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Help me stop being mean.
September 12, 2012 8:17 AM   Subscribe

I am unnecessarily and randomly critical of people. It is worse when I am stressed. This impacts my friendships, home life, and work. I need to stop.

My mother's side of the family is not for the thin-skinned. My mother, my aunts, my grandmother and my cousins (and needless to say myself), are constantly criticizing each other. It's mean and it hurts. I can't remember a get-together growing up where no one cried.

Cut to today where I get frustrated with coworkers and get "emotional" (read: snippy, snarky, rude). Yeah, so he lost the 25-foot dvi-hdmi cable I bought for the video conference system and then tried to act like it never existed. It was probably not good manners to find the invoice with his name on the shipping label and call him a liar. Or yell at him over the phone for losing it. Even though we have a really important video conference first thing in the morning.

This is something that comes up during my yearly reviews. It is known around the office that I am quick to anger and that I should be avoided if stressed. I don't want to be like this. Are there any books, meditations, exercises, therapy that you would suggest?
posted by domo to Human Relations (34 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
The difference between a personality feature and a problem is that problems interfere with living your life.

I know mefi loves to suggest therapy although I feel it is often impractical. However:

This is exactly what therapy is for. You have a trait about yourself that you can recognize but not control, to the extent that it frequently enters your work place.
posted by French Fry at 8:27 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


1. Identify when you're about to do this.
2. Count to ten. If you still feel like doing this, count to twenty. Or one hundred.
3. Address the situation and not the person. Focus on what the goal of any conversation is. Is it to insult or otherwise make someone feel bad, then don't have the conversation. If the conversation is about anything else, frame that conversation around accomplishing the goal without rancor or insults.
4. Repeat as necessary.
posted by xingcat at 8:27 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Are you looking for ways to reduce your overall stress or ways to hold your tongue when stressed?
posted by bq at 8:28 AM on September 12, 2012


When you feel yourself about to get snippy, take a breath. When you're getting snippy, don't be afraid to backtrack. Remember, it's not about being right, it's about solving the problem. Yelling doesn't solve the problem, and in fact creates more problems (as you can see).

"Goddammit, Steve, the fucking cable was in the-- wait. Hold on a second. (deep breath) I'm sorry. I'm trying not to do that. Okay, I'm pretty sure the cable was in the AV closet. Did you look there?"

People can be awfully generous when you're admitting you have a problem and are visibly trying to correct it.
posted by Etrigan at 8:29 AM on September 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


bq, my job is stressful, though I love it. I'd like to not have that side of me come out so much. For instance, my mother came to stay with me for two weeks. She is diabetic and one of the purposes of this visit was for me to cook healthy foods for her to see if she could incorporate any of them into her diet. Her reasoning for not eating healthily is that she doesn't know any recipes, so she eats the same things over and over again and they are high in salt and processed carbs. She never finished a single meal. She would pick at it then order delivery while I was at work. I took her to the grocery store to see if I could make anything she would like. She just shrugged and said she didn't know whenever I asked her a question. I yelled at her in the grocery store, in front of people, for a few minutes. We went home and had ice cream.
How does a normal person act in that situation?
posted by domo at 8:42 AM on September 12, 2012


It doesn't matter how a normal person would respond, since you're not a normal person right now. Your problems with anger management have led to people responding to you in a particular way: the guy at work probably didn't want to get sniped at, so lied about the cord, and your mom probably didn't want you to insult her/mad at her, so got passive at the grocery store.

I think once you start thinking of these situations as defensive responses to your earlier reactions you'll see that now your focus isn't on being normal... it's on recovering the kind of trust that faciliates a working environment(as a colleague I trust you to respect my professionalism and not yell at me), or a home (as a sick relative I trust you to sympathize with my journey towards accepting a chronic illness).

I really found Mindfulness in Plain English a really helpful book for meditation.
posted by spunweb at 8:51 AM on September 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


Try journaling! Repeatedly, for a long time! Access the memories of your childhood - where did you learn to be snippy? What was your family dynamic? How did you feel as a kid when you saw your family be mean to each other? Why did you develop this entrenched habit? (I mean, it's seldom just a matter of "copying" - the behavior we copy has to have some usefulness or emotional allure.) When you have an instance of being mean and snappish, write it down and try to work out what it brings up for you.

