Issues,  Legal Practice,  Work Life Balance

Controlling Emotions at Work: Anger

When we talk about women and emotions at work, the discussion usually revolves around whether crying is ok or not.  I’d like to have that discussion some day, but I thought I’d start with a more common emotion that lawyers tend to experience at work: anger.

being angry at work

I remember the first time I got really upset at work with an opposing counsel.  We were having a telephone conversation and they were being so aggravatingly condescending.  I was still a brand new attorney so I know now that part of my reaction was due to my pride.  But o.m.g. was I pissed at how he was talking to me! He got nasty, I got nastier. It cumulated with both of us threatening to follow through with the suit before I hung up on him.  It felt good to not take the abuse, but losing my cool did nothing for the case.  And after the adrenaline rush subsided, I felt guilty and embarrassed for not being able to better handle the situation.

What do you do when you feel angry at work?  When opposing counsel is hostile; clients are rude; bosses are mean; coworkers are inconsiderate–what do you do? Like I said, there have been instances of anger at work that I have regretted, but there are also times that I wish I had acknowledged my feelings.  What can be done to make the anger work to your advantage?

I think the most important step is determining the why.  Determining why you’re angry will help you consider your next steps.

If you’re angry because you have been disrespected or are being treated in a condescending way, take a second to assess the situation.  Does this person’s actions towards you matter in the long-run?  If yes, (say because it’s opposing counsel and your client wants to settle the case), then take a page out of Negotiation 101 and lower your voice.  Or be bold and ask them to please calm down; do whatever you can so that you are the beacon of professionalism and serenity. Act as if you’re concerned about their childish behavior so that they realize that 1) they can’t intimidate you and 2) you won’t stoop to their level.

If the people disrespecting you don’t matter to your work, life, or case–then who cares?  Don’t waste your energy. And trust, I’ve lost plenty of energy over people that don’t matter.  Just remember that’s time you’ll never get back, so use your time wisely.

There are other times when we’re angry that stems from disappointment.  For example (I have lots of examples of when I’m angry lol), there have been instances at work where things have not gone like I planned with bad results. I get into a cycle where I keep reviewing all the things that went wrong–what I did, what others could have done, and get so upset about it.  If I’m not careful, it can affect my attitude and demeanor towards others (especially if I think they could have done something better).  That is not good behavior! Not only does letting my anger take over affect my professional relationships, it can cause me to become stagnant.  If I’m constantly re-playing what could have/should have/would have happened, then I can’t move on.  And I’ve finally learned that in my moments of professional disappointed, while it’s ok to be angry, the bigger part is to realize what went wrong and then figure out better steps for the future (not the past).

Finally, in case you weren’t aware, law is a high stress job.  It’s high stress on top of family obligations, which we as Latinas take on more obligations than other demographics, FYI. And it  is why lawyers have higher rates of depression and alcoholism overall. Being stressed out leads to lashing out. If you are snapping at coworkers, family members, or feeling like your are on the tip of an angry freakout over minor things (like clients calling to ask yet another question) then it’s super important to take time, even five minutes, to calm down before reacting.  Then make it a priority to dedicate real time (i.e. the weekend) to stress relief.

Now, I know there are some attorneys that are angry all the time.  I have worked with them; both men and women.  Yes, they keep going in their career and maybe intimidate enough people to fool others into thinking they’re respected.  But the life of angry lawyer is not a happy one. I would wager it’s not a productive one, and it’s probably isolating.  And this isn’t about being a bitch vs. being nice (that’s a whole other discussion).  This is about real raw anger that we all experience, figuring out why it’s happening, and how to use it to your advantage.

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