OPINION: HARVEY MACKAY: How to nip harmful outbursts in the bud

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A young woman was waiting for her flight at a big airport, so she decided to buy a book to read and a packet of cookies to snack on. She sat down in an armchair in a VIP lounge to relax and read in peace. A man sat down in the next seat, opened his magazine and started reading. When she took out the first cookie, the man took one also. She felt irritated, but said nothing.

For each cookie she took, the man also took one. This infuriated her, but she didn’t want to cause a scene. When only one cookie remained, she thought to herself, “What will this rude man do now?”

Then the man, taking the last cookie, divided it into half, giving her one half. That was too much! She was really angry now. In a huff, she took her book, the rest of her things and stormed off to board the plane. When she sat down in her seat on the plane, she looked into her purse to take out her reading glasses, and to her surprise, her packet of cookies was there, untouched and unopened. She felt so ashamed. She realized that she was wrong.

The man had shared his cookies with her willingly, while she had been very angry, thinking that he was helping himself to her cookies. And now there was no chance to explain herself, nor to apologize.

Have you ever lost your cool and then realized later that you were in the wrong? I’m sure that most of us have. Let’s save ourselves some embarrassment and make sure that we are in possession of all the facts before reacting.

Dale Carnegie said: “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotions.”

Actor Will Smith expanded on that, saying: “(W)e do not care what’s true. We care how it feels.”

We all get angry at work sometimes. If your buttons get pushed, you might need to practice some relaxation techniques so you don’t lose control. According to the American Psychological Association, a few simple relaxation tools can help calm angry feelings: Deep breathing; choosing a calming phrase like “Relax” or “Take it easy” and then repeating it to yourself; visualizing a relaxing experience and practicing slow, yogalike exercises to relax your muscles and calm your nerves.

Smart people don’t let their emotions get out of control. Before exploding at work, remember this advice.

• Pay attention to your behavior. What’s your tone of voice? What is your body language saying to the other person? Focusing on your reactions and emotions will help you stay calm.

• Watch and listen. What do the other person’s tone and body language tell you? Try to discern whether the other person wants something from you that he or she isn’t asking for. For example, an employee may be afraid to challenge a manager directly. Ask if there’s something more going on.

• Stay positive. With a deep breath or two, try to control the impulse that makes you fight back. Try to find something positive, even just the fact that you’re gaining experience dealing with conflict.

• Focus on the here and now. Don’t bring up problems or disagreements from the past. Stick to the present situation. Keep words like “always” and “never” out of the conversation to avoid blowing the argument out of proportion.

• Ask yourself, “Would I rather be right or happy?” In some cases, being right may be more important, such as dealing with safety issues. In other situations, you might be better off letting the other person win. It’s never productive to let stubbornness get in the way of listening to another point of view.

• Take responsibility for communication. You must clear the air — even if the other person tries to let the problem drop. Insist on an open, honest dialogue that lets everyone express his or her needs and opinions honestly.

Mackay’s Moral: Don’t let your emotions get the best of you; let them show the best of you.

• • •

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com.

, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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