How Your Temper Is Killing Your Career

Some of the smartest executives have learned to control their anger by calling a timeout.

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Michael Wade
Since most organizations favor peace over justice, one of the worst things you can do for your career is to lose your temper. You may have solid reasons for your anger, but "excessive displays" of emotion—even pleasant ones such as happiness—are deemed unprofessional in many workplaces. Skeptics may regard this as a preference for the robotic over the human, but it is nonetheless real.

Identify the behavior that may spark your anger and prepare a filter. Few comments merit an immediate response. Abusive or sarcastic remarks often deserve none at all. Knowing how to buy some cooling off or thinking time is an important talent. One attorney's favorite technique was to take off his eyeglasses, calmly inspect them, and then slowly clean the lenses with his tie while trying to figure out his response. An executive I knew used to call a quick recess to meetings whenever he felt his anger was about to show. Both knew that the side that gets angry usually loses.

It pays to be particularly careful when writing E-mail messages. Although you may be tempted to hammer out a hasty reply, this is precisely the moment when delay and deliberation are desirable. Angry messages are saved and forwarded around the organization and please only the gossip-mongers. Even the readers who sympathize with your position may regard the response as unprofessional.

It is human to get angry. Showing anger, however, is a very different thing. The choice often comes down to this: Restrain your temper and win, or unleash your temper and lose.

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting, he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.