Dear Dr Sadaqat Ali,
I am having a hard time dealing with a colleague. He has a big heart and will do anything to help anyone. The problem is his temper. If something does not go his way or someone does not agree with him, he yells and does not care who hears him. He is constantly getting people’s backs up. We all understand that he gets stressed easily, but we can't tolerate his tantrums and insults anymore. Individually we have tried to bring up the topic with him from time to time but nothing seems to work; he laughs it off or tells us that it was so and so’s own damn fault. Now things are so bad that the people in the office, even his friends try to avoid him.
Recently, he threw what I would call “an adult temper tantrum” after receiving his assignment. He threw down his reports and complained loudly and inappropriately. He also walked out before I was finished with the meeting—in front of others. Then he was in a very bad mood for the next three days. But I’m thinking I need to speak up now. I feel like a punching bag in front of him. Since he can be quite volatile, can you give me some advice? How can I get him to stop throwing a fit and work out a solution?
Yours sincerely, Punching Bag
Dear Punching Bag,
You’ve done a couple of things right already. You were wise to not confront him on the spot. You did not react when his emotions were strong. But, I have a strong dose of feedback for you. I don't want to offend you, but I need to challenge your righteousness. If he has been abusive for a long time, and you've done nothing concrete about it—then you were rewarding his behavior. If you and others were shying away from confronting him, then you've allowed him to bully you. And now you are sitting on a pity pot. Please stand up. You and your colleagues need to take responsibility for protecting your own boundaries.
I know, it is so easy to let things slide and lose perspective of what such a situation does to a work place environment. Trust me, you deserve a good work climate. Give it to yourself. You have two options. One is to turn this over to the boss. The other is to conduct an Office Intervention. Do it soon. Do it privately, not in front of a crowd. Do it at a time he agrees to.
The good news is that you have understood the fact that anger bouts have negative consequences. They can keep people on pins and needles for years. However, I don’t want to make it sound like once anger has been an issue, the relationships are tainted forever. I have an executive who has currently been making great strides in dealing with his anger by working with a coach. When spoken to by his colleagues, he apologized and promised to treat people with dignity and respect. He stopped his bad behavior. He has made a marvelous turnaround, but it is true that some people have trouble accepting his transformation. They assume that his efforts are merely part of a cover up. They still don’t feel safe. It will take time.