Journaling gets more productive over time - if the first few times it seems difficult, keep going.

Also, are you apologizing to people when you yell? If you're not, start. I know that this can be difficult at work, but it will help you manage your temper and your relationships. I fell like at work there's a lot of pressure on everyone not to acknowledge real human stuff - anger, rudeness, failure. We're just supposed to "let bygones be bygones", sweep it under the table, maybe gossip about stuff. But you might find it helpful to apologize sincerely to the guy with the cable - tell him that you're sorry, it was inappropriate to get angry the way you did, and that you would like to work with him in the future to make things run smoothly.
posted by Frowner at 8:57 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding your mother's health, I think that this is precisely how one acts when one is sick. I speak from experience, since nothing seems to bring out the jerk in me like people who love me trying to improve my life for the better. Cancer-aware yoga? Nuh-uh, motherf****ers!
I had to grow aware of the fact that I felt like people who were trying to help me didn't realize how desperately I was clinging to the idea that things would return to normal. I really did not want to change, because that would mean acknowledging that cancer was a permanent part of my life. Your mom might be mourning her old life, mourning the fact that she doesn't get to eat the things that make her life seem like it's going along, well under her control. Add to that, so many of the things that she has enjoyed are now implicated in making her sick. There is probably this judgmental chorus going in her head, saying "The things that make you happy are disgusting and will kill you and everyone else knows better than to eat like you!" It's hard, especially when all you want to cheer yourself up is a little ice cream.
The answer? Let go, let her find her way, and in all cases, forgive forgive forgive. Especially yourself, especially when you can't find the damn cord. Forgive.
posted by pickypicky at 9:03 AM on September 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


The examples you cite seem to be of other people being completely unreasonable, of situations where any putative "normal" person, call him "Joe Normal", would be tempted to yell.

In the grocery store, Joe Normal would avoid yelling or arguing in public at all costs.

As for the video cable, Joe Normal might have found the documentation proving the guy lost the cable. He probably would not outright call the guy a liar, since this is amply implied by the documentation, and over the phone he would probably not yell.

I don't know how Joe Functional would solve the first problem, which most urgently is one of getting a video cable. That would depend on the logistics of where the suppliers are and when they open and what other equipment is in the office and so on.

I don't know how Joe Functional would solve the second problem. If it's a problem of someone being impossible, then it would most likely be a matter of stating your case: "Mom, you came here so we could figure out ways for you to eat healthily, but you don't seem to want to do it. What can I do to make this work for you?" If you kept getting "I don't know" answers it would be a matter of having the serenity to let Mom go to hell her own way, though I agree that it's a most vexing situation as you tell it.

Both problems, as you describe them, sound like they don't really have solutions. For the first problem, I suspect that's not the case for the practical aspect. The problem of having a coworker who is uncooperative is another problem, though most simplistically, he may have been lying because he knew you would yell about the lost cable.

Your mom may also have been saying "I don't know" because she wanted to avoid fighting in public, but it's hard to tell especially from what you've said about it.

Really what keeps coming to my eye is your presentation of these problems as having no visible solutions, and of being caused by other people's wilfulness. The yelling seems to be coming out when you think you have no power to influence the situation any other way, or any way. That probably isn't true.

But yeah... this actually *is* what therapy is for.
posted by tel3path at 9:03 AM on September 12, 2012


This is my opinion, I've had similar problems. My father was prone to getting really angry when I was a kid, so I think that to some extent I saw that as a normal method of conflict resolution. If not normal, at least go-to. The outside voice became the inside voice. This, in turn, gets taken out on other people.

First of all, you're not going to change your family. For me this has been the area with by far the slowest amount of progress on my part. They don't push your buttons, as they say, rather, they installed the switchboard. In other words, don't look for immediate results from your mom. Diabetes is a tough disease. Getting older people to control their eating is extremely tough. They don't want to join groups, they don't want to change the way they eat, sometimes it's almost like they don't want to get better. But you can improve things at work pretty easily.

