Got Rage? How To Channel Workplace Anger Constructivel
Former Human Rights Campaign head Joe Solmonese talks about channeling anger constructively in the workplace.
When he was head of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy organization, Joe Solmonese learned to harness his anger in a constructive way. Now a managing director and founding partner of the corporate advisory and services firm Gavin/Solmonese, he shares these insights in his book, The Gift of Anger: Use Passion to Build Not Destroy, which is geared towards helping young people navigate the workplace after college. He talked about the book on the [email protected] show, which airs on SiriusXM’s Wharton Business Radio, Channel 111.
[email protected]: The forward of the book was written by Judy Shepard, the mother of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, a gay man whose beating death almost 20 years brought national attention to hate crimes. That really sets up the issue of anger on that level, but it’s one that pervades every level of society these days.
Joe Solmonese: I had been the head of the Human Rights Campaign for almost eight years. During that time, one of the most important things we did was to pass The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, [Jr.], Hate Crimes Prevention Act in response to the tragic murder of her son. I had the opportunity to spend many days walking the halls of Congress, trying to convince members of Congress to support that legislation. The kind of answers you get from people, you can imagine. From members of Congress just not agreeing with us on the need for protections against hate-based violence, to just sort of indifference to the legislation generally.
I had the opportunity to really witness someone who had good reason to be angry, understandably filled with rage based on what happened to her son, but also to see her hear what she was getting from these people, channel that anger, process that anger, put it aside and come back with the response that we needed her to give in order to get that vote. And she did it time after time after time. I had the privilege to really see the bill passed into law, success made. It was one of the first instances where I really was able to understand the importance of being able to channel anger in a way that gets things done.
[email protected]: But we see anger play out more now than probably going back to the 1960s. Part of that is social media and how that plays into the messages that are being delivered. We are in a society that went from political correctness to political incorrectness. This anger keeps driving a lot of things that happen, even the presidential election.
Solmonese: Right. There’s a baseline of anger in this election cycle that is very much about people feeling like the economy is rigged against them. [Actually,] unemployment is down. We’re at a much better place than we were in 2008, yet there are swaths of people out there who, for a variety of reasons, feel a deep sense of inequity, a deep sense that some have made it and others have not. There is justification to a lot of that. But you layer over that, in an unprecedented way in this election cycle, the influx of information from social media, the idea that everybody has a platform. Everybody has an opportunity to say what they think. Unfortunately, in this election cycle, the sort of ugly underbelly of rage and a whole bunch of other sentiments have surfaced that have made it the angriest electorate in recent history.
“There’s a baseline of anger in this election cycle that is very much about people feeling like the economy is rigged against them.”
[email protected]: When and why can anger be a gift?
Solmonese: I think any emotion is a gift. Any emotion is something that we’re imbued with for a reason, whether it’s sadness or anger or frustration. Anger, the appropriate amount of anger and channeling anger in the right way is oftentimes the catalyst for people doing something they didn’t think they could do. Anger really spurs us to keep going. I write about anger and sheer will getting things done you never thought you’d be able to do, but also channeling that anger in a way that helps you to see the appropriate time to compromise and the appropriate time to give up. The Gift of Anger is an intriguing title and one that reminds us that it has the potential to be a good and important thing.
[email protected]: I would say 99% of people reach a level of anger at some point during the work week. Something will happen in the workplace that will get them angry. A decision goes against them. They didn’t get the pay raise or promotion they expected. Part of it is being able to understand the anger, where it comes from and how to best use it, correct?
Solmonese: Absolutely. This book is very much geared towards young people entering the work world. In any given work day, we encounter things that aren’t as we would like them to be and these have the potential to make us very angry. It could be the denial of a promotion. It could be the person you’re forced to sit next to. But how do you be intentional about determining whether the anger is merited? How do you be much more self-aware about whether the denial of that promotion is your doing or not? How do you get beyond the differences that you have come to define with the person sitting next to you and find common ground so you’re more successful? That’s really at the core of what this book is.
[email protected]: In the business world, things are not going to go 100% your way every time. That’s an adjustment and one of the things you don’t learn in college.
Solmonese: The world is changing with regard to technology, the way we communicate, the way we get things done. Young people coming into the work world are going to find themselves in the company of older people, people with different ideas than they have, people who do things differently than they do. All of that has the potential to be frustrating and anger-inducing. When do you look at the situation and say, “My way, the new way, is the way to do it?” And when do you look at the situation and say, “You know what, there’s something to be said for wisdom and experience?”
[email protected]: You talk in the book about being able to listen intently and take in other people’s ideas and thought processes. At some point, you will come to a situation where two sides may not agree, but you need to find that middle ground. That ends up being a key ingredient of being successful in business.
Solmonese: One of the things I talk about is that as you enter the work world, you’re in the company of people who are very different from you. How do you on the front end of that experience try to define those relationships with the people you work with based on