Your organization is pitching a big contract to a potentially huge client. Or, your government department is presenting a new approach to the Minister or a Cabinet Committee.
One of your team members is the principal on this particular topic and carries the ball – this team member is leading the presentation and fielding questions. Weeks of team effort are riding on them to get the deal done.
And they blow it. They drop the ball. They can’t answer a crucial question, or they have a weak response for a key concern. The result? Confidence is shaken among those making the decision and they decide to go a different way.
The team is upset, the person who was making the pitch is upset, and you as the leader are upset.
The whole team gets back to the office following this enormous loss. As the leader, should you:
- Put on a fake smile, suppress frustration and not discuss the situation?
- Vent your frustration or anger?
Which is the better approach?
You may have chosen the first option and think others would agree with you. If you chose the second option, you might be thinking the same thing.
So, we’ll call option (1) suppression. It’s something that a lot of folks do, especially in the workplace: they hide their feelings, pretend not to be upset, and avoid conversations where frustration and anger may arise. While it’s a common approach, it isn’t the best because it leads to a cascade of negative outcomes – for you it can lead to fewer close relationships (people never get to really know you and know what you care about) which means less social support, poor memory (you’re carrying around so much extra baggage, you can’t carry it all), anxiety, elevated blood pressure and, of course, ongoing hidden resentments. It doesn’t stop there, your “suppressed” emotions still affect others – they pick up on the subtle cues and it can actually be more draining and stress-inducing on them than emotional expression.
Given the litany of problems that come from suppressing your emotions with the team, you might be inclined to think option (2), where you vent that frustration and anger, would be a good approach. Of course, doing that in the moment, or immediately following a crisis, might feel like a release for you or it might let you “get back to normal” quicker and not carry a grudge, but it affects your reputation as “quick to anger” and “explosive.” Not only that, venting also has lasting negative effects on the team – individual team members will have their confidence shaken, many will feel fearful or dejected and their performance going forward will be weakened knowing if they “mess up” they may face your wrath.
So, which is the better approach?
You see, there’s a third option beyond suppressing or venting feelings of anger and frustration.
Emotional Intelligence research demonstrates time and again that the leader’s ability to manage (not suppress) his or her emotions will significantly determine the team’s morale and motivation. And managing emotions means reappraising your emotions before reacting. Reappraising involves reminding yourself of the big picture:
“This is only one sale, there will be others”
“We can learn from this but we can’t change what is done;
we need to look to the next opportunity.”
It might mean recognizing the principal salesperson is feeling shaken and unconfident and needs encouragement.
The key with reappraising is to take a moment, or two or more, to pause before reacting – but to be careful not to take too long. You don’t want to let a pause for reassessment turn into suppressing the feelings.
After reappraising, the leader might do something like this: call the team together and acknowledge the big feelings: we’re all feeling disappointed or frustrated or angry. The leader might emphasize that our success on the next bid, and the one after that, depends on everyone’s determination to support each other, to figure out what it takes to win next time and to support everyone who made an effort today.
- inspiring and instilling confidence in people,
- encouraging them to maintain motivation
- helping them cope with difficulties to succeed in the goal.
Effectively managing anger and frustration
To be effective at that, a leader has to effectively manage their own feelings.
Studies show that leaders who can review their own feelings before showing them (note: not suppressing them!) help their followers manage their own responses to the same things. In one study, followers of leaders who suppressed their anger and frustration reported more negative attitudes toward the leader.
So how can you get better at reviewing and assessing if you’re not used to it?
- Practice seeing problems as challenges rather than threats. Focusing on how you can overcome the challenge rather than “react” to the threat builds resilience – in both you and your team. In our example that means turning the loss from a threat to your career or a threat to your reputation or success, to instead be a challenge to do better next time, or a challenge to fix a flub.
- Deep breathing. It may sound simple, but it isn’t simplistic – taking a moment to pause, and breathe, actually works wonders in letting your emotions relax and your brain time to focus for a bit. That “bit” is often all it takes to allow you to begin reassessing.
- Focus on the big picture and the longer term. How do we learn from today to make tomorrow even more successful than it would have been?
- Change the story you’re telling yourself.
Imagine this situation: Someone is yelling at you in anger. It happened suddenly. You probably want to yell back or even lash out with something that’s critical of them. But what if I told you their mom died yesterday, or they’ve been in an ugly divorce case for months and this morning they lost custody of their kids or their workplace went out of business with no notice – leaving them with no job, no salary and no pension.
Chances are, knowing that information, you might forgive the yelling. You might even respond to their anger with compassion.
But what changed? The situation stayed exactly the same. They were yelling at you – but the story you’re telling yourself, the way you have filled in the blanks about WHY this is happening has changed. You’ve moved from taking this personally (making it about you and why they are being so awful to you) to being about them – “they must be having an awful day.” You’ve moved from seeing a threat (“they’re an awful person”) to a challenge (“how can I help?”) Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is essentially changing your default view to something like, “they must be having a tough time.”
- Ask yourself new questions to focus less on response and more on what could come of this, like, “what am I intended to learn here?” or “what can the team take away that will benefit them?”
What has been your default response when you’re angry and frustrated? How has your reaction influenced your team’s response to a situation? What can you do to manage your feelings the next time you are angry or frustrated?