Seeing Red at Work and on the Road? Here’s How to Curb Your Rage
Co-authored by Stephen Huffaker.
During a recent Self-Leadership Lunch and Learn session that I held for MACNY, the group and I discussed The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The Four Agreements is all about learning to recognize and overcome the internal issues that limit us. I asked each participant to identify a bad habit that they wanted to eliminate. I expected to hear things like ‘stop scrolling Facebook’ or ‘get better at setting goals’. What I didn’t expect to hear from multiple participants was ‘eliminate road rage’ and ‘stop impulsively reacting with anger in the workplace’.
As the group’s responses demonstrate, anger management is a common struggle. Statistics show that road rage is a particularly frequent source of anger. In 2019, 82% of people admitted to committing an act of road rage in the past year, and there has been a 500% increase in reported road rage incidents in the last 10 years.
You might not think that road rage and workplace anger have much in common, but there are significant parallels:
- Our anger is caused by another person’s perceived error.
- We take another person’s actions to be inconvenient or disrespectful to us, intentionally or unintentionally.
- Our anger leads to increased stress, difficulty focusing, and poor decision making, which in turn, can cause more problems.
- Our anger makes the people around us uncomfortable and negatively impacts our relationships.
Given these parallels, we can use similar strategies to recognize and manage road rage and workplace anger. Anger management is an important skill that can significantly improve your quality of life, on the road, in the workplace, and in any other situation where you struggle to control your temper. Increased stress can cause a variety of health problems that negatively affect quality of life. Improving your anger management skills can benefit both your health and your relationships.
Keep reading to learn how to avoid seeing red and maintaining car contentment and office equilibrium.
Recognize that others’ behavior is outside of your control.
We hear this advice very often. The behavior of others is outside of our control, but we can control how much we allow the behavior of others to affect our emotions and mental state. This is mostly good advice, and it encourages a healthy level of accountability for our own feelings and behavior. However, it fails to recognize that the actions of others affect us in tangible ways. Another driver can break the rules of the road and collide with your car. A coworker can fail to complete their part of a project and force you to do extra work. In these examples, another person’s actions negatively alter your current situation. These consequences are outside of your control. However, what within your control is how much they affect you internally. No matter what another person does, the regulation of your emotions is entirely up to you.
I don’t consider myself a competitive person, but in these situations, I like to think that if another person’s action affects me negatively then I have ‘let them win’. In this case, the game is who gets to live a happier life. That’s not a game I want to lose. Never let someone else’s actions ruin your day.
Don’t take things personally (Agreement #2 from The Four Agreements).
Many defensive driving courses suggest that when another driver performs an unsafe or discourteous action, the healthiest response is to assume that it was unintentional. Consider all of the times you have performed the wrong action while driving. Did you do so as an intentional slight or attack, or was it an honest mistake? The same can be said of mistakes at work. Incompetence, while anger-provoking, isn’t usually malicious. While that doesn’t make it okay, recognizing this fact will help you respond in a healthier manner. When you do something wrong, you would probably prefer if others gave you the benefit of the doubt. In keeping with that logic, try to do the same for everyone else — if only for the sake of your own mental health.
I have come to treat instances like this, both on the road and with co-workers, knowing that karma will take care of it. If a person is driving too fast, eventually they’ll get pulled over. I don’t have to make it my problem. In the workplace, I remind myself that if this is the way a person operates, others will see it. I don’t have to revert to gossip, rage, or other self-destructive behaviors to get back at someone for wrongdoings.
Remember that anger is rarely beneficial.
Anger is a reflexive response to a perceived slight or inconvenience and it can feel good to indulge it. Emotional regulation requires energy, but expressing anger is instantly gratifying. However, while giving in to anger can feel good in the movement, it will only cause more problems. According to the New York State DMV, “Research indicates that being in a state of rage can affect your blood pressure and your ability to reason and make decisions.” Getting angry negatively affects our focus, making us worse drivers and less efficient workers. No matter how badly someone else has screwed you over, getting angry will not help. Remember that you’re staying calm for your own sake.
Practice Extreme Accountability.
In addition to The Four Agreements, I often rely on another tool when dealing with people and relationships: Extreme Accountability (recognizing your own contribution to all situations no matter how minute). This helps me recognize what I could have done or can do better next time to remedy the situation. In every situation, we have to understand that we get what we tolerate and that we have 3 options in any given situation: accept it, change it, or leave it. Oftentimes, people are not even mad at the person whose actions they find unacceptable, they’re mad that those in authority aren’t doing anything about it. This is one case where companies lose good people and then wonder why.
At the end of the day, whether on the road or in the office, inner peace is within your control with the right tools and mindset. The first step is deciding that you want it for yourself. The second step is setting goals and implementing new habits to counteract your instinctive reactions. The result is being a better role model to your kids in the back seat, your employees, and a better friend to yourself.
You can also sign up for the upcoming in-person workshop on Extreme Accountability happening September 28th, from 9:00–12:00 pm.