Having difficulty expressing my emotions – help!
January 15, 2012 4:47 PM   Subscribe

Is it ever okay to snap at someone?

I’m normally pretty quiet, like to please everybody all of the time, and let other people get things their way rather than argue for what’s best for me. Work has been very stressful lately, and lately I’ve been feeling like I’ve been getting the short end of the stick because I wasn’t asking for what I needed. I’ve been trying to express my needs better, but then I hate feeling needy, I start to question what I really need, and I feel like something is wrong with me because I nearly break out in tears throughout the day. And when I do try to tell people what I need, I don’t always express myself in a very productive way.

For example: Recently a coworker, who has been something of a mentor, and normally uber-helpful, was pressing me about when a large delivery, for which I am responsible, would be ready. This order was wanted at the last minute with very fast turn-around, in a period of time when I was already nearly at my breaking point with other large, important orders going out. I felt like he was really pressuring me, and I started going off like “It’s not that easy for me to…” , “I don’t have much help right now, so…” in a very angry, frustrated tone. I didn’t mean for it to come out that way, but since I trust this guy I guess I didn’t hold back like I might with the higher-ups. A similar thing happened several months ago with the same coworker, when his more-blaming-than-usual tone caught me off guard during a stressful time and I got defensive and kind of went off.

It’s difficult for me to judge just how I come across in these moments, since I really never respond in this way to anyone. I’ve always avoided conflict, since it makes me very uncomfortable. I’m normally pretty shy, so when I blow up, I imagine it’s somewhat surprising to the recipient. I feel like I should apologize, so we can return to better relations, but then I wonder if the main reason I want to apologize is just to quell my anxiety about the whole situation. Since I’m having trouble judging the severity of my behavior, I’m not sure whether it warrants an apology.

Ugh. At this point I’m not even sure what my question is. I guess I’m wondering – is it okay for me to act this way sometimes? And also – what’s a better way to respond to intense pressure (too much work, too little time, plus asshole boss) from people at work? I know exercising would help me immensely right now, but work has required long hours lately so I haven’t had much time for exercising.
posted by feidr2 to Human Relations (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 1) It's never okay to snap at someone. Understandable, of course, but not okay. In a personal sense it can be hurtful to people, in a professional sense it can be... unprofessional.

2) Apologising is great and deeply under-rated. Not a gushy, over-the-top, too-much, over-and-over apology, but a simple, "Hey Garry, sorry if I was rude the other day regarding those requests, I'm under so much pressure at the moment it's hard to keep it all in perspective, I'll be more measured in the future, thanks for your understanding."

Everyone loves an apology, and the negatives of giving an apology where it's not needed are very minor compared to not apologising when someone expects one. Apologise away, my friend! But - like pushing back (a totally reasonable thing to do) - keep it professional, keep it short, and keep it clear.

I apologise frequently in both work and personal life. If done properly, I think it's a sign of great strength and willingness to demonstrate empathy and investment in someone else.

PS Pushing back is fine, and different from snapping. A better response would be, "Hey Garry, I'm doing all I can to prioritise those orders, but I'm under a lot of pressure from my other clients, too. I promise I'll let you know as soon as I have an update, thanks very much." Then, ignore requests for updates for 24 hours or whatever you feel comfortable with.
posted by smoke at 5:00 PM on January 15, 2012 [20 favorites]

I don't think snapping like this is a major offense or anything, but apologising is still a good idea. The most important thing is to not grovel or make it into a big deal. Simply say "sorry if I snapped at you, I'm just really stressed with [thing X]." They'll understand, as long as they are reasonable and it's not a common occurrence; you're human just like the rest of us.
posted by forza at 5:04 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although if you find yourself snapping it's generally a good hint that you're not managing expectations in an ideal way. Your goal should be to push back on unreasonable demands before you hit the point about snapping about them. Again, not a huge deal, but if you monitor yourself then you can use your "nearness to snapping" as a useful indicator.
posted by forza at 5:06 PM on January 15, 2012 [8 favorites]

Snapping is something that needs to be apologized for, but they are also something that apologies need to be accepted for.

Everyone has bad days.
posted by empath at 5:14 PM on January 15, 2012 [11 favorites]

(as long as it's not something that happens frequently, of course.)
posted by empath at 5:16 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mentioning this in advance because it is my own bias; striking out
(comment, attitude, taking something out on coworker X or Y) in anger is just not appropriate. I would apologize but that's me. Onwards to your next comment, though, and this is from the perspective of working in very fast-paced environments in the past (and even now).

