Matters Column

Keep your cool: Anger is a choice in life, business

October 12, 2018
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Anger is bad for your health. It is also bad for business. Tom Mooney, Ph.D., is a psychologist who gave me valuable insight many years ago. He explained that anger is a manifestation of judgment; you are angry because, in your judgment, someone has done something wrong.

If you live with a person with Alzheimer's, you constantly are faced with situations that are frustrating. Anger about the situation is irrational because that person's reason for failing is an illness. The perceived motive of the person upsetting you has a lot to do with the level of anger you feel toward the person who failed you.

Anger may have its place, but in making business decisions, it can be disastrous. Employee relations and team building are the heart of building a quality business. When you are responsible for the productivity of people, you have to understand what their capacity is to perform and bring out the best of that capacity. Anger with customers, suppliers and professional services providers can disrupt operations that are vital.  

When you become angry with a subordinate, you should ask yourself why this person has set off a negative emotion. There are two sides to any emotional situation. In order to effectively deal with a situation, you must understand what set you off and, if possible, assess the other person’s stance. It is shocking, but sometimes the business owner is the one at fault.

It could be this person has failed due to a lack of intelligence or physical skills for the job. One of my favorite songs was a song by Elton John that said you can’t get whiskey from a bottle of wine. This is a simple truth that makes sense when applied to employees. You can't make an introvert into an extrovert and vice versa. I watched with amazement as a CPA firm put a great accountant in a position that required a lot of promotion and community activism. The accountant’s performance was excellent, but the generation of new business failed miserably. When the accountant was brought back into the main office, I wondered why they assigned a person lacking the skills to do the job. I also made the mistake of asking the people who made the decision about it and learned that my opinion was not a consideration.  

Training and experience can go a long way in alleviating potential conflicts. If an employee knows how to do their job, chances are enhanced that irritating conflicts will not develop. I came into public accounting before the training programs now so common came in to use. Learning through experience is necessary, but learning the methods of productivity through training are superior to learning from errors on the job. 

If there is a person in your business that you have doubts about, don't jump to conclusions when something goes wrong. I could not find my car keys one morning and assumed my wife had misplaced them. Obviously, the person with impaired memory is going to be the first suspect in a lost item. After searching the condo thoroughly, I decided to change the pants I was wearing. In the pocket of my other pants were the car keys. Thank God I didn’t launch into a speech about leaving things where they belong. 

One of the least productive people to be angry at is yourself. If you make a mistake, learn from it and move on. This has been one of my hardest lessons to learn. The only value in looking back is to clear your vision for the future. Sometimes things go wrong that are beyond your control. No point in dwelling on that. My brother, Don, told me that in looking back, the decisions he made were with the best information he had at the time. Had he known then what he knows now, his decisions might have been different. Or, as the great American social analyst Willie Nelson wailed in his ballad, "There's nothing I can do about it now."

Be nice to accountants. Don't kill the messenger. Accountants are hired to ensure the accounting records are a true reflection of the condition and profitability of the business. Accountants are not responsible for the results reflected on the statements. Being angry with an accountant for errors in accounting makes sense. Being angry with the accountant for operating results is absurd.

Attorneys fulfill some of the same needs as accountants when it comes to compliance. In litigation or arbitration, their job is to win. Winning is the value in what they do. An attorney told me one time that an attorney who has the law and the facts on their side pounds the law and the facts. If they don't have the law and the facts on their side, they pound the table. What he failed to tell me was that facts and law have little to do with winning or losing. The show is everything.  

Anger can cause immediate measurable health risks. With the advice of my attorney, I worked through a case of a malevolent employee who appeared to want to be fired by me. I needed the employee, but the employee had a family matter pop up that conflicted with work. It took about six months, but I was able to control my temper through the process. After a particularly acrimonious meeting, my receptionist told me I looked awful and to go to my doctor. My blood pressure was 210/180. Apparently, pent-up anger is as harmful if not more harmful than expressed anger.   

A long time ago, I prepared a tax return for an elderly lady. She called me about a week later and wanted to know where her return was. I found in our register that an employee had delivered the return several days earlier. I informed her, and she became very irritated. I drove to her home, and the return was a large pile of unopened mail. I expressed my frustration and left. I know now that was my first experience with dementia. I can't apologize because she is deceased, but I make a concerted effort to be more understanding. Whenever you feel the need to tell someone off, be sure you understand the situation.

My point is that while working through the challenges of life, negative emotions — particularly for business owners — are dangerous. My realization that the annoying things my wife does do not illicit anger indicate to me that anger is a choice to an event.

Paul Hense is the retired president of local accounting firm Hense & Associates and past chairman of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

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