No matter how sunny your mood, nothing can shake you quite like being met with an angry face, especially at work. Most of us are hardwired to automatically assume we’re the cause of the person’s exasperation.
For example, imagine your boss storms into a meeting with a demeanor befitting, say, Naomi Campbell (sans thrown cell phones, of course). Your immediate mental reaction is probably something similar to, “Oh, crud, what did I do?” followed by an immediate rise in blood pressure.
You don’t always know what’s causing someone to be a in particular mood and, more often than not, you’re not the reason (unless, of course, you fell asleep during a presentation or she caught wind of your “Brunch & bellinis with the gals ;)” Facebook status when you called in sick.)
It’s more likely the case that there’s an external situation (personal or professional) that’s causing your boss’s gnarly mood. Instead of immediately assuming you’re the (deserved) target of her wrath, try imagining that the faux Naomi is just having a bad day.
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In a new study, researchers at Stanford University found that when people were shown photos of an angry face and told to consider that the person had a bad day (a process called “reappraisal”), they experienced less of a negative emotional response when they saw the face for a second time. In contrast, participants who were told to just feel the emotions brought on by an angry face were more upset when they saw the face again.
Maybe she got a speeding ticket that morning or her dog passed away. Whatever you conjure up, try to visualize the cause of her anger as something external instead of allowing her choler to affect you. If you can do that, you may be better equipped to cope with her negativity and get through your day unscathed.
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“If you’re trained with reappraisal, and you know your boss is frequently in a bad mood, you can prepare yourself to go into a meeting,” Jens Blechert, Ph.D., co-author of the study, said in a press release. “He can scream and yell and shout but there’ll be nothing.”
If you have someone in your life who seems to constantly be angry or in a bad mood, there are a few best practices to keep in mind so his or her anger doesn’t end up affecting you.
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First, be patient. If you’re not in a professional environment, the person may want to vent to you, and the best thing you can do is listen.
Second, try to sincerely empathize with his or her situation. Most times, people who are frustrated to the point of anger just want to be understood.
Third, remember to stay calm and not to allow your own emotions to get the best of you. We naturally mirror other people’s physicality and emotions, and being near someone who’s angry could negatively impact you own feelings.
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Whatever you do, at the end of the day try not to internalize your friend, boss or loved one’s anger, especially when you don’t know why he or she is upset. If possible, try to find out what the root cause is but, most importantly, assume it has to do with them, not you.