Three Incredibly Difficult Rules:
Incredibly Difficult Rule #1: Only say it face to face
Incredibly Difficult Rule #2: Don’t say it
Incredibly Difficult Rule #3: Ignore Rules #1 and #2
You are angry.
Boy oh boy are you angry, and rightfully so. Somebody said the wrong thing to you. They said something behind your back. They lied, they cheated, they obfuscated. They locked you out of a conversation. They ridiculed you to others. They stole your leftover lunch. They didn’t make a new pot of coffee. Somebody made microwave popcorn, and the whole lunchroom stinks.
And now you are angry. Righteously angry. Deliciously angry. There is no debate. They were wrong and you are right. You are reveling in your rage, and now it is your opportunity to react. Now is your chance to exercise your justifiable indignation. You know exactly what to say and do to cause just the right amount of embarrassment, contrition and reflection. You can’t wait to speak your mind…this is going to be great!
And your options are endless. You can send an email. You can make a phone call or a Facebook post. You can send a text. In no uncertain terms, in a wide variety of ways, you can really let them know how you feel.
Whatever it is you want to tell this person, what ever it is you want to say to them, close the lid of your laptop and put away your phone. Take a deep breath. Well chosen though your words and message may be, the tone and voice of your message will be applied/imagined only by the person reading your message, the person who you are most angry at and frustrated with.
Even though you are writing words carefully chosen to sound cool and calm, they will be read in the mind of a person who is also angry, maybe almost as angry as you. Even though you may be reaching out with a hand of peace and agreement, the message may be read with a spirit of argument and debate.
Alternatively, you may decide to pick up the phone to make a call, but imagine what might go through the other person’s mind as they see your name appear on their phone screen. As you talk and talk, they are rolling their eyes and making faces at their friend in the next cubicle, that is, if they even pick up the phone in the first place.
It is a well known rule of work place anger to write your email without hitting send. Even better than that, write your message in a Word document. Get your anger out. Tell the story of why you are angry, and what you hope will happen now without running the risk of accidentally sending your email to the object of your anger at the wrong time, or even worse, maybe sending your email to the wrong person. Read your document, maybe even share it with a trusted colleague or family member to get their perspective, but don’t hit send. Never hit send. Don’t ever send it, not once, not ever, ever, never ever.
Incredibly Difficult Rule #1:
Only say what you have to say face to face. Being in the same room with someone you are angry at might be difficult. It will be difficult, but it will get easier, and it will feel really good by the time you are done. Say it on a web video call if you must, but even better, wait until you are both in the same room when you have an opportunity to shake hands, to sit down at a table with each other and have a meaningful, calm conversation with no digital noise between you. Be calm. Be understanding. Look each other in the eye. Be committed to moving on.
Incredibly Difficult Rule #2:
Don’t say it. Yeah, forget Rule #1. Don’t do anything. Don’t call, don’t write, don’t yell. Bite your lip. Swallow your anger and pride. Probably, the reason you are angry will be resolved with time and thoughtful action. Probably, if you vent your anger, even calmly and rationally, more problems will be caused than will be solved. Probably, time will bring about more work to do together, more opportunities to collaborate, and more ways to move beyond the current problems.
Incredibly Difficult Rule #3:
Forget both Rules #1 and #2. Sometimes, the only way to move forward is to talk, debate or argue. Sometimes, you have to face the music. In those cases, give yourself time. Breathe deep. Have the difficult conversation, but recognize you are both on the same team, there is important work to be done, and there are ways to move forward together.
So throw away the burnt popcorn. Go out and pick yourself up a new lunch. Look at things from a different perspective. Realize the person, whatever it is they did, meant no harm. If they did mean harm, then you are certainly not going to solve anything through confrontation or debate. Whatever you have to say, say it to their face, but even better yet, don’t say anything at all…of course, except when you need to, then talk things through and get on with your life, get on with your work.
See? No one said this would be easy.