vPsychology for Business


We are dedicated to bringing out the best in you and your employees

Volume 4, Number 18                                                             September 5, 2003


Psychology for Business is an e-mail newsletter written by  Dr. John Weaver, Dr. Lynda Dahlke, and Dr. Paul Glass, business psychologists and independent consultants, provided to you at no charge. It is published bi-weekly. You’ve received this newsletter because you’ve subscribed to it or it was forwarded to you by a friend or colleague. To subscribe sign up at our website, http://www.psychologyforbusiness.com/. If you wish to cancel your subscription, please see the end of this e-mail for easy instructions

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Coaching for Performance Series:

By Dr. John Weaver, Business Psychologist and Executive Coach

Summary: Anger in the workplace can be damaging to the success of an organization. It can arise from both cultural influences and biological processes that drive competition into destructive actions. The tools of emotional awareness, emotional regulation, appropriate empathy and development of collaborative partnerships are critical in controlling anger while maximizing the competitive drive to success.

The email came from a writer from a national magazine for sales and marketing executives to request an interview on the subject of the damaging effects of anger in the workplace. Competitiveness in the workplace results in a high value being placed on aggressive action. Sometimes this aggressive action can result in an angry outburst and sometimes the outbursts become so frequent as to be destructive to the organization. The eruption of anger is a subject of news reporting when it becomes violent. Most of the time, however, the damage is done to morale, health and the bottom line of the organization.

It is rare for someone to request coaching from me because he (or she) has a problem with anger. (Sometimes people request help because they are angry, but the request is usually for help dealing with someone or something they have identified as the cause of their anger. The anger is not seen as the source of the problem.) It is far more common for someone to be sent by a superior because the angry outbursts are creating problems for the organization.

Under these circumstances, the initial session might start out like this….

“Hi _____, can you tell me about what brings you to coaching?”

“My boss told me I had to come.”

Unless I say something next, there can be a long pause here. It seems that, for most of us, the first attempt to deal with anger is to attempt to hide it. This usually does not work very well because the tone of voice and facial expressions still show the anger. In addition to the sources of anger that arise at work, there is now anger at being forced into the office of a stranger to confess the loss of control. Coaching seems more like a punishment than an opportunity at this stage. 

Yet it can be an important opportunity.

Coaching or Mental Health Treatment?

A legitimate question arises if you must refer someone for help with an anger problem. Should you send this person to a coach or to a mental health professional?

Excessive anger is a problem that is frequently addressed in mental health clinics. There are anger management groups, opportunities for individual psychotherapy, and medication that might be appropriate to treat this problem. When the focus is on getting help for an individual who is having significant difficulty controlling his or her temper, mental health treatment should be considered. This type of treatment may be available as a covered mental health benefit and therefore may be covered by insurance. However, the mental health benefit covers only those issues defined by the policy and are “medically necessary.” That means that the amount of treatment is likely to be limited to resolving the issue of anger. Mental health treatment is oriented toward eliminating mental disorders.

Coaching an individual with anger may be a more appropriate decision if the goal is to improve the functioning of the organization rather than simply to help an individual. A therapist is trained to be tuned to the needs of the individual while the coach looks to assist the individual to be successful within his or her professional career. For this type of coaching, it is necessary to find a coach with a solid psychological background who also understands the business needs of the organization. While this type of coaching will be a direct expense to the organization, the benefit to both morale and to the bottom line is normally two to three times the cost of the coach. The coach is oriented toward the growth of the individual, not merely the elimination of the problem. This means that the benefits can continue to accrue for years to come.

Anger can arise from several sources. Here is a brief sketch of some of the major sources of anger in the workplace.

v      There are cultural sources.

We approach business as a competitive venture and place a high value on aggressive moves in the marketplace. Our metaphors frequently tend to be drawn from military or sports language. These are metaphors that emphasize the aggressive side of the work that is done. With a high value on these qualities, there is a greater tendency that the errors made by successful professionals will tend toward a loss of control of anger rather than a problem with being too timid.

It is also culturally more acceptable for males to be angry than to be vulnerable, so males (who are still much more likely to have this problem than females in the work setting) will find it easier to express their vulnerable feelings through anger. Often anger is expressed rather than anxiety or embarrassment even when those are the more accurate feelings for the circumstances.

v      There are biological sources.

The normal response to stress is often called the “fight or flight” response. When individuals are under stress there are a variety of hormones released into the biological system. The most well-known of the stress hormones is adrenalin. It is a short term accelerator of the system that prepares for emergency actions. When someone is intensely angry (or afraid) they have high levels of adrenalin in their systems.

A less well known hormone is cortisol. Cortisol is much more long-acting and can stay in the biological system for 48 to 72 hours. Cortisol functions to heighten awareness of potential threats and to diminish attention to non-threats. The impact is that individuals who are under stress seem to develop tunnel vision about problems, seem to interpret neutral events as potentially threatening and seem to have difficulty letting go of the problem. Because it is long acting, any new (even mild) stressor can re-trigger a flood of new stress hormones. The individual then becomes angry more quickly and more intensely with each new event.

It seems, to the person who is angry, that the source of the anger is external. “If _____ had not said _____ , I would not be angry!” But, in truth, there are many possible responses when ____ says ____. The angry response comes from within, conditioned by our culture and fueled by our biology. 

Because business professionals tend to identify closely with the cultural norms (this is necessary to be effective in understanding potential clients) they tend to accept without question that the aggressive metaphors are accurate depictions of reality. This makes it easy for them to feel proud of the aggressive tendencies they possess and to work hard to develop them. As a result most of the errors in emotional control will tend to occur because they become too angry rather than experience other intense emotions like sadness or guilt.

