While you don’t want to allow bad behavior or toxic situations to continue, sometimes, you need to calibrate your response. After all, it takes a lot of energy to get steamed—and there are more effective ways to manage the situation. Here’s how to keep your cool in five common—and frustrating—work scenarios.
Maybe you worked hard on a project or came up with a great idea—then your boss or coworker took credit for it. Before you set the record straight with a flamethrower, take a beat. You probably need more information first, says psychologist Melanie Katzman, PhD, founder of strategic and leadership advisory firm Katzman Consulting and author of Connect First: 52 Simple Ways to Ignite Success, Meaning, and Joy at Work. “I would use it as [an opportunity to find out] data to try to understand if this is somebody who’s feeling devalued. What would be the motivation behind that?” she says.
Once you determine the motivation, then you can plot the right course of action. Katzman points to a recent incident with a colleague who thought that completing her role in the project meant that it was finished—she didn’t realize there were other steps to get it over the finish line.
In some cases, the claim may be out of selfishness or other nefarious motivations. However, there may be political or other reasons why someone took credit for the work, Katzman says. If the person is feeling undervalued, you may discuss how they can get the recognition they deserve. The underlying reasons for the act will likely set the tone for how you address and resolve the issue, she says.
When you’re in a rush to get somewhere, unexpected down time can be stressful and infuriating. Just ask Peter Shankman, a business consultant and author of Faster than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success with the Secrets of the ADHD Brain. Shankman logs roughly 250,000 flight miles per year, which means he faces his fair share of unexpected travel delays.
Instead of griping to a gate agent or otherwise getting agitated, Shankman make the most of “short burst downtime,” as he calls it. In addition to immediate tasks, like returning email messages and phone calls, he suggests using Google Notes or Evernote to keep a running to-do list of things that you keep meaning to do, such as cleaning up your contacts list or researching new sales leads. Adapt the concept for other potential downtime, too. For example, keep a queue of your favorite podcasts or audio versions of books you’ve been meaning to read for times when you’re stuck in traffic or facing a mass transit delay.
Explosive coworkers or bosses
When the people with whom you work are reactive and angry, the workplace becomes a minefield. Ciara Hautau, lead digital marketing strategist at digital marketing firm Fueled, said that a highly emotional coworker at a previous job represented one of her biggest work challenges.
He was accusatory and heated in conversations and really dampened the team’s morale, she says. “He would tend to put all peers on the defense and automatically assumed something was not done correctly or at all. This would be highly frustrating, as he would not take the time to really learn the whole story and dig into the details of a project,” she recalls.
She says the best advice she ever received in dealing with this sort of situation was to take a pause before responding. Respond calmly to avoid escalating the situation. “That one breath before responding is important in collecting your thoughts and realizing that this person’s demeanor has no reflection on your performance but rather is fighting some internal issues that get carried into your conversation,” she says. Over time, he did get better about managing his emotions, possibly because of management intervention, she says.
It happened again. Your team member didn’t deliver on time, and it’s affecting the entire project. When people don’t do what they say they’re going to do, it can be maddening. But, there’s usually a reason, says Ryan Lahti, PhD, founder and managing principal of the performance management firm OrgLeader and author of The Finesse Factor: How to Build Exceptional Leaders in STEM Organizations.
The individual may be disorganized or disengaged. But, more likely, there could be an obstacle preventing the work from being done, Lahti says. “It might be a skill set deficit. If that’s the case, then we find a way to help you get the skills necessary to do the work. Or maybe if that’s entirely a misfit of the role and then we find a role that’s a better fit for you and you find a way to get the work done another way,” he says.
Perhaps the person isn’t good at planning workflow or anticipating work deadlines. Problem-solving will yield a far more effective resolution than flying off the handle. You can create a plan to help address the issues getting in the way of the work, he says.
When you’re surrounded by people who love to stop and chat or thrive on endless, meaningless meetings, it can feel impossible to get things done. Unfortunately, screaming “leave me alone” in the middle of the office is typically frowned upon. A better option is to turn off notifications and create signals that you’re unavailable, Katzman says.
If you have a door, close it. If, like many, you work in an open office, you can try other “do not disturb” signals, including using earbuds or earphones, hanging a sign that says you’re working on an important project, or using one of the office’s private spaces, if you have them.
While getting angry at frustrations may feel satisfying in the moment, it’s seldom the best reaction, Shankman says. When you take a moment, breathe, and craft a rational response that addresses the underlying problem rather than your irritation, you’re usually going to get a better outcome and less fallout.
“The calm people win all of the things. You’re never going to see a viral YouTube video about a person who received bad news or who got screwed over and went, ‘Okay, I’ll go back and see what I can do about that,'” he says. “If you’re on your death bed and somebody gave you an Excel spreadsheet that listed out a graph of all the times that you wasted being angry, Holy shit. You would change so much.”