Second of all, getting along with people is a big deal. Even the ones that are underperforming. It's part of growing up, some might say it's part of growing wise. Nobody's going to come out of the forest one day and say, domo, you were right all those times, congratulations, you were right to get upset. You were perfect and everyone else made mistakes. Here's your reward. Doesn't happen.

I had an extremely stressful job once, and i was very good at what I did. I crucified everyone around me that made mistakes, mostly behind their backs. In retrospect, I wasn't acting that differently than anyone around me, but the experience did make me very unhappy. If it was up to me, in hindsight, I would've tried to be a better person. Getting results out of people through terror and anger is pretty short-sighted.

One phrase that helped me out a lot was "getting angry is a decision." If you find yourself in situations where getting angry is absolutely warranted and seemingly inevitable, where someone else is absolutely wrong and you are right, remember that your anger is a decision. There is no circumstance in life that *necessitates* anger; even the obvious ones.

Another great phrase (borrowed from Cesar Milan) is that aggression does not equal dominance - in other words, people that are really mean to their dogs don't have really great, obedient dogs. People that get visibly angry over lots of stuff are not in control. Clearly yelling at your mother in the supermarket doesn't change the way she acts. Aggression typically compounds the problem, causing other people to say things to placate you or to lie to avoid repercussions.

So all in all, the way you get to not being an angry person is to stop acting angry. At work maybe you could buy your co-workers some donuts at the end of the week. Maybe find an email list online that sends you a positive idea to focus on every day. It's going to be a little tough because people might expect you to be the old you. The key is to not half-ass it. You can fake it, but don't half-ass it - don't become the person that threatens to lose it, so that your anger looms over all your instances of kindness.
posted by phaedon at 9:18 AM on September 12, 2012 [16 favorites]


How does a normal person act in that situation?

Not yelling. Yelling should be reserved for situations where someone's safety is in immediate danger. "Don't drink that acid!" or "Look out for that bus!" Doing it at other times might feel like you're emphasizing how important something is, but all you're really doing is forcing someone to escalate their own response or retreat into their defenses. This is especially the case when you're a Known Yeller -- and it makes people not want to interact with you at all for fear of being yelled at.

So take a breath, form your next sentence in your mind, and say it calmly. Listen to the other person's response, then take a breath and form your next sentence in your mind. Repeat as necessary. Be prepared for people to remain unconvinced. It happens.
posted by Etrigan at 9:21 AM on September 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


There are classes available that teach strategies for dealing with this. Otherwise, learn to shut up. Use email to communicate. This will leave an exact copy of what you said and also gives you an option to think about it. Many of my replies to MeFi are written out and then read to be edited or simply deleted if I decide it is not constructive.

It is also important in a work environment to solve the issue or problem and by getting angry and creating additional personal problems, the issue gets lost. This is inefficient and wastes company time. With your coworker's issue of losing the cable, the problem becomes either finding it or replacing it ASAP. By creating a personal issue out of it, you are the bad worker who is wasting company resources. It creates an unhealthy work environment and people waste unnecessary time trying to resolve these new problems.
posted by JJ86 at 9:21 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is kind of related to what tel3path is saying: Stop gossiping/amping yourself up about the situation. The story you're telling yourself sounds like one where your anger is justified, which then justifies your response. If that's the case, it's disingenuous to say that you want to STOP being angry/responding that way, because to me it sounds like you feel like you were right on some level.

I think getting away from telling that story (where your coworker is a LIAR!!!! and you have a meeting!!! or where your mother is a LIAR!!!! who sneaks food that's bad for her!!! and refuses your help!!!) might help. At least for me, I got a lot less angry in the moment when I stopped telling other people stories where that anger was kind of preemptively justified, and when I stopped re-telling that story to myself. Part of the satisfaction of a good bout of justified, righteous anger for me was that it introduced intense emotionalism to otherwise really mundane stories. This isn't to say that you shouldn't feel things, deeply. But the story I was telling myself with my anger was one where everyday was filled really intense highs and lows, and crescendos where I got to feel totally right.

