Beware of your own anger

Beware of your own anger

What you deem as an appropriate emotional reaction may be perceived as much more by your veterinary team.
Apr 01, 2015

O would some power the giftie give us to see ourselves as others see us.

—Robert Burns

Getty ImagesDr. Dan Sizemore comes barreling down the hallway behind the exam rooms. He wears a distinct look of exasperation mixed with anger. His eyes are narrowed. Brows knitted and forehead furrowed, he spies … Heidi, his technician.

“Where is the lab report I asked for yesterday on the Miller cat?” Dr. Sizemore bellows. “The lab told me two days ago it had been faxed here Monday. Mrs. Miller is very upset. Why can’t my staff get these reports to me?”

Heidi Jones happens to be the only person in the room. Dr. Sizemore’s voice is strident and his face is a little red. In short, he seems angry. She knows nothing about the lab report but answers anyway. “I’ll see what I can do immediately.”

Just then the scene freezes. Time at the veterinary hospital is suspended. Sigmund Freud walks through the back wall and asks, “Dr. Sizemore, are you angry?”

“I don’t think so,” he replies. “I’m very concerned about this situation and it needs to be resolved immediately. But let me clarify—I am not angry.”

Freud turns to Heidi. “Does it appear to you that your boss is angry? Do you think his anger is directed at you and will affect your job in the future?”

“Can he hear me talking to you?” she asks. Freud answers in the negative. “Then yes,” Heidi responds. “He seems very angry to me. He’s talking to me, so I suppose he is angry with me and thinks I’m responsible for the lab report. It may affect my job … I don’t really know, but it makes me wonder.”

Once time and space return to All Pets Vet Clinic, Dr. Sizemore forgets the conversation within 10 minutes. Heidi remembers it forever.

Avoid angry

Are you a boss who likes to take authority? Do you demand immediate results? Do you relish taking on challenges and solving problems? This may seem like a great combination of assets for a veterinary employer, but this type of person often has a dominant personality with behaviors that are difficult to work with.

Remember: When you’re the boss, there’s an invisible wall between you and your employees. How transparent and thin that wall becomes is a function of how you react to your team members. This is especially true when the constant drivel of small frustrations finally boils over into apparent anger.

Your reaction to problems is very important for the health of your practice. Often as the boss you may not even realize that employees perceive your reactions to frustrations as anger directed at them personally. In your view, you may honestly and sincerely think you’re reacting appropriately to the frustration of the moment. But your employee perceives this as anger directed at her. She senses this because:

> You are the boss.

> Your tone of voice and increased volume level indicate anger.

> Your facial expressions consist of a glare, knit-together eyebrows and so on.

> Her emotions tell her that your behavior is personal and punitive.

This kind of boss rarely attaches his reaction to the employee personally and may forget the conversation took place altogether. The employee, however, may hold on to the exchange for a long time. If your employee sees your reaction as anger, she will be reluctant to bring problems to your attention. And this is the opposite of what you want.

Here are some actions you can take to rectify the situation:

> Realize that it’s unprofessional to express anger in the workplace.

> Realize that your body language and tone and level of voice may be perceived as anger whether that’s your intention or not.

> Realize that, as the boss, you have a level of responsibility to the organization that requires leadership with regard to personal demeanor.

> Realize that we are human and we all get angry at times.

It’s important to note that although anger is normal, the expression of it is a problem. The simplest and best way to avoid an emotional boil-over is to take yourself out of the situation. In other words, walk away. It’s better to talk about it when you’re in a different frame of mind.

There were times in my own practice that I was Dr. Sizemore. A former employee pointed this out. Believe me, I was in a state of shock. How many times was I perceived to be angry by an employee while I perceived it as simple “concern” on my part? We all should learn from our mistakes. I hope you will learn from mine.

Explore further

“Manager Tools: When Angry, Disengage,” podcast,, June 15, 2014.