In addition, the most successful professionals tend to be what is called the “Type A” personality, which is an individual who tends to seek out situations that are both challenging and stressful. They bring this intense personality to tense situations. The result is a high level of stress hormone being constantly part of the system. “Type A” personalities, who are also high in hostility, have been shown to be more prone to heart disease – and the most common time for heart attacks in the U.S. is 9 AM on Monday mornings (at the beginning of a new and stressful work week!). Combining these factors with working long hours; they are prone to many eruptions of anger because their biological systems leave them vulnerable to this powerful emotion.

There are four main things to do about this anger:

  1. Develop emotional awareness. Angry emotions are generally directed toward a perceived external threat. But the process is really quite complex and includes both cultural and biological factors that the individual brings to the situation. With greater emotional awareness, it is possible to recognize the sources of anger that may be arising from within rather than from the circumstances. It is not helpful to be exploding in anger toward a co-worker if, internally, the real feeling is embarrassment about a personal shortcoming.
  1. Learn emotion regulation skills. Anger is often not the problem. It is the intensity of the anger than is out of proportion to the situation that is a problem. There are short term regulation skills like distraction or calming techniques that need to be used. There are also long term strategies that include better problem solving skills and development of resilience.
  1. Increase empathy for others. The first two skills are efforts to change internally. The next two skills help to deal with others more effectively. When an individual gets angry, it can be difficult (but it is very important) to see the other person’s point of view. Angry people attribute hostile intentions to others and often these assumptions are in error. It is necessary to learn to “re-write the story” to better reflect accurate perceptions of the other person.
  1. Finally, it in necessary to turn the adversarial relationship into a collaborative relationship. This skill is a difficult one to develop but it is one that marks the more effective professionals. Building on self-awareness, emotion regulation, and accurate empathy, a truly effective motivator is able to use the emotional energy of the relationship to get things done. It is what some writers have called the “Win-Win” or “Getting to Yes.”

If you missed the first of my new Coaching for Performance newsletter series, FROM IDEA TO ACTION, you can read it online by visiting my website at http://www.psychologyforbusiness.com/Idea%20to%20Action.htmIf you have topics you would like to see in future newsletters, send me a note at mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com. I would love to hear from you.

On Executive Coaching:  "What’s really driving the boom in coaching, is this: as we move from 30 miles an hour to 70 to 120 to 180……as we go from driving straight down the road to making right turns and left turns to abandoning cars and getting on motorcycles…the whole game changes, and a lot of people are trying to keep up, learn how not fall off." John Kotter, Professor of Leadership, Harvard Business School.

Did you know that executive coaching is not geographically limited?  Coaching by telephone is effective.  It is also an efficient use of time and resources.  You never need to leave your office to travel, nor do you need to pay travel expenses for your coach. We offer coaching either onsite or by telephone. To find out if coaching is right for you, contact us to schedule a 1/2 hour consultation at no charge.  Or request a price sheet to determine the best value for your organization.  Call us at: (262) 789-2728 or email us at mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com.

About the Author

John Weaver, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist with 22 years’ professional experience working with organizations, groups, and individuals. He has experience leading groups and creating teamwork in organizations. His areas of expertise include executive coaching, conflict resolution, coaching teams and individuals to improve performance under stress, assessing employees and potential employees to ensure the right person for the right job, and training in stress management and "The Vitamin C’s for an Emotionally Healthy Workplace."  He is an experienced professional speaker and published author.

Based in Waukesha, WI, Dr. John Weaver is available for consultation or executive coaching by phone, e-mail or in person. He may be reached at (262) 789-2728 (office) or (414) 491-8719 (cell), by e-mail: mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com or: 

John Weaver, Psy.D. 
Psychology for Business
2717 North Grandview Boulevard, Suite 303
Waukesha, Wisconsin, 53188

10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Coach is now available for download by visiting http://www.psychologyforbusiness.com/questions.htm.

Also receive your copy of 9 Ways to Motivate Your Workforce by visiting http://www.psychologyforbusiness.com/motivate.htm

If you are interested in having Dr. Weaver speak for your organization, contact him at mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com?subject=SPEAK .

To order your copy of the book, MANAGING DIFFICULT PERSONALITIES IN THE WORKPLACE: A Manager’s Practical Guide, by Dr. Paul Kenneth Glass, send your name, address, number of copies desired and a check made out to Dr. Paul Kenneth Glass for $12 per book (plus $2 shipping per book).  Or order 10 or more copies for $10 per book and $6.95 for shipping (up to 50 copies).  No fluff, this book gets right to the point. Send orders to:

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Psychology for Business
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Email: mailto:pglass@psychologyforbusiness.com

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Dr. John Weaver
Psychology for Business
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Waukesha, WI 53188

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© Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. John Weaver. Distribution rights: The above material is copyrighted, but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. If you would like to reprint part of this newsletter please contact me at mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com to make arrangements.

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Dr. John Weaver publishes another newsletter, co-authored by Darlene Weaver, THE CENTERED PENDULUMIt is our firm belief that lifelong patterns of “being” (personality, attitudes, emotions) and “doing” (lifestyle, adaptability, coping skills) interact with our genes and environment to create conditions of a healthy or a diseased brain.  If you would like to read previous issues of the Centered Pendulum newsletter or to subscribe, please visit the archives at http://www.centeredpendulum.org/newsletters.htm.