Mad at Work: Understanding Upsets Without Losing Yourself or Your Job

Updated: 5 days ago

A conflict happens. You become angry, distressed or anxious about it. But you still have to get your work done. The typical corporate climate does not create space for emotional processing. Venting to a co-worker poses a certain risk; you could be confiding in a loyal work friend, no problem. Or your confidant could be a peer one week and become your manager the next. If that doesn’t happen, he or she could just repeat what you said in “emotion” when it serves them in the future.

You can’t talk to the boss about it; spending precious work hours on emotions is usually frowned upon. The boss could be immature and may retaliate, or be embroiled in the conflict and therefore can’t listen with compassion. And don’t even think about posting while in your feelings on any of the social medias. You do still want your job, don’t you?

While we wait on HR to move through the “proper (antiquated) channels” and address our situation, here is some insight and practices for being upset at work and navigating conflict with maturity. These practices are designed to create space for compassion and understanding for your own perspective and keeping the big picture in sight. Your focus, your feelings and your perspective are important. The way you respond can be a powerful contribution when offered with clarity, honesty and appropriately. Too often, we are encouraged to model someone else’s approach and discouraged for being authentic, yet everyone approaches conflict differently. Image by Alexandru Acea

Okay, so here is why it’s important to understand how different people with different personalities approach to conflict. It’s easy to get along when everyone seems to agree. It’s easy for bias and stereotypes that aren't helpful to hide when everyone is happy.

It is when conflict happens that our strategies for our own well-being are disrupted, that what we really believe and feel comes out in the triggering event. This is so uncomfortable and helpful. How are we supposed to grow our cultures if we don’t fully know what our core beliefs are?

It’s easy to create a culture that seems welcoming. It is work to develop a place that is pyschologically safe and inclusive of a community full of diverse humans with so many different histories and backgrounds.

Conflict, when we observe it and courageously face it, can transform our understanding of our own contributions and that of our co-workers, teams and organizations.

In this post, we will explore what may be happening for each personality type during a triggering event.

I teach a tool called The Enneagram of Personality that explores nine personality types and each type's strategy for coping with trauma and accomplishing what they desire most. When teaching the Enneagram, I teach the Harmonic Groups, or a sub-grouping within the types, that explains how different personalities approach conflict.

Let’s explore some common questions, insights and practices of different types of people. Now, these insights and practices are not in any particular sequence. Use them in the order of importance to you. It’s important to honor and understand what you feel and what you see, and do the same for those with whom we work.

What About My Feelings? INSIGHT: Did you know that after an event that triggers anger, fear or distress, it takes the human body anywhere from twenty minutes to a few hours to return to homeostasis? Some of us can’t do anything until our fight or flight neurochemicals like adrenaline and cortisol subside. This means that our emotions are an important part of our human experience. We can use our emotions as alarm clocks; befriending and listening to our own feelings for information. We can factor this information into our decisions. This is different from being controlled by emotions; understanding our feelings can help us to leverage what we sense to set us up for success. Photograph by Nathan Dumlao

The group of people that experience strong emotions is called the Emotional Intensity group. Type Eights are outraged, their fear of being betrayed or violated coming true. Type Sixes are extremely anxious and searching for support. Type Fours fear that they will be abandoned and are deeply saddened. It's possible for any person to feel a mix of different emotions.

Our work is to acknowledge that these emotions are valid and can usually point us toward vital information when we don't dismiss them. Anger can help us illuminate human rights or boundaries that deserve to be honored. Anxiety can reveal helpful information that is yet to be discovered. A deep sadness can lead us to understand how a connection or emotional intelligence requires some attention. The work of those experiencing these feelings is to express their emotions constructively, without damaging their relationships.

PRACTICE: Validate your feelings. Take a few minutes to visit with yourself and vent about what happened. Excuse yourself to the restroom if you need to. Return to your memory of the event. Take a few breaths and affirm to yourself: “My feelings, needs, and desires are important and not a problem.” Now answer the following questions: What happened? What did it mean to me? How do I feel about it? How did I/will I respond to make a positive change?