Changing this personal mythology is actually really difficult to do, since often other people love hearing those kinds of stories, because sometimes they're about doing the things they wish they could do when they themselves are angry, but can't/won't. It's really worth it though. I'm less cruel, less of a bully, and a lot happier.
posted by spunweb at 9:29 AM on September 12, 2012 [21 favorites]


I recommend Buddhist meditation, but I don't think you're ready for it.

1. Before you lose your cool, count to 5. Ten is too long.
2. Ask yourself, "does this really matter?"
3. If it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, keep your mouth shut and move on. Seriously.
4. If it does matter, use the next five seconds to figure out how to react constructively and without heat.
5. If you don't come up with a way to react without yelling or being mean, just move on and think about how you'd handle it in the future. Rarely do you have to respond to every situation.

If you lose your cool, snap your wrist with a rubber band. A thick one.

If you get through a day without snapping, then start thinking about meditation. Baby steps.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:30 AM on September 12, 2012


I would like to emphasize that you may in fact have been right in the examples you give above, but that doesn't matter. Also, it's statistically unlikely that you're completely in the right all the time.

It might help to have a catchphrase or slogan you can use when you're about to start yelling. You might want to say silently to yourself, "We're not a blame culture".

"We're not a blame culture" is something that someone said to me in a new workplace when I must have been visibly terrified of having made a mistake. I had spent a lot of time being terrorized and screamed at for even the tiniest mistake (example: for a Christmas gift, my boss yelled at me for 45 minutes and threatened to fire me on Christmas Eve, leaving me to spend Christmas in a state of anxiety. I can't remember what the mistake was now, but it was very very tiny and probably someone else's mistake). The idea that there might be work cultures where I could rely upon people not treating me like that was literally *startling*. So if anyone has ever said something that had a similar startling effect on you, maybe you could use that phrase.
posted by tel3path at 9:36 AM on September 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


I have a few rules for human interaction that work very well to prevent me losing my temper and saying or doing very hurtful things.

#1. No yelling. Yelling is only for when someone is on fire, immediate danger, or too far away to hear.

#2. I am not important to anyone. It sounds a little harsh, but it's true. Most of the humans I interact with on a daily basis couldn't care a fig for me. I'm a total stranger and will remain a stranger to 90% of those people.

#3. Try to imagine why they did what they did. And no. Being an asshole is not a valid answer, see rule #2. In most situations, most people are not doing something to screw with you. Your mom is not eating food you prepare to piss you off, she's doing it because she's terrified of change and asserting her control over this one thing is all she feels like she has left. Once you can understand why they did it, it helps to make the rage fade because you can see yourself making a similar decision.

#4 Any engagment where one of the above rules is broken is one you automatically lose. In fact, further expansion of this is deciding that there is no winning. Human interaction is not a game to be won or lost. By treating it as something that you have to win, you totally and completely lose.
posted by teleri025 at 9:54 AM on September 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


You need to pause and think about what the problem is and what reaction you could give that would solve the problem. A large part of this is accepting that there are problems you will encounter that you can't fix. Like your mother's food choices, there's nothing you can say, no dance you can do, that is going to solve that. So you let it go.

All of the scenarios you gave would drive me batty, but I wouldn't yell because what would that accomplish? It would just upset everyone involved (including you) and make the situation worse. So why do it?

It takes a lot of work to get over these ingrained behaviours. Write it down every time you have an episode, along with journalling, meditating, and all the other suggestions will help enforce in the moment to not yell or lose control. A therapist is like a personal trainer, they can help encourage and customize the training to you, as well as uncover all the family dynamics that helped create this. (Things kept buried and not investigated tend to fester.)

I'm currently trying to fix some very deeply ingrained habits of my own, it's very hard! I'm viewing it as a long term goal, as in years. You need to so desperately want to change to stick to it that long, but it is possible. Best of luck.
posted by Dynex at 9:55 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Absolutely number one: Don't make excuses for your behavior. I think this is the main thing. If you find yourself starting to be a shithead to others, stop. At first you'll be a bit too late, gradually you'll catch yourself earlier and earlier and then you'll start to recognize when the rage is bubbling up and is misplaced.

