278: Anger Management in Startups
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Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about anger and how to deal with it at work and in your personal life.
Being angry is an extremely powerful emotion. If you’re somebody that gets angry easily, you run the risk of being avoided by the people you love and work with. On the flip side, if you’re someone that bottles up your anger, you risk becoming a pressure cooker that will inevitably explode, which could cause you to behave in a way that you regret later.
In this episode, Steli and Hiten share some insights on what anger is, reasons why people get angry and how to manage it if you do so that you don’t act in a way you regret later.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
00:01 – About today’s topic.
00:34 – Why we talk about this topic today
00:50 – Hiten talks about his background and how he dealt with anger as a child.
02:30 – Steli also talks about his upbringing.
05:53 – How to move from one emotion to another in small steps.
08:15 – Reasons why people get angry.
09:55 – The biggest lesson Hiten has learned around anger.
11:45 – Steli gives an example of how helplessness gets him angry.
10:52 – Steli talks about what he has learned on how to deal with anger.
16:54 – Hiten talks about how he deals with resentment.
19:07 – Steli gives some tips on how to deal with anger.
- Anger is a way that most people deal with the emotional feeling of helplessness.
- Resentment is like taking small sips of poison.
- I’d much rather be angry than depressed.
Steli: Hey everybody, this is Steli.
Hiten: And this Hiten. And today on The Startup Chat, we wanted to talk about a topic we haven’t talked about probably ’cause neither of us gets too angry very often. I think there’s reasons why. I’m sure both of us used to get angry, and so today I was kind of inspired to talk about anger just ’cause it’s something I’ve been thinking about actually quite a bit. One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about it, on my end, is ’cause I’m the type of person that doesn’t really get angry. I had a very calm presence across the board in my family growing up, even when I did something really horrible, which I’ve done some things that are … Most parents would be yelling. My dad would not yell, and he’d give me more of this look and … It’s not even a look really. It’s just a feeling I got from him, like he was disappointed in me. I still kept getting in trouble. I probably got in trouble … Like big trouble. So, anyways, I never understood anger until very recently in that way, except obviously people would get angry around me in terms of like as I was growing up in college and other things. I would see their anger. I knew people that were hotheads, as you call it, or had a temper. So, for me, I’ll start out by saying that I didn’t realize I actually do get angry. I do one thing that I think I’ve been unlearning, and the one thing I do is I actually suppress it and then it comes out like weeks later or months later or hours later, and I think my anger or my frustration … It comes out not as anger, but as frustration or I say something kind of mean to somebody, but not knowing that it was related to something a long time ago or hours ago or days ago or months ago that I had suppressed. So, to me, this is just a fascinating topic because everybody gets angry, and I think we might not be realizing it. And then there’s also the kind of anger where you’re usually angry at another person, and that’s obviously not healthy. So, I just wanted to talk about it with you ’cause I’m sure you’ve got some really good thoughts on this.
Steli: Yeah. I love the topic. It’s interesting because I had been thinking about this lately, but with a totally different … From a different perspective. But I never … Sometimes you’ll think about things very thoroughly, and sometimes there’s early thoughts that are not as verbalized and acts as more of an emotion, and you think about it for just … I do for just like split seconds here and there until it starts building up to my conscious, to a level where I start really thinking about it more consciously and more in depth and detail. Now, my upbringing was totally different than yours in this sense that anger was definitely part of my upbringing and my environment. So, my … I’ve told the brothers … The oldest … So, our dad — and we’ve talked about this in a prior episode of like how the death of our parents affected us as co-founders, as entrepreneurs and people … So, my dad died, and I’ve told the brothers … My oldest brother was like 16, 17, and he definitely got angry about the whole thing and had anger issues, and that displayed itself in many different challenging ways. One was that he would flip out at times and then scream around and get really aggressive and really angry with me and my other brother. So, my oldest brother was always kind of a very aggressive, angry energy in the house. I myself was really angry as a kid. I had this feeling of … Lots of shit happened to us when I was young, so I had this like very much chip on my shoulder and the feeling that the world is against us. So, I think between the age of 6 and 16 I was constantly getting into fights, and many of these fights honestly I was probably initiating. I had a very short fuse, so I was getting into a lot of fights, and I remember being really angry with the world and myself and everybody. And then my grandfather and my uncle … Lots of people in my family had anger issues for sure, so anger was definitely something that I experienced growing up. How to manage anger is definitely not something that I … I didn’t have a lot of people in my life that I would feel were very kind of evenly balanced and measured in how they managed their temper. So, being angry was definitely a big part of my life growing up. It’s not at all anymore part of my life now, at least not this uncontrolled anger that converts into aggression towards others, right? That’s not at all part of my life anymore. I don’t have a short fuse anymore, I think, and I don’t scream at people almost never. I almost never meaning … I might get loud with my kids at times after a challenging day full of travel — something like that. I’m not perfect. I never never get louder, but it’s very rare that I do. So, anger’s not something that’s a big part of my life today. I’ve recently been