It’s easy to get angry practicing law.
Your client stiffs you on a bill. The judge issues a ridiculous ruling. Opposing counsel is a jerk.
On such occasions, your temperature rises and your composure falls. Your vision starts to blur. You want the person who acted badly to get what they deserve.
But none of this will make your job easier or your life better.
Successful lawyers turn negative feelings into positive results. Here are five ways to do that:
1) Use anger to flush out repressed emotions. Angry feelings are unpleasant. They make us feel lousy. So we sometimes bury them inside and pretend nothing is wrong. But like damp socks left in the closet, repressed emotions have a tendency to start smelling. They will also limit your effectiveness as a lawyer by sapping your energy and stifling your creativity.
Turn anger into a plus by using it to purge repressed emotions.
“[R]epressed truth becomes polluted truth, meaning it has the stench of something that has gone past its due-date,” writes artist and self-styled shaman Laura Hollick. “Anger teaches us to address our true thoughts and feelings as they arise so they don’t reach this point of fermentation.”
2) Use anger to reveal your weak spots. Some people just know how to push our buttons. They are good at exploiting weaknesses. Rather than lashing out, try using these opportunities to identify vulnerabilities. How can we strengthen our personal defenses?
3) Use anger to move out of complacency. Often anger is a call to action. You feel stuck. You are sick and tired of the status quo. Use anger as the engine to stir things up in your life.
4) Use anger as motivation. Anger can be an empowering force. It need not burn you up – it can light your path. A team of Harvard researchers found that anger motivates people to take control of their lives.
Hollick advises to listen to what your anger might be telling you, but don’t let it guide your actions. “[S]peak our truth, let ourselves feel what we’re feeling,” she writes. “When you own your power you have befriended anger in mutual respect and appreciation.”
5) Use anger to identify bad actors. Anger is contagious. It affects others who are near its presence. This is so even if the anger is not expressed. A fascinating series of brain studies have shown that when a person is feeling irate or vengeful, the bad vibe ripples out to those around them – even if the feelings are not displayed in any visible way. If you are having difficulty connecting with a client, try identifying whether anger is present in either of you. Then you can take steps to defuse the negativity and start building a more constructive relationship.
Learning to harness your anger will also prolong your career. It is well documented that frustration, irritation and stress trigger the brain to release chemicals that cause high blood pressure, ulcers, heart disease and a weakened immune system. Over time your body wears out.
What situations during your workday make you angry? How do you deal with it?