This is not about surpressing your anger, this is about controlling irrational responses.
Yeah, so he lost the 25-foot dvi-hdmi cable I bought for the video conference system and then tried to act like it never existed
Think for a moment. Why do you think he didn't own up to his mistake? Most likely, he isn't out to get the business or you. Do this type of thinking *before* you blow up.
But you might find it helpful to apologize sincerely to the guy with the cable -
As a specific matter, yes… but this should *not* be considered an "out" for being nasty. The same as your family history -- it explains things, but does not excuse them. The only thing more frustrating than an angry boss, is an angry boss who thinks they can be shitheads one moment and lovey dovey the next. It's confusing and annoying. Deal with the issue, don't make it up after the fact.

I had issues similar to yours, but they were more subtle. I found the mental discipline I described at the top worked extremely well. I found journaling and talk... not useful. I knw why I did it, for the most part, but that didn't stop me from doing it.

Often people are expecting that there is some magic trick -- 6 months of therapy and you're cured(!). But it really comes down to training yourself out of a behavior. As a human being you have a remarkable ability to gain control of your responses -- buckle down and use it. Count to 10 or whatever -- take responsibility.
posted by smidgen at 10:10 AM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


A lot of it is just being so unforgiving of failure. Yes, the other party set me off, but that isn't an excuse for being rude, as most of you pointed out. I also am very critical of myself, which can cause me to blow up. I had a problem that I couldn't solve with the video conferencing system. It lasted for almost a year. The units would just reboot in the middle of a conference for no reason. One of my coworkers who also supports video conferences asked me offhandedly if the video conference system had been fixed yet. He wasn't being snarky, but I took it that way and yelled, "No, I'm still working on it. I will let you know when it is fixed." If I had said the same statement calmly, it would not have been a problem, but he looked like a deer in headlights. We used to have an ok working relationship, now every time we work together it's like walking on glass.
posted by domo at 10:16 AM on September 12, 2012


I have a technique I use whenever someone screws up and my immediate reaction is "ARE YOU AN IDIOT? how did you lose the HDMI cable/miss the meeting/lose the only key we have/etc." The technique is to not immediately blame someone, but to accept the new state of things as the new "normal." So instead of saying "YOU DID WHAT?!" I say "That's OK. Alright. We still need to figure out a way to project our slides to the whiteboard/get the meeting notes/figure out a way to get into the apartment. What can we do?" This works because now the person can work with you on finding a solution instead of being defensive. This also prevents you from getting too angry (yelling makes the yeller even angrier!!) and puts you in problem-solving mode. Later when the whole situation is over, if the person has a tendency to repeat their mistakes, then you can talk to them about how to avoid that in the future. But in the middle of it all, when you are about to get angry, there is no good in yelling at someone, that will not fix your problem.

The situation with your mother is a little more difficult, but I suppose trying the same approach might work, or at least lead to a conversation: "Well ice cream for dinner was delicious, lol. Alright. But for tomorrow, what do you think we should make for dinner that we would both like?" Instead of saying "YOU need to eat healthier, and I will cook you this because YOU have to eat this." Talk about what she might want to eat beforehand, instead of at the grocery store where she might feel overwhelmed and too pressured to make a decision.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 10:23 AM on September 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Well, I also learned how to be mean by example from an early age. I think I have mostly cured myself of it now. I remember a few moments of self-realization when I said something and then later realized, hey, that was totally inappropriate. I'm not supposed to be mean to people or say mean things about them just because I can.

What I do instead now is: say nothing. I learned from 'Bambi' - if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. I don't know if this is an actual technique or not, but I know that if it is something important that I need to address I can always do it in 15 or 20 minutes when I am calmer.

If I could do this every time I was angry my life would be easier.....
posted by bq at 10:24 AM on September 12, 2012


1. People hate being yelled at. They grow to hate the person yelling at them. They will lie to the yeller, ignore the yeller, cut the yeller out of any situation where they are not essential. Anything to keep the yeller from yelling.

