Losing your temper: How to Keep Your Cool

October 30, 2006

Posted in Personal and Small Business.

I noticed that one of my recent posts, 12 Tips for Staying Productive and Avoiding Burnout has attracted some searchers coming in looking for advice on keeping your temper. To be honest, I have a short temper. However, I’ve found that I have a large capacity for managing my temper.

  1. Pause. Take a few seconds and ask yourself why you’re angry.
  2. Breathe. Get some air. When I get really angry, I sometimes have physical reactions such as shaking, turning red, or holding my breath. Bring yourself back to a centered, calm place by taking a deep breath.
  3. Think. Force yourself think rationally about what’s making you angry. This helps you keep a clear head about the situation.
  4. Think ahead. If you decide you have a reason to be upset, consider the ramifications of your actions. Is there anything to be gained by saying or doing what you want to say or do?
  5. Empathize. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Why is there a problem? If you can identify the problem, you can start working toward a solution.
  6. Express yourself calmly. If you decide you need to let the other person know how angry you are, do it calmly and in a non-threatening manner. Don’t blow your top just yet—explain you are angry and that you would like to resolve the problem.
  7. Don’t shoot the messenger. Is the problem you’re angry about really caused by the person you’re working directly with? Taking it out on this person won’t help. Sometimes you can make this work to your advantage by letting them know just how upset you are, but that you know it’s not their fault–and you need their help to make it better.
  8. Get away. Take a break. Go for a walk. A nap can clear things out. Get some exercise. If you’re going to lose it, keep your cool until you can blow off some steam somewhere safe.
  9. Share the burden. Vent to a friend (who knows you’re venting, lest he or she make the situation worse). If you feel advice would help, ask for it.

Communication Barriers

I studied in Japan for a year. It was there that I learned patience and communication. Trying to express yourself to someone in a language in which you are barely proficient is frustrating beyond belief. I found myself trying to use words for which I knew no English equivalent. Sometimes I fell back on charades, using a Japanese-English dictionary, or drawing pictures.

As mad as I was sometimes, I discovered that I was more upset at the difficulty of communicating. This isn’t just true for different cultures or languages–it’s true for different sub-cultures and the special languages they use. Imagine a doctor trying to explain a complicated procedure to a patient. Or a technician walking a customer through the process of troubleshooting software. It’s maddening.

Give them the benefit.

It’s probably not personal. Mistakes happen, and you’ll find it’s easier to resolve them calmly than it is to get angry. Angry people aren’t necessarily rational, so it becomes very difficult for someone to reason with you and explain where the problem came from. Assume the person either made an honest mistake or they were not at all responsible for the problem.

Talk with your money

If you are angry at a business, you should let them know you are upset (do it calmly) and why. Let them know the consequences—that if the problem cannot be resolved, take your business elsewhere. Don’t make threats.

Patience and Attitude

It’s all about patience. Your time is valuable, but it’s often faster to keep cool and let things work themselves out. After I lived in Japan, I worked for over a year as a help desk phone support technician. I dealt with a range of problems and people, troubleshooting and fixing problems on the phone. On the phone (and Internet), people are physically distant from you so they find it easier to cast social niceties aside and be rude. Some of these people might have spent hours trying to fix their own problem before calling me, so I decided that it was best to treat them all as if they were just about to give up. Because most users aren’t experts, an impatient technical support person is even more frustrating. Here’s where attitude is a huge help. Friendliness and endless patience is very disarming. I found it helped to lighten the moment with a joke or by striking up some personal connection. It can bring the other person over to your side.


You can’t always get what you want. In the end, you may not be perfectly happy with the situation. But you can feel some relief in its resolution. I once heard that “a good deal is one where both sides feel like they lost.” I don’t know how much I agree with that, but I’ll say that if you have an opportunity to clear up your problem by giving in a bit, you should consider whether it’s even worth your time and blood pressure to keep fighting.

So… what tips do you have for cooling off and keeping yourself from losing your temper?