most of the time, especially at work, I keep my temper in check and prefer laughing and joking to ranting and raging. But, we all have those moments when our moods or certain situations get the best of us — even those of us who study and write about etiquette and work hard to temper our tempers.
As of the writing of this column, nearly a week has passed since I lost my cool at the office and — despite apologizing to everyone present for it — I’m still red in the face and psychologically flogging myself over it. Thankfully, I wasn’t yelling “at” anyone, rather about something, so at least there’s that saving grace.
But while my colleagues accepted my apology and, I’m sure, moved on, six days later, my embarrassment hasn’t yet abated. I’m aware of this tendency I have to fly off the handle about certain things. It’s me at my worst. When I get into that headspace, my demeanor and words can be vicious, and I’ve been working hard to get to the root of it and curb it.
Ironically, last September I completed a course called “How to Communicate Like a Buddhist,” which is designed to help participants speak compassionately, consciously, concisely and clearly. It’s difficult to simultaneously type and sign up to retake the course while inserting my face in the palm of my hand — but, here we are!
Why am I confessing all of this in a column? Precisely because we’ve all been there and it’s helpful a) to own our faults and share stories about our humanity so that we can feel connected and less alone, and b) to have a few tools in place to help swiftly recover the trust and good will of our colleagues and, whenever possible, our own dignity. So, the next time your temper takes ahold at the office, consider taking the following steps.
Acknowledge what happened and apologize as soon as possible. Allowing things to linger makes matters worse, especially if anyone present took it personally. In my case, I didn’t direct my vitriol at anyone in the room and therefore, unfortunately, didn’t realize that my behavior had offended my colleagues. Also, I was pretty consumed with my anger, which clouded my ability to assess the tension in the air after my blowup. If you are unable to pick up on nonverbal cues for any reason and you are lucky like me, you will have a concerned, caring and tactful co-worker who discreetly informs you. When I was made aware, I thanked the co-worker for telling me and I sent an apology to everyone that was in the room at the time.
Make an apology that is thoughtful and complete. Avoid giving one of those non-apologies that celebrities and political figures seem to favor so much these days. Don’t attempt to shift blame, make excuses or omit awkward details. Take responsibility for any and all wrongdoing and hurt feelings. In my case, I did offer a bit of background on why my temper got so out of hand, but only because I wanted my colleagues to know it had nothing to do with them or their actions. Then I followed that information by saying that wasn’t an excuse, however, and that I will work hard to do better.
Ask for forgiveness, but don’t expect or demand it. While it’s our responsibility to apologize when we do or say something wrong or hurtful, it’s not the responsibility or obligation of the other party or parties to accept it. As I learned in my Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes lo those many years ago, we have to live with the consequences of our sins (aka actions and behaviors) even when we repent and do penance.
Once you’ve completed all of the above, let it go. Self-flagellation is unproductive. Self-reflection and self-compassion, on the other hand, will help you bring more kindness to your reactions and also your responses to others when they have an ugly moment.
I’m going to keep repeating that last part to myself until it sinks in. Meanwhile, round two on that Buddhist communication class should help.