2. No one can make you feel anything. They can't. They can be shitty, awful, petty little biters but they are not in control of your emotions. You are.

I have an epic temper but I don't yell at work or my wife or anyone for the last 6-7 years because of accepting the above. I want people to include me and tell me the truth and help me get shit done: So I don't yell. I want to be happy: so I don't let people ruin my day.

You are doing a lot of "justice" yelling. I did this as well. Because there was a lot of yelling when I was a kid. It was a way to 'fix' things. It's not. It never is. Yelling is for emergencies and rock concerts only.
posted by French Fry at 10:31 AM on September 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


I also am very critical of myself, which can cause me to blow up.
Very similar for me, although the tantrums were not directed at anyone (they still scared people). This seems horrible, adding yet another thing to be critical about, but it worked for me to turn that voice against itself. Remind yourself that 3 year olds have tantrums, adults do not (or aren't supposed to) :-)

But again, watch out. Re-read your comment. You're making your anger into a *positive* feature, like those tricks for handling interview questions ("my greatest fault is that I'm too self critical"). It really isn't.
posted by smidgen at 10:34 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Self-criticism is not a feature. Being realistic about oneself is not self-criticism. Criticism of any kind very rarely leads to problem solving. Self-criticism is like living with someone who hates you and will never leave you alone. I'd like to stop criticizing myself and others and start solving problems.
posted by domo at 10:39 AM on September 12, 2012


Long shot, but Al-anon has provided me with a lot of "hacks" to disable this sort of thing. Here's their questionnaire, in case anything resonates.

I strongly believe you don't have to have been raised by an addict/alcoholic to have these things still pop up- a rage-y, sarcastic, or generally unforgiving parent can instill it just fine.

I am a lot more peaceful now, and people aren't afraid of me anymore. Because of that, I have better, closer relationships, too, because people trust me not to be so judgmental, not that all of it disappeared or anything, but I'm WAY better. Al-anon has been pretty awesome for me.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:12 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Try to start noticing the self-criticism. Take a week or two and just notice, without trying to change it, how often it comes up, what form it takes, what triggers it, etc.

Take the next week and try to engage the self-criticism with kindness. If your anxiety is saying, "I'm such an idiot!" maybe internally respond with "It's an easy mistake to fix, it'll be ok." Imagine this new internal response voice as an ideal parent, one who never lies to you but also makes sure to reinforce your confidence and competence.

Over time, work on edging out the nasty voice with the kind voice.

If at any time during this process you start internally shouting down the self-critic with another equally nasty voice, take a breath and find the kind parent voice. You can't stop self-criticism by heaping on more self-criticism.

When you start to get comfortable doing this for yourself, start practicing with your interactions with others. It'll probably require going back to the first step -- noticing when you're being critical (sounds like you're there already) -- then learning to stop yourself mid-stream and access the constructive kind parent part of you.

It might also be helpful to change your self-identification from "I'm a mean critical person" to "I'm working on being more constructive and supportive."
posted by jaguar at 11:18 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


When you are emotional, you are not operating via rational thought but through knee-jerk reaction. Your knee-jerk reaction involves yelling. You've done it for years, it's obviously works reasonably well in your life. You are going to keep going back to that. So you need to get some experience with things working even better when you handle frustration and conflict more productively, so that your brain will start going, "Whoa, this is way better! Let's do this!" And to get yourself to respond differently, you're going to have to "program" in a new reflexive response you can access without having to think really really hard in an emotional moment. Which means you need to practice!

If you can think of a commonly-occurring scenario that sets you off, or something coming up that you suspect will be frustrating, think of what a better response would be than your usual response. (Hashing it out with a friend a bit may help, as do many of the suggestions above about how to handle the video cable and mom issues.) Then imagine the situation. Have the conversation in your head. Have it out loud with yourself. Make your usual hand gestures. And PRACTICE the response you would like to have. Practice it several times. Phrase it different ways. Try it until you think you've found a way that works.

