Anger. A day rarely goes by without us feeling angry. It is not necessary to cite examples. Sometimes, it’s just a minor reason like we hate the fly at the wall. Sometimes anger has important reasons.
Some common synonyms of anger are fury, indignation, ire, rage, and wrath. While all these words mean “an intense emotional state induced by displeasure,” anger, the most general term, names the reaction but by itself does not convey cause or intensity.
Anger seems to become the main part of our daily life. That’s why it is really important to talk (again?) about this phenomenon. As I said, anger is one of the most basic emotions. Everyone can really get angry. If someone told you, he won’t get angry, better don’t believe him.
Anger is a terrible feeling of being against something or someone. It can be my neighbor, because he is still (!) burning poisonous plastic and rubber garbage. Many of us get angry observing some politicians during those days worldwide.
Anger is a hostile emotion that sets people against one and another, or even against themselves. By its nature, anger involves opposition, hostility, hatred and dislike. Anger, however, is simpler to define than to identify. Emotions of antagonism can take a wider variety of faces. Expressions of anger range from the overt, in-your-face brand of open hostility to the cold indifference of a silent individual.
Anger at the workplace is becoming very common nowadays.
One of my good friends works as a stewardess. Imagine yourself 35,000 feet up, pushing a trolley down a narrow aisle surrounded by restless passengers. A toddler is blocking your path, his parents not immediately visible. A passenger is irritated that he can no longer pay cash for an in-flight meal, another is demanding to be allowed past to use the toilet. And your job is to meet all of their needs with the same show of friendly willingness. For a cabin crew member, this is when emotional labor kicks in at work.
A term first coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, it’s the work we do to regulate our emotions to create “a publicly visible facial and bodily display within the workplace”.
At times, anger can be felt like an inner fire. It hits you in the gut. You see red and feel hot and maybe sweaty. Your stomach gives you problems, our blood pressure rises, and breathing rate increases. Not only neighbors or politicians are the reason for anger. The silent withdrawal and lack of understanding and innumerable shortcomings of a partner or in the family are often an indication that one is angrily punishing the other for not doing things his or her way.
Back to the workplace: unhelpful attitudes such as ‘I’m not good enough’ may lead to thinking patterns in the workplace such as ‘No-one else is working as hard as I seem to be’ or ‘I must do a perfect job’, and can initiate and maintain high levels of workplace anxiety.
When research into emotional labor first began, it focused on the service industry with the underlying presumption that the more client or customer interaction you had, the more emotional labor was needed.
However, more recently psychologists have expanded their focus to other professions and found burnout can relate more closely to how employees manage their emotions during interactions, rather than the volume of interactions themselves. Perhaps just only today you turned to a colleague to convey interest in what they said, or had to work hard not to rise to criticism. It may have been that biting your lip rather than expressing feeling hurt was particularly demanding of your inner resource.
But in some cases maintaining the façade can become too much, and the toll is cumulative.
As I stated earlier: Minor things could become the start of anger. Over the years, handling the stress caused by suppressing one’s emotions became much harder. Small things seemed huge, we easily dreaded going to work and anxiety escalated.
Across the globe, employees in many professions are expected to embrace a work culture that requires the outward display of particular emotions – these can include ambition, aggression and a hunger for success.
The way we handle emotional labor can be categorized in two ways – surface acting and deep acting.
“How we cope with high levels of emotional labour likely has its origins in childhood experience, which shapes the attitudes we develop about ourselves, others and the world,” says clinical and occupational psychologist Lucy Leonard.
Workers are often expected to provide good service to people expressing anger or anxiety – and may have to do this while feeling frustrated, worried or offended themselves.
Take the example of a particularly tough phone call. If you are surface acting you respond to the caller by altering your outward expression, saying the appropriate things, listening while keeping your actual feelings entirely intact. With deep acting you make a deliberate effort to change your real feelings to tap in to what the person is saying – you may not agree with the manner of it but appreciate the aim.
Both could be thought of as just being polite but the latter approach – trying to emotionally connect with another person’s point of view – is associated with a lower risk of burnout. Good thing: many offices over the last decade have created recreational or rest spaces in a bid to mitigate employee stress.
When things get tough, you might be very lucky talking to colleagues to unload. “It’s the saying it out loud that allows me to test and validate my own reaction. I can then go back to the person concerned,” one of my former officemates in Germany explained many years ago.
Those who report regularly having to display emotions at work that conflict with their own feelings are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion
Remaining true to your feelings appears to be key – numerous studies show those who report regularly having to display emotions at work that conflict with their own feelings are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion.
Of course, everybody needs to be professional at work and handling difficult clients and colleagues is often just part of the job. But what’s clear is that putting yourself in their shoes and trying to understand their position is ultimately of greater benefit to your own well-being than voicing sentiments that, deep down, you don’t believe.
Where it is possible, workers should be truly empathetic, be aware of the impact the interaction is having on them and try to communicate in an authentic way. Easy to say, yes, I know. But let’s give it a try!
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