What’s a better way to respond to intense pressure (too much work, too little time, plus asshole boss) from people at work?

• Do let the person know that you have at least heard that they have a deadline that they would like to meet and you also view the project as important. Write down everything they tell you about it and prod them for more information (so it may help to ask them what the "drop dead deadline" is ...because they may be communicating their dream timelines. Do tell them that you have many other deadlines, feel theirs is important, and will discuss with your manager as to how you should prioritize.

• Discuss with your boss periodically (or someone higher up who decides the timelines) what should be the highest priority. Rather than letting them tell you stay therefor100000 hours to finish, mention that you have X hours today and can complete 2 deadlines. Which ones are the most important?

• Think about how you would like to be communicated with in your ideal world.For me it was email...but having people trample in and out with this fire and that fire did not work as well...you can tell others or first ask them to email you information and then meet with them so that you can collect your thoughts and be prepared for what will happen. Or modify it to how you prefer to communicate.

• Communicate a lot with other people. Let's say that they want you to throw up a webpage on 1/23 but they are supposed to give you content on 1/18. Write a friendly email at the end of your discussion , "I'm excited to work on this project. I have lots of other deadlines, but project X is really important. I have set aside time to meet this deadline:1/23, but please provide me with the content on 1/18 as we discussed or we may need to readjust the timeline. On 1/18 EOD email them and say, "I would love to do your project and have it done by day X, can you please provide me with the content?I may have to readjust the timeline."

• Do you have a good project manager or someone in charge of timelines.Some are great, some are not so great.If you are working with one that is good, share the timeline and readjustments with them. They may even check in for the things that you need to move things forward.

• One more small thing. Overtime this may work if ...you follow your word and meet your deadlines. If someone is desperate and the timeline is tight perhaps once or twice you can agree today X, but throw it to them a day early. Basically 1)build up the good will and 2) always meet your deadlines so they may not be happy to get it a day late but will trust you to have that extra day. One more small thing...do let people know that quality is very important and if you get close to the limit of what you can do in a day, "I could do 3 projects, but it would not be fair to clients A,B,C because quality would be compromised -- for that reason,only 2 can be done today."
posted by Wolfster at 5:25 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Personally, I prefer apologies that say "Sorry THAT I snapped at you..." vs "Sorry IF I snapped at you," and those are the kinds of apologies I give when I've done what you did, because Yes, it isn't okay and Yes, it's understandable and people know that. I don't think I've ever had anyone be a jerk after I've apologized for something of that kind, especially since snapping isn't something I do regularly.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:35 PM on January 15, 2012 [15 favorites]

Very, very, very occasionally, a good snapping can shake everyone up, especially if you're the quiet, reserved type. It still requires an apology (because yelling at someone is rarely helpful), but if someone is doing something that needs to stop IMMEDIATELY and refocus, it can be an effective tactic.

During a show I was directing this summer, a couple of the stagehands were trying to maneuver a (rather delicate) piece of set into place by kicking it really hard, and I lost my shit at them for about 10 seconds, since they wouldn't stop what they were doing when I said calmly, "Please don't kick the set, it'll break." When it finally started to break, I screamed, "STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING RIGHT NOW, BECAUSE IF THIS SET BREAKS, YOU'RE ALL GOING THE FUCK HOME!" It worked, the stagehands got really cowed (my assistant stage manager got pissed and yelled at me, but we made up) and my stage manager gave me a quiet round of applause. I went outside, cooled off, and then gathered the whole crew together to apologize. It was the immediate apology, I think, that gathered respect for the fact that I could a.) lose my temper (I never had before in front of anyone involved with the show) and b.) recognize and take immediate action on my own bad behavior.

Long winded, but I just think that occasionally, very rarely but occasionally, it's okay to snap, because it underscores how important things are, but it's not something you can employ at all frequently or in the wrong circumstance.
posted by xingcat at 5:50 PM on January 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I can understand wanting to accommodate everyone and be easygoing and nice, but some may take advantage of that. I guess you can ask them if they can do X, and when they say yes, you ask again, "So, you'll have X for me on Tuesday?"

What you need to do is speak up when you need to. I know it's hard, but it gets easier the more you do it. Others do it, and the world doesn't fall apart, right?

If someone's tugging at you, you should be able to hold up a finger and ask them to give you a few minutes, unless you're on fire or something.

I think you should say no when you need to, and express concerns as they come up.