Then, the next time you're in an anger situation, you've got a second go-to response that you can, if you can remember to count to five before yelling, deploy with relative confidence. The more often you keep your temper and use your calm response, the more natural and common it will get.

If you're taking a long time to respond, because you're trying to calm down before you do, and someone's like, "Did you hear me?" or "Are you still there?" a good response to practice is, "I'm trying to think of the right way to phrase this." (With close friends I'll sometimes say, "I'm trying to think of a way to say this that doesn't involved obscenities.") Practice that, or a similar, stalling tactic to give you a chance to get your bearings and take your time.

Another thing is that many people learn quite young that the only acceptable negative emotion is anger. It's especially common for men, who learn that showing sadness or regret or frustration or fear is "weak" while anger is perceived as strong. Both of your examples show a lot of frustration being expressed as anger. Another thing you can try is when you feel yourself getting angry (or when you've just had an angry outburst), try to identify what set off your anger -- frustration? Feeling disrespected? Fear of loss of face? (You can also be angry AND something else at the same time, but practice identifying the "something else.")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:03 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nobody can help you stop being mean. You have to stop yourself. You have to give yourself a giant virtual kick in the ass, read yourself the riot act, and decide once and for all that you don't like being the way you are and you want to change. If you are capable of change, and you want to change badly enough, you will change. If you don't have those two prerequisites, you won't change and you will be stuck with your mean self and other people will be stuck with you too. Most people are not able to make this kind of change. Will you be able to? Here's one way to think about it. You are a terrorist. An emotional terrorist. You try to control other people by manipulating them with your emotions and causing them to fear you and your reactions and your comments. You are a terrorist, and you will be a lonely and unloved terrorist. Do you want to be a terrorist?
posted by Dansaman at 1:09 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank you everyone. I think I am going to get started by trying to go a week without an "incident" and go from there. I will also make a cutesy cross-stitch for my office that says "We Can Fix This!" with adorable wrenches and bolts and look at it whenever something goes wrong. I will try keeping a journal as well, but I am quite lazy. We'll see how next week goes.
posted by domo at 1:44 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Take a deep breath before responding, and then take another one, and then another one. If they are waiting in silence for you to respond, good: if they did something wrong, they probably know it, and they'll be dreading you opening your mouth anyway, might as well make them suffer, and if they didn't do something wrong, hopefully those deep breaths will help you realize you're in the wrong before you open your mouth.

Also keep "I'm sorry, I shouldn't be yelling about this" as a stock phrase for any circumstance in which you find yourself yelling, because yelling is never going to be appropriate in a workplace, ever, so even if you're totally right and they're totally wrong (like this cable guy) you should be apologizing. It will never be an inappropriate apology.
posted by davejay at 3:40 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think many children (definitely myself included) were taught that it's important to be right, whatever that means, and that most situations are a zero-sum game. But part of being a mature adult is realizing that sometimes, the most important thing is to solve the problem, not who's fault something is.

Ultimately, "How do we fix this?" is usually a much better response than "Who's fault is this?" And really, some things can't be fixed, and some people won't let themselves be "fixed" according to your definition.Then just let them go.
posted by ethidda at 4:20 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


It must be really hard to write this question, and I think it says a lot that you want to make this change.

Beyond regret, what are your feelings about anger? Imagine a situation that would make you furious. Let yourself really get into imagining this. Then imagine *not* yelling. Bad situation is happening, it's clearly someone else's fault, and you are furious ... but imagine that you don't yell. What comes up for you? Can you identify what you believe are the consequences of *not* yelling?

That sort of thought experiment has helped me figure out what I was trying to accomplish with various types of behavior. You might want to try it a few times. You might find something surprising.

Is there anyone you know - or even a movie character - who handles conflict in a way that you really admire? It might be worthwhile to watch them in action, think about the techniques you want to borrow, and imagine yourself using them. Have you ever handled anger in a way that you are proud of? It might be good to recall those times and write them down somewhere.

