Volume 31 Number 3
The Gift of Anger
By Krishnan Rangachari | March 2016
The first time I sent off an angry e-mail to a colleague, I groveled and apologized afterward in person and over e-mail. Gradually, I got really good at these groveling apologies. The pattern was often the same: a teammate would offer an opinion that I thought was silly, ill-informed or dangerous. Riled up by their “stupidity,” I would slay their arguments. Inevitably, I’d overdo it, and then regret it all.
Yet, no matter how many times I did this, I could not stop myself! No amount of tactical moves, such as setting an automatic delay for sending e-mails, really fixed the root of the problem. But recently, a series of revelations helped create a shift in my behaviors.
I discovered that I was most offended by “stupidity.” My anger was often aimed at my coworker being ignorant in some way. I began to realize that deep down maybe, just maybe, I felt stupid myself. I’d never acknowledged that parts of me could be dim or naive.
But then I asked myself, “What if I were stupid? What is the gift in being half-witted?” A few answers immediately came to mind: I’d break rules (because I wouldn’t even know they existed); I’d say what was on my mind, regardless of what others thought (because I’d be unaware of wanting to please others); I’d do what I wanted on every project (I wouldn’t care for any standards to meet); and I’d be spontaneous (I wouldn’t be “smart” enough to analyze every decision.)
I realized that what made me feel stupid was exactly what made me brilliant. I was trying to have only the brilliant moments in my life, without allowing the moments that reminded me how helpless and dense I could be. I discovered that without my dullness, I couldn’t be sharp.
Because I refused to acknowledge the foolish parts of me, the universe—playfully—kept bringing people into my life who I’d judge as dummies. The only way I could acknowledge, honor, cherish, and love all of myself—because I couldn’t see it in myself—was to see it in others and learn to love them for it.
Without loving my ordinary and imperfect parts, I couldn’t fully appreciate my clever and funny parts. If I suppressed my darkness, my light couldn’t shine. In loving my darkness, I unleashed my light.
Talk Is Cheap ... or Is It?
People who spoke too much at meetings were another anger flash point for me. I prided myself on speaking only when I had deep, incisive insights to offer, and resented colleagues who were not as efficient as I was.
In a flash of insight, I realized that deep down, what led anyone to speak at meetings was a desire to be loved. It takes courage and vulnerability—even for my chatty friends, even if they don’t realize it—to put themselves on the spot. Even I, with my occasional incisive insight, was ultimately looking for love from my colleagues. I could fool myself by describing my needs as a desire for respect, admiration or affirmation, but those are really just code words for love.
When I speak at meetings, I am once again a little kid sitting at a table, telling a story, wanting to be listened to and encouraged. Seen from this perspective, I could no longer judge my chatty coworkers. If I were looking for love, I’d want to be loved. So why not give that love to my associates when they were looking for it?
Today, when a colleague gets overly chatty at meetings, I play with giving him full attention, asking him follow-up questions, or acknowledging the positives in his statements, especially when I want to disagree most vehemently or run away. As I do this, I begin to lose my own inhibitions and insecurities about being judged for my faults. The non-judgment I show to others comes back to me a hundred-fold.
Every interaction I have with the world is either a request for love, or a request to be loved. When I help a coworker or mentor a junior employee, I’m loving. When I’m nervously walking to my performance review, I’m looking for love.
Love and Anger
In dealing with anger at work, I’ve realized that difficult coworkers are gifts from providence to deepen my own personal and spiritual growth. When I get angry at someone else, I’m really getting angry at myself. When I shout at someone, I’m actually shouting at myself. Everybody I talk to is a mirage; I’m always just talking to myself—past, present, future, unacknowledged or healed versions of myself.
The upshot: To paraphrase author Debbie Ford, everyone I have a “problem” with is either someone I can help by my example, or someone who I can learn to treat with love and compassion.
In learning to get along with others—especially those who are difficult—I finally, at long last, have learned to love myself.
Krishnan Rangachari is a career coach for hackers. Visit radicalshifts.com to download his free career success kit.