Q. A staff member recently informed me that I have enemies at work. This was both surprising and distressing, because I try to be professional and friendly with everyone. However, on stressful days, I will admit that I have been known to lose my temper.
As a supervisor in an elder care facility, I am responsible for a unit with 95 residents. Sometimes everything seems to go wrong at once, making it hard to remain calm. Despite this, I have never sensed that anyone felt angry or resentful toward me.
My employee is reluctant to identify the people who are upset, so I don’t know how to resolve the problem. What should I do about this?
A. Under different circumstances, I might think your staff member was being a bit snarky. But given your admitted fits of temper, these “enemies” could easily have been created by your previous outbursts. Adults who throw tantrums typically underestimate the residual effects of their anger.
Once an emotional storm has passed, the perpetrator immediately moves on, but those subjected to yelling, cursing or belittling tend to have much longer memories. So even if your normal demeanor is “friendly and professional,” intermittent bouts of rage can still wreak havoc on relationships.
For a supervisor, these explosive reactions are even more reprehensible, because they constitute an abuse of power. Despite the sad fact that many top executives fail this test, managers should always be expected to act like mature adults, even during difficult times.
If remaining calm seems impossible, consider whether you ever direct these tantrums at your boss. If not, this shows you can control them if you try. And for the sake of your department, you really must try, because unrestrained venting just transfers your stress to everyone around you.
To begin correcting the damage, list colleagues who have faced your wrath, then plan on making an apology tour. But first, be absolutely sure that you’ve mastered anger management, because apologies mean nothing without a change in behavior.
Q. A woman in our department seems to enjoy creating problems. “Gina” has a history of meddling, but because our manager is new, he may not be aware of her reputation.
Recently, Gina sent a co-worker the following email and copied our boss: “Needed to see you this morning, but couldn’t find you anywhere. I don’t believe you have meetings, so I wasn’t sure where you had gone. Are you coming back today?”
This co-worker’s brief absence had been clearly noted on the department calendar. How would you interpret Gina’s motivation for sending this email and copying our manager?
A. Gina’s intentions seem quite transparent. By forwarding this reproachful message to your boss, she obviously hopes to get your co-worker in trouble. And perhaps she just enjoys being a tattletale.
The key question, however, is not what Gina wants, but how your manager responds. If he chooses to ignore her petty gossip, then Gina’s tattling is simply a nuisance. But if he allows her to become the department monitor, the rest of you may need to help him see her motives more clearly.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”