Responding to Anger


In my job I have got a new boss, against whom I developed a strong aversion right from the start, bcoz of his behaviour and character. Almost everyone dislikes/disrespects him, but I have this really strong aversion and irritation. I had this problem a few years ago with another person, and I couldn't reconcile my feelings then. So I feel now it has come again. So how can I get rid of this aversion? Behaving nicely invites bad behaviour from his end. So should I accept bad behaviour to solve it?

—joyd, india


Dear Joyd,

How to deal with a difficult person is one of life’s great tests, and, great opportunities. The very fact that you find yourself in this situation a second time is a sure indication that Divine Mother has a wonderful opportunity for you to grow spiritually. Be glad, therefore!

Well, more seriously, now, this IS a test of your character and spirit. Never mind your boss: it’s not reasonable to expect you are going to change him (or anyone else, for that matter). We cannot necessarily change how others behave but we are responsible for our responses to their behavior.

So, what’s best? As you say, being “nice” just means you end up being a doormat and enabling his rude behavior. Fighting him just invites more abuse and possibly loss of your job.

So, the obvious answer is to be even-minded and non-reactive at all times. Your question goes beyond what a mere email can handle comprehensively, so I will have to work at opposite ends of the spectrum as well as in the middle.

Don’t “accept” improper or demeaning treatment. What does this mean? As I do not know you or him or the circumstances of your interactions, it is difficult to be specific. There are cultural boundaries; gender boundaries; workplace boundaries; age difference boundaries; authority boundaries. To “accept” another’s abuse is to accept that person’s definition of the situation: if he’s angry, then you get angry in response. Not to “accept,” means that if he’s angry, you are not. You simply don’t see it that way. To accept abuse is to take it personally and accept it AS abuse. To not accept abuse is to not let it get inside you. Whether this means you defend yourself verbally, physically, or by leaving the job, or simply by remaining unruffled depends on you and the circumstances.

But always there is a boundary line you must find where ill-treatment is unacceptable and must be confronted.

One obvious line is physical abuse, being hit or struck. That is unacceptable. But a boss who “flies off the handle” with a verbal tirade may direct that to the project or people at large or to real mistakes that were made, or, address the abuse personally at you and your character. The response may be very different in each case.

The boss’ behavior and language may be crude and offensive but not necessarily directed toward you. In this latter case, it may be easier to simply ignore his crudities so long as they aren’t directed to you, or your cherished beliefs, loved ones, etc.

So, you see, there is a wide variety of situations. But, for now, and so long as you are there on the job, start by remaining neutral and poised. Once you get angry, hurt, or upset you will most likely make things worse, whether you express those feelings in the moment in reaction to your boss or at home to yourself in private.

This is because the energy and consciousness of anger is infectious. By not responding angrily to anger, you create a space that invites the other person’s anger to dissipate on its own (and therefore more quickly). Whether it can have any lasting effect or only will, in time, change that person’s tendency to express anger towards you is impossible to say in advance. But either way, remaining non-reactive is best.

Remaining calm also reflects back to the other person his own anger and for this reason too invites the other person to see his behavior in the mirror of your eyes.

But you, too, have obviously invited this behavior in some way. Whatever karma may be bringing this treatment to you can best be worked out by remaining even-minded and yes, even cheerful (so long as that doesn’t invite more improper behavior from the boss).

I have found that daily prayer for the person and the circumstances brings to me patience and acceptance; in time, with grace, it even change or soften the other person.

In the right moment, a respectful, gentle response that expresses your disapproval, lack of consent, or sorrow for his own behavior (whichever is appropriate) can actually help him provided you are not attacking him back but speaking calmly your own peace with the intention to make the situation for both of you (and even your work) a better one.

Having a meditation and prayer practice, and the grace of a true guru can bring strength, courage, wisdom, and compassion to you in abundance as well.

My prayers are with you,

Nayaswami Hriman