I am trying to manage my “short fuse”, i.e., my impatience that makes me flare up at some of my subordinates when they make the same mistakes a second or worse, a third time. When I flare up, I end up shouting at them and pounding my hands on the table in front of them.
I always regret my actions afterwards because not only am I being unprofessional; I also hurt their feelings even if they are wrong. My negative image in the office as a result of my outbursts has made me a topic of conversation among the rank-and-file and has also damaged my reputation. This could be the reason why I have not had any career move for the past so many years. I’m sure no one wants to work under me. .
Although this happens infrequently, I can see that my subordinates are tense in my presence, are passive during our weekly meetings and come only to my office when I call them. They don’t ask questions to clarify; they proceed with the task I tell them to do and commit the errors that make me flare up.
Can you please help me handle my temper? Can I change my reputation so that I am seen as a good leader worthy of respect?
Mr. Short Fuse
I admire you for your desire to manage your temper and for not justifying it, for admitting your need to change, and for seeking help to bring this about. You are right about the negative consequences of your temper outbursts on yourself and on your subordinates, and on your reputation and on their self-esteem, and on your career movements. You are right in your observation that your employees are afraid of you which makes them withdraw from and avoid you. Their fear makes them tense leading to errors that infuriate you. This becomes a vicious circle.
The change effort I suggest requires a paradigm shift about yourself and about your subordinates. This is known as the inside-out approach. It starts with changing your mindsets and perceptions of yourself and of your subordinates. Changing your mindsets and perceptions will change your feelings/emotions (impatience, anger, rage) when errors are committed; in turn this will change your behaviors towards your employees. The only way you can change your image and your reputation is for you to change your behaviors so that you will eventually change the way they perceive you. This may be a slow process as your subordinates have already formed mindsets about you based on their interactions with you.
The inside approach requires the following steps:
First, analyze your aggressive behaviors and what causes them. Write down the behaviors of your subordinate that cause you to flare up, what thoughts you have about a subordinate when he commits errors. These are the stimuli or antecedents to your aggressive behaviors. Opposite each one write down how you react, i.e., the words you say and how you say it. Example: you spot an error in your subordinate’s report. What thoughts do you have of your subordinate? Such negative thought as: “He is so stupid!”, “Not again!”, “When will you ever learn?” and the like, will make you tense and angry. Before you know it, you are calling him in a loud/angry voice and shouting perhaps, “Why this… again?’
Second, take deep breathes to release your tension, ask God to help you ease your tension and say to yourself “STOP!”. As you do these, change the way you think about yourself and about your subordinate. Put in your mind positive thoughts about yourself, e.g., “It is my role to coach him so that he can improve”; “I am blessed to have more knowledge, better skills and more experience”; “I am expected to share my knowledge and experience with my subordinate”; “It is my duty as his supervisor to develop him so that he can do his task correctly”; “My shouting at him will only make him afraid of me and nervous when I call him”; “I don’t improve him by shouting at him”, etc.
See yourself as a steward (“katiwala”) of your company’s important human assets which are your employees, and you have the responsibility to develop them and enhance their knowledge and skills. See your subordinate as your customer; he has a need for knowledge which you must satisfy. He is one of the reasons why your position exists.
Third, analyze the cause of your subordinate’s mistakes. Is it because he didn’t understand you? Why did he not understand you? Was it a matter of communication? How did you communicate with him? Did your tone of voice and facial expression make him tense and nervous? Was he afraid to ask you questions?
If you see yourself as a steward and your employee as the company’s asset, and as your customer, you will not be impatient, rude, angry and furious. When your employee commits an error, you will see the mistake as an opportunity for you to perform your role as a coach, and to develop a positive relationship with him. Coaching him shows that you care enough that he learns and improves.
Every morning, set as a goal that you will seize an opportunity to coach one of your employees, and that you will smile and be relaxed in your interactions with each one during the day. Visualize positive interactions with your employees. Take lunch with them in the pantry and talk about non-work topics. Start pleasant conversations by asking them about their families and listening to them with interest as they share. Share with them about your own family, too. There will be initial discomfort and awkwardness on both your part and theirs initially, but as you keep at it, these will minimize.
Display positive behaviors when you interact with your employees. Examples of positive behaviors are: smiling when you talk to your subordinate; looking at your subordinate eye-to-eye when you talk to him or when he talks to you; not using your cellphone when you are talking to or if your subordinate is talking to you; saying “thank you” with a smile when your subordinate submits something to you; greeting your subordinate with a smile when you arrive in the morning; saying “goodbye/good night” with a smile when they or you leave the office. When your subordinate submits a report, give positive feedback on what is right about it. Then later on point out areas to improve or change. In correcting mistakes, ask the employee first what he thought of what he did and what can he do about it. Build on his correct responses. Then show him how to do. Take care though about the words you use and how you say them. You can conduct coaching in an angry way and you get a fear and nervous reaction. Your non-verbal, e.g., facial expression, body language, gestures (such as pounding your hands in the table) could be aggressive.
Do not say “It’s hard to do these things”, “I can’t do it”, etc. These are negative thoughts which you must remove and substitute with “I can do it. With the grace of God, I can do it.” God wants you to be kind, patient, understanding and compassionate especially to the least. Your talented employees don’t need you. Those who may be slow now may have potentials that require your patience to bring out, to develop and nurture.
Fourth, reward yourself with a pat on your back when you are able to coach a subordinate or behave in a positive way as suggested above. Rewarding yourself will motivate you to repeat the same behaviors. Repetition of positive behaviors will make them habits that will modify your character.
If you backslide, don’t fret. If you notice yourself behaving negatively, stop immediately. Then do the positive behavior. For example if you notice yourself becoming tense and angry and your voice becoming louder, stop immediately. Take a deep breath, then pray “Lord, help me please!”, then lower your voice and start the positive behavior. Never mind if your subordinate sees you “changing gears” when you do this. It shows to them that you are exerting efforts to change.
Above all, ask God for the grace to develop and practice positive behaviors each day. If you are consistent in doing these positive actions everyday, eventually their negative image of you will change. To fast track the change in perception, I suggest you meet all your subordinates and disclose to them your desire to change your behaviors. Admit to them that you are taking responsibility for your past behaviors of aggression; that you are not blaming their mistakes for your show of temper. Apologize to them for hurting them in the past, and that you will be exerting efforts to manage your disappointment at mistakes committed. See what happens and how they will respond.
You may want to visit my website at www.careersystems.com.ph and look up my article in the Sunday Inquirer on December 28, 2008 to January 3, 2009 entitled “How can I change my ways” in reply to a reader with a similar concern as yours.
God bless you.
Josie O. Santamaria