Q and A: Tact necessary to handling office hothead
QUESTION: I work with someone who is a bit of a hothead. She blows up easily, and, even though she gets over it and apologizes quickly, the damage is done to my day. How can I handle this?...
QUESTION: I work with someone who is a bit of a hothead. She blows up easily, and, even though she gets over it and apologizes quickly, the damage is done to my day. How can I handle this?
ANSWER: Distance yourself when possible, and, in a quiet moment, let her know the effects of her temper.
It's hard to deal with a different style of anger. Some people are slow to anger, but once pushed, it's a significant issue. Thus, they may take others' anger very seriously. Others flare easily, but it quickly dissipates and isn't serious, even to them. Taking some time to understand each of your styles may help in this situation. I'll hasten to add that I'm not saying that her outbursts are acceptable; it's all about helping you cope using the aspects you control.
So, what damages your day? Perhaps you get nervous and your adrenaline rushes. Or you keep thinking about it, breaking your concentration. Make a factual list of the responses you notice, moving beyond "it wrecks my day." Then, item by item, plan a way to deal with them. For example, if you're emotionally unnerved, take some deep breaths to get regrounded. If you're replaying the scene, consciously choose to focus on the task at hand, bringing yourself back as often as necessary.
Take a broader look, too. Is this an issue for others in your area, or just a one-on-one personality clash between the two of you? If it's widespread, it may be easier to deal with, reminding yourself that it really isn't personal.
Let her know the effects of her behavior so that she can try to change. "It's just the way I am" doesn't cut it if she's creating emotional mayhem. The key will be to talk to her in an emotionally calm setting.
Plan what you'd like to address before talking with her. Know what you'd like to say and the outcomes you'd like to achieve. Anticipate the various reactions she might have, and consider how you'll reply. Take care to use "I" statements that define the situation, your reactions, and the outcomes rather than accusatory-sounding words.
For example, "When you raise your voice, I get upset and then I have a hard time concentrating for the next few hours." She really may not know that it affects you, so this may be enough to make a difference. Also, she may have certain triggers that you unwittingly set off; if she shares these, you may be able to make changes that help the situation.
On the other hand, she may see this as your problem alone. If so, you need to determine whether it's significant enough to bring to management's attention. In this case, be prepared with specifics so that your leadership has enough information to work with. Look for ways to minimize your contact with her and prepare yourself emotionally if you know you're going to be interacting.
Getting yelled at isn't in the job description. Try letting your colleague know the effects, but build your inner resources in case she doesn't change.