You've already gotten some good answers and I'm sure you'll get many more.

What might be helpful is to roleplay some situations and good responses with a trusted friend. That way, it won't seem so alien when the time arises.

I've been in your shoes. I still wear them at times, in fact.
posted by SillyShepherd at 5:55 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

you've said clearly that you do a lot of people-pleasing rather than taking care of yourself at work. i would maintain that with this background it's going to be difficult for you to pull off a proper apology - you may come off as obsequious, which would suck, and would just give you one more thing to stuff down. i would skip the apology and do a full-court press on changing your behavior at work - assertiveness is the way to go -
posted by facetious at 6:00 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're being passive-aggressive. You need to start addressing problems as they happen, rather than waiting until you're at your boiling point and can't control your frustration very well.

I have this problem, and what works for me is to make sure to tell people at work or otherwise that I'm uncomfortable with the terms of a given a task (if I am) the moment it comes up. Otherwise the resentment/stress builds up and I get snappy.
posted by devymetal at 6:19 PM on January 15, 2012

It's never OK.

That said, all humans are fallible and it happens all the time. A simple apology is a good idea. In my experience, people can bond through these snapping/apology exchanges, though I'm not suggesting you go out of your way to snap at someone.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 6:22 PM on January 15, 2012

Snapping at others is never okay in my opinion either. That's why you have to be more direct in the future and more articulate when it comes to the words that you use and the tone that you use to convey meaning.

Apologize to this person, but do not make apologizing to this person a habit because it will lose it's meaning and will greatly affect the relationship's power dynamics. A simple apology will be best based on your relationship and what happened.

Don't be too hard on yourself because everyone has their social slip ups (or whatever you want to call it), just learn from this and avoid this in the future by being open about your feelings, needs, and wants regardless of who you are with.
posted by livinglearning at 6:56 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are times when terse aggressive words are required. Those are usually times when someone's life could be or is in danger.

This is very unlikely to happen in the course of normal events.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:00 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Snapping isn't okay, but as others have said - it happens. We're human, we get stressed out and sometimes we snap (ha!). In an intense situation pause and take a deep breath (or two) before answering. It's hard, but try to get into that habit.

They say to forgive is divine and I think apologizing is on the same level. And small_ruminant said what I would about your apology - "I'm sorry that I snapped (or whatever)".
posted by deborah at 7:46 PM on January 15, 2012

It’s difficult for me to judge just how I come across in these moments... conflict... makes me very uncomfortable... I wonder if the main reason I want to apologize is just to quell my anxiety about the whole situation. Since I’m having trouble judging the severity of my behavior, I’m not sure whether it warrants an apology....is it okay for me to act this way sometimes?

What others is saying is true, that if you do something that is uncharacteristically angry or grumpy, an apology would help return things to normal.

The other half the question, though, is worth examining. Is what you consider Snapping to others merely Clearly Communicating or Not Absorbing Stress That You Shouldn't?

When I make requests, the worst thing is for someone to say yes but then be stressed and annoyed. I'd rather there be clear guidelines (requests must be made 7 days in advance), clear consequences (cannot meet faster timelines, or, can do rush jobs with $1000 rush fee), and less stress on everyone.

It sounds like you're uncertainty about how to assert your needs is causing you to end up not having your needs met and you being at your breaking point. Maybe you can think about ways to ask for what you need or set clear boundaries if you focus on the fact that doing so is necessary for you not to snap. In different words, the options are 1. be fake unrealistically nice 90% of the time and snap 10% of the time vs. 2. be sincerely nice but clear about your needs in a measured way 100% of the time. Telling yourself "don't be needy" is not smart. Not expressing your needs until you're at the snapping point ensures you'll reach the snapping point.

too much work, too little time, plus asshole boss

Just set boundaries. Leave at the same time every day. Communicate about what isn't going to get done. This sounds like an environment that will always push you to your limit, whatever that might be, so just set that limit not at your true breaking point (10 hours a day?), but back a bit (9 hours a day?) such that you maintain your health (including having time to exercise and getting enough sleep) and thereby your ability to handle stressful encounters.
posted by salvia at 8:20 PM on January 15, 2012

I disagree that snapping is never OK. It serves a valuable social purpose, which is to tell someone to back off. It is most certainly to be avoided, but sometimes you need to send a signal. Most people recognize this, and an apology is usually all that's needed. Of course, ideally, you could tell someone to back off instead of snapping, but no one is perfect. That is, it should never be your first resort, but it's OK if you slip sometimes.