From here, you have some information that can serve you. The event that triggered you is either a deal-breaker, something that can be improved or not worth any more of your time. After affirming the value of your emotions and a self-inquiry practice, you have more perspective and more self-control. Helping someone who is experiencing strong emotions through this process can prove to illuminate opportunities to increase morale and honor the human dignity of the people working to move the organization forward.

Will There Be A Happy Ever After?

INSIGHT: For some of us, an upset triggers a sense of panic about what the future holds. Have I lost a friend/deal/client? Is a chance for a project/meeting/possible promotion ruined? Is my reputation at stake? Millions of Americans live with a type of fear called anxiety; an unspecific, pervasive worry about the future. You are not alone. Conflicts at work can fuel this condition. Our ancestors used fear as a survival tactic. Fear helped cavemen and hunter-gatherers remember the paths, caves, and territories that posed threats. While we don’t have the same dangers in this modern age, we can still feel like something is going to “get us.” Photography by Elena Koycheva

The group that tends to focus forward during problems is called the Positve Outlook Group. This group (Types 2, 7, and 9) are interested in moving forward, away from the problem, toward a certain future. Twos fear being rejected and want to get back to the warmth and connection of the relationship. Sevens resist being trapped in pain and are itching to resume the joy and fun of their experience. Nines are afraid to feel separation and loss are wanting to restore the peace. All of these types are motivated toward the future where they know them, and everyone else will be okay.

The truth is, they are right in their focus. Our work is to accept the truth of their perspective. Their work is to gracefully and patiently be with others while they arrive at those conclusions at their own pace, and not risk creating more conflict by rushing their realization.

PRACTICE: Our panic can lead us to wisdom if we give ourselves space to explore. Affirm the bright side of the situation. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Say out loud, “I still have ____________.” Make as long a list as you need until you feel better. Now respond to the following questions: What happened? What did it mean to me? What was truly lost? What have I learned/gained? Dropped balls and mistakes can be wonderful gifts wrapped up in conflict. We will realize our superpowers when we allow ourselves to step into reality during conflict and out of our imaginations. Engaging in this practice with someone who is experiencing anxiety can be a gift to the relationship, the team and the organization. What About The Actual Problem? INSIGHT: There are those of us who are impatiently waiting on other folks to get out of their feelings and actually figure out the root issue of the problem. Our energy and focus is like a laser beam, getting directly to the exact moment of the breakdown.

This group is called the Rational Competency Group. Type Ones are wondering who is right, who is wrong, and what needs to be corrected. Type Thress are searching for the solution to get back to being successful and looking good. Type Five is interested in the system, what fine details led up to the problem and how the entire system needs updating.

These people are going back through email threads and reviewing instructions, policies, etc., passionately comparing real facts and actual events to identify what went wrong. It may seem like these people lack empathy or emotion; this isn’t true. Their sensible, pragmatic approach is their contribution to everyone’s well-being. Their work is to communicate their intentions and emotional connection to finding the solution, so that they don't come off as blunt, unfeeling, and lacking care. Our work is to allow them to focus on these details without judgment and acknowledge their findings.

PRACTICE: Our focus on the details, reasoning and logic can lead to a better route to success, knowledge and becoming better at what we do. Take a few deep breaths and affirm: “No matter what happened, all will be well.” Now respond to the following questions:

What happened? Where did the breakdown occur? What truth or wisdom was needed at the time? What new understanding does this situation illuminate going forward? Facing the problem, identifying it and correcting it is different than issuing blame. Blame makes someone good and someone bad, pitting humans against one another. It is better to take an “us versus it” mentality. This stance can clear the air and make it safe for you and anyone else to take responsibility without being permanently judged. Engaging this practice with someone who likes to dig into the problem first can be helpful in innovating and streamlining organizational practices, services and products.

The punchline: how you feel and what is important to you is important, period. Guiding yourself and others through these practices, honor how our unique perspectives and illuminates powerful new opportunities to work together with more harmony, spending less time on breaches and more time creating, producing and serving our visions better.

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Danielle Fanfair is a teacher, writer and speaker who helps high-impact professionals go from Confusion to Clarity about who they truly are, with a passion for well-being, diversity & inclusion, self-understanding and skills-building. Work with Danielle by clicking here.

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