My favorite character in Pixar’s movie UP is Anger. I envy his tenacity. If you’ve never seen it, each character in the movie is the embodiment of some basic emotion inside Riley, a small girl’s mind, that controls her reactions: Joy, Anger, Fear, and Sadness. While each character wholeheartedly lives up to their name, Anger is the only one that displays his emotion in varying degrees. Fear is in a constant and exhaustive state of worse-case scenario and Sadness delivers every line with more gloom than Eeyore losing his tail. Anger though, moves from grumpy to a literal explosive display of unrivaled rage. Watching Anger’s head bursts into flames makes for Pixar magic but we too can erupt in some drastic ways.
When we get angry we also get heated and our physiological “fight or flight” kicks in. The body tenses and more blood gets pumped to prepare for the incoming threat. In this mode, with our own head on fire, it is impossible to think strategically or with a broader vision. We see one color, one path, one outcome. We can attempt to spread the flames by placing blame or insulting others. This is especially true when we’re hiding deeper emotions underneath. Anger is easier to show than pain or jealously. In the moment, the fire is debilitating – but with considerate reflection the long-term effects are worth the temporary burn. Before that, we need to practice cooling off both easier and more quickly.
When you’re upset, If I vent about it, it’ll get better is on repeat in your mind. You’ll go to anyone with ears. In an office, this is gossip and a big mistake. Confide with someone you trust and know. Letting yourself be heard can be healing but be careful when expression devolves to rumination. Be upfront and clear whether you want feedback or not. Even if it’s great feedback, you may not be in a position to accept it. Others however, can gain perspective from the same feedback.
On perspective, take advantage of distance or time away. Being removed from the situation allows the “fight or flight” effects to evaporate. Once the adrenaline is gone, it becomes easier to understand how the situation came to be. If the anger is towards someone chances are their actions were righteous in forethought. Circling back at a later time and asking them to elaborate can validate their intentions weren’t malicious.
The faster we can move from fueling the fire to extinguishing, the faster we gain the benefits.
Anger shows us what we care about the most. In UP Anger got upset when someone hurt Riley. Anger’s reactions were all to protect Riley, not bringing others down on purpose. The next time you’re upset consider the reason. When it comes to our character, we all prioritize different values. When those values are questioned, we respond accordingly. Joy is one of mine – I get upset when others create hostile environments. If you can’t cool off after finding someone has lied in a relationship, maybe honesty is one of yours.
At the office, we can get angry when a mistake is made. This is a great opportunity to identify gaps in process or training, not the person. Remember people aren’t malicious and honest mistakes are made. What if the process is too convoluted, too manual increasing the risk? Is training too much of ‘on-the-job’ over dedicated time covering topics? If such a gap exists, as a leader our job is to find it. I can guarantee though you won’t find anything through the flames.