Let it go and move on.

I always think that a highly pressured situation is really difficult, because it's easy to get too caught up in the drama. Instead of grinding about what's going on at work, try to have a plan ready on how to deal with this situation before it comes up. You can probably somewhat predict when things are going to be hitting the fan, so try to have a plan on how to deal with certain things emotionally. It might help.
posted by annsunny at 8:25 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Snapping is a symptom. It means one has lost control of their temper and responded rather more sharply than circumstances demand, or failed to control the situation early on and erupted later.

I would say that it is important to remember that it is a symptom. Symptoms mean you should be trying to control the problem causing them. Feeling pressured rarely helps one work better, and for most people, stress does not improve the quality of their work (Some people need pressure. You'd be the one to know whether or not you're one of them).

It's not really okay to snap, but unless the other people are overly sensitive, it's not a problem either. Apologize if you feel like you should, but don't make a big deal out of it. But more importantly, focus on not getting to that point anyway.

I'm not going to pretend like you should be in control every second of your life, but things like this are just, well, too silly to keep happening once one is say, 23 or so.

Also, "like to please everybody all of the time" is a recipe for unhappiness. Do what you need to, what you think is right, and let everybody else worry about pleasing themselves.
posted by Strudel at 8:57 PM on January 15, 2012

You're a woman, right? And was he doing something obnoxious or out of line? Then no, don't apologize, because I bet you're overestimating how rude or over the top you were.

However, you need to not use this guy as your whipping boy/as a safe outlet for inappropriate anger, so if he didn't do anything wrong you do need to apologize, but be cheerful about it. "Hey, sorry about that freakout. Rough time of year. Anyway..." and move on.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:13 PM on January 15, 2012

Never snap at a co-worker. Never. The co-worker will be there tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. You may smooth it over, think you've buried the hatchet. But, friend, no one ever forgets where they buried the hatchet or why they buried it.

You have to be able to recognize this is about to happen and just say, "I need a minute. Excuse me." Walk away. Deep breath. Come back and deal with it.

Unless you're in combat or you work in an emergency room, you can always step back and take a breath.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:58 PM on January 15, 2012

Best answer: Anyone can become angry -- that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way -- that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.

-Aristotle, On Rhetoric
posted by lockestockbarrel at 10:29 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in agreement with blue_beetle, I think terse aggressive words are in need in some occasions.

I think if you're running into a problem when you need someone to do something for you and they're not, the best thing to do is lower your voice. When people get angry, their voices get high pitched. Lowering it frightens people without the need to yell.

My mother does this extremely effectively in customer service situations. It's downright frightening in a good way.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:08 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I started going off like “It’s not that easy for me to…” , “I don’t have much help right now, so…” in a very angry, frustrated tone.

It actually doesn't sound like you snapped AT your coworker, more like you went off in front of him about the pressure you're under. That is to say: I can't imagine his feeling hurt by what you said (as quoted). Really, all you're looking to do in this situation is to apologize for losing your cool. Keep it brief and to the point. And yeah, you don't want to do it again, but this is more a question of professionalism than interpersonal relations. What you actually said to him was fine; you just should have said it in a straightforward way, which might have meant waiting a bit until you were cooled off before talking about it at all.
posted by torticat at 10:48 AM on January 16, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the great responses - they've really help put things in perspective. I sent the coworker a thoughtful email yesterday and we've smoothed things out. Better yet, I had a day off to collect myself and come back with a better attitude (not take things too seriously) and have been better able to handle things. Work was so busy for a couple of weeks that I barely had a moment to think, which just made me want to crumple. Yes, I need to draw boundaries better, the problem is my boss really doesn't understand "no" or "I can't do that right now", so I'm going to work on more nuanced ways of drawing boundaries. I love the lowered voice suggestion!
posted by feidr2 at 8:16 PM on January 16, 2012

If by "snapping" we mean delivering a terse statement to cut off an unjustifiably persistent, irritating, carping and already-civilly-responded-to person then I think it's not only okay but also necessary.
posted by Decani at 12:48 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Terse words, repremand, anger, etc - That's not what most people mean by snapping. We have that word for a special case when someone loses it - snaps - and is snappish and snaps at someone. It's not okay. It's not good for anyone involved.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:06 AM on January 17, 2012

I just want you to know that when I read your post I thought "WOW, that is me"
You are not alone.
posted by biograd08 at 5:43 PM on January 27, 2012

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