I think therapy was mentioned upthread - yup, it was. Therapy! Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 5:14 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Suggestions above that I like a lot:
1. Work on your internal stories / monologue.
2. Think about what the next step is, not what the last failure was. Now that the cable is missing, what do we do? Can we get a new one in time? Can we send someone to Best Buy? Is there time to allow this person to look for it? You are getting very wound up in how this issue was Someone Else's Fault, and you can prove it, and you won't take the blame... but if you redirect your focus from "who caused this failure?" to "how can we fix this unavoidable circumstance that's come up?" you'll be better off.

Two additional things that I do.
3. Change your attitude about problems. I do some work in industrial engineering, and for us the thought of blaming something on human error is ridiculous. Human error is considered inevitable. It's a good thing to find the reason there was a failure, to try and fix it in the future. But the reason is not "this guy sucks". Even if the guy really DOES suck, getting him to admit that won't fix your problem. You still need to deal with him, and he will still be his losing-stuff self. So you and he together need to find a solution (set up earlier, have a specific location to keep parts for specific projects, get all the parts together a day ahead of time, etc).

4. When you notice that you're going on an angry rant, or yelling, stop. Even if you're mid-sentence or in the middle of a thought, if you can't pause and moderate your tone, just stop talking. Close your mouth. Maybe take a breath or two, try to get yourself into a more helpful mood. Then apologize, and say, "What can we do to fix this?"
posted by Lady Li at 12:23 AM on September 13, 2012


I struggle with this too. This past year, it's been improving. Here are some of the things I've been learning.

Getting worked up is a waste of my time and their time and it reduces the quality of my life. Yelling at your coworker and calling him a liar means that you're in a fight and you're angrier than you were before and the video problem still isn't any closer to being solved.

Coming down hard on failure is working against me. I want my coworker to help me solve the problem. Now they don't even want to talk to me, and certainly not about that issue.

Taking the high road is really challenging and effective. I've often felt that I come down hard on failure because it's a virtue to be a Zero Tolerance, High Standards kind of person. I'm coming to see that as the easy way out. It's easy to be the one yelling and stomping their foot. It's difficult to take a breath and push past those emotions to get to work on the problem without getting my petty little jabs in. Are you up to the challenge of taking the high road? I think you are.

Assume the best of people in every conversation, no matter your experience with them in the past. In fact, find a way to compliment them if you possibly can. It sounds naïve, but it actually creates the possibility for them to work with you rather than needing to be on the defensive. Give them a chance to impress you, and they just might. Freak out at them, and they probably won't. Find a way to approach them as an ally. Initially, this feels like letting them off the hook. It's actually not about that at all, because it's not your job to punish every misstep, it's your job to get the video working.

Often, I am not able to be positive like this this right away. I run into situations that make me angry and I'm not able to speak calmly about them. So I wait. The next day, or the next week, I'm able to have a much more productive conversation. I find that I make different decisions if I wait, and they're better decisions.

Sometimes it's not possible to wait, like when you need the video system to work at 9am tomorrow. In that case it can be useful to say that: "Hi Joe, how are you doing? Listen, I'm pretty stressed about how we're going to get the video working for the meeting tomorrow morning, so I apologize if I'm kind of snippy… do you have any ideas for how we can get this done?"

If he lies about the existence of the cable and instead of coming down on him, you say, "Huh. I have a receipt here from when I bought it, but maybe it's gone missing. In any case, how can we get the video working for the meeting? Any ideas? Mr. X will be here at 8:30 tomorrow and will need to have it working." Basically, skip all of the recriminations and defensiveness and constantly redirect to solving the problem together. (On preview, exactly like Lady Li's #2.) But once you become good at this, he probably won't feel the need to lie because you're not backing him into a corner.

Finally, if you're coming home and ranting about work, that's not helping. When things are particularly stressful for me at work, I ask my partner to time me when I talk about it at home. I get 15 minutes, and after that I'm not allowed to talk about work. It gives me my evenings back, I get to relax, and I come to work less angry because I haven't spent the previous evening getting myself worked up. Then work starts magically calming down because I'm able to respond more calmly.

I've also found Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong to be immensely helpful. It helped me to become more gentle with myself and with other people in the face of potential disasters.
posted by heatherann at 9:40 PM on September 13, 2012


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