You’ve heard it often, particularly at work, “Just let out that anger [frustration, fear] and you’ll feel better.” Or, “Go ahead and [vent, cry, scream, throw a tantrum] it’s better to get those feelings out.” I’m raising my hand, politely, to say, “Please don’t.”
It’s considered common wisdom that letting your feelings out makes you feel better, lowers your blood pressure, avoids ulcers. Time Magazine said we are hard-wired to swear when we hammer our fingers, just as dogs yelp when you step on their tails. I humbly point out that until we can speak dog, a yelp is just a yelp. If the dog bit your foot, that’s a different thing.
Back to humans. I’m convinced that giving yourself permission to scream and yell is not a good idea. Ever. I’m all for expending anger and frustration by physical release–running, jump-roping, swimming–after all, there is adrenaline involved. But I am against slamming pots and pans, throwing pillows or plates, and other displays of drama.
Here’s why: After the adrenaline rush is over, there is clean up. If you throw it or break it, you are the one responsible to clean it up or glue it back together. This is easier with plates than with another person’s emotions.
In one job I had, my boss had a horrible temper. His raised voice and angry tone always made me feel diminished. That often led to me feeling angry. I had to struggle to control yelling back. I think yelling begets yelling. Yelling also begets escalation, and what started out as a pea-shooter event grows into pouring boiling oil over the ramparts right before the cannons fire and Napalm drops out of the sky. In other words, the whole event heads in the wrong direction. A completely different take on this, well worth reading, is Bret Simmons post on workplace civility. He uses Rush L.’s (I’m not spelling out his name so I don’t get Google hits relating to that man’s name) lack of civility and says, “Even if I agreed with his views, I’d choose not to listen to him because of the way he conducts himself. It’s more a matter of my character than of his.” Perfectly said.
I have also lost control of my temper. I felt hot anger and words pouring out of me, and another me was watching in horror. I never felt good afterwards. I never felt relieved. In truth, I felt sick. Sick at what I had just demonstrated about myself. Sick about how I showed up in the world. Mostly, sick of how I had driven the solution away and brought out the worst in the situation.
A few weeks ago, I had a woman in a class, who vehemently insisted that what you were thinking should be said. “It’s better for me!” she said. It may have been, but it was torture for the class and for me. Whatever I said, she disagreed with, topped the story, told a story that proved the opposite point. During the break, I spoke to her privately and asked her to please let me move the class ahead so I could keep on time. She snorted, “You just want me to shut up.” I ached to agree. Instead I said, “There are 14 hours of material in this class, and the class won’t end until I’ve taught it. If you disagree at every turn, we’ll be here a long time.”
She looked at me and agreed. And as the class came back in, she stood up, came to the front of the class, faced the group and said, “Quinn told me to shut up, but I bet you want to hear what I have to say!” I suppressed the urge to zip my plastic lunch bag over her head and looked apologetic but said nothing. I could have defended myself, but it may have turned the whole class against me. Instead, by her bold assumption, she had lost the approval of the class.
Winning is not having the loudest voice, the longest endurance, or the biggest punch. The winner is the person who walks away feeling proud of their behavior. And that’s hardly ever achieved by screaming.
–-Quinn McDonald rides a motorcycle and used to make smart mouth comments to bad drivers. She quit when she noticed that one of the drivers she’d snarked at had a gun on the passenger seat. Gun trumps opinion, every time.