thinking about, “Huh, when was the moment where that changed for me?” So, that’s kind of the feeling that I had recently where I started reflecting on being angry and thinking, “Why isn’t this not as much part of my life anymore? And when did it change?” And I’m not sure. I’d love to explore that with you. One thing that I’ll say … One thing that I learned a long time ago, or a concept I’ve heard a long time ago that has been an interesting concept to me is that … Is that concept of moving from one emotion to another in steps and thinking about these steps. So, a lot of times people want to go from feeling depressed to being happy in one big swoop, and that’s almost to do because these emotions are so opposite. But I learned … Or I read about this concept once with like taking emotional steps from depression to happiness in small steps. The funny thing was that the person there, a psychologist there would propose to go from unhappiness, or depression, to frustration, and then from frustration to anger, and then from anger to a bias towards taking action, and then from action to feeling empowered, and from empowered to feeling excited, and from excited to feeling happy. The description was that anger is actually something that oftentimes comes to people right after they feel helpless. It’s a way that a lot of people deal with the feeling of helplessness because it’s a negative emotion, but it’s a more empowering emotion. People get angry usually either because they feel threatened, right? It’s like somebody’s trying to take something away from me, something bad is gonna happen to me, so I’m gonna deal with this with aggression because I feel threatened. Or, and this is something I never knew, people get angry as an empowerment tool from the emotion of feeling helpless because helpless feels so shitty, so instead of just sitting there and feeling sorry for themselves or feeling helpless, they eventually, in that feeling of frustration of helplessness, they get angry as a way to go from feeling helpless to feeling energy and power on their side, which is an interesting concept that I wanted to throw out there in terms of how anger happens and what anger is and how to use it.
Hiten: That’s really powerful. I think that’s the non-obvious thing, right? If you’re angry, what’s making you feel helpless is probably a great question to ask. I mean, when I think about anger I think about a lot of the times … If I’m talking to somebody, and they’re telling me, “Oh, this is happening in my life,” or, “This team member on my team said they’re gonna leave, and I’m kind of pissed off about it. I did this, this, and this and this for them, and they didn’t … they’re still gonna leave,” and a lot of times they get angry about it. I think it comes … I see it clearly that in that situation a lot of times it comes from the helplessness. Like, “Hey. I wanted to work with this person. I did everything I could, I thought, and they’re still leaving.” And the person ends up having some kind of emotion around anger when really they just feel helpless that they can’t do … They can’t do anything about it and it’s gonna happen. I usually … The way I tend to treat those situations, maybe it’s over time or just realizing that I don’t want to be angry, is like I don’t even feel helpless. I try to think of … I don’t feel helpless. I don’t feel angry. I just say, “Well, when someone,” … And this is just more of a tip around when people want to leave your company. I know we’ve talked about that before. Just accept it and move on, ’cause that helplessness and anger leads to you being like grabby, being really needy about that person being in your company or in your life even. Obviously, we see this happen a lot with dating and relationships, and even marriage and divorce and things like that. But the helplessness, I think, is probably a little known sort of trigger. “A little known” meaning people just don’t realize why they’re getting angry. And so, to me, that acceptance is probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned myself even around anger. For example, I have what I call microaggressions and micro-anger, which are two different things. I think microaggressions are like, ” I’ll be passively aggressively … Or sarcastic and actually be pissed,” which are more like kind of microaggressions. For me, micro-anger is like getting … Literally like really … I could feel it in myself and my body of getting angry about something really small, and that’s like a micro-anger, and that to me a lot of times, for me at least, as I think about it … It actually comes from this feeling of helplessness and this feeling of like, “I can’t do anything about that situation,” or the moment has passed, but I wasn’t happy with that moment. And all of a sudden, I’m like feeling this emotion. Like, what the fuck? Why am I feeling this emotion, you know? It leads back to a lack of control, a helplessness. And so, I just want to point out that I think what you said is more powerful than people might be thinking because when you look back at why are you angry or a little upset or have a micro-anger, or even a microaggression about something, it has something to do with where you’re lacking control, or you have this perception that you’re lacking control over the situation.
Steli: Yeah, absolutely. I think that … For me, the most obvious example of this to me is with my kids. If my wife or I get angry at one of our kids, it’s never because we feel threatened. Our kids are pretty cool cats and pretty actually responsible for their age, so it’s very rarely that they put themselves in danger, so that we are afraid and get angry. When we get angry, it’s because we’ve tried to influence them in a way and we can’t with the tools that we’ve tried. Maybe they’re running out of control and we’re running out of ways to deal with them, or we’re very inflexible in the way we’re trying to deal with them, and then we get angry. But that anger comes from helplessness. It’s like, “I don’t know how to make you do what I want you to do,” or, “I don’t know how to make you stop doing something I don’t want you to do.” Since I’m trying the same thing again and again and again — it’s not working … That helplessness, that powerlessness that I feel, it translates into anger towards you. It’s never really fear that we have or feeling threatened. It’s always helplessness that drives us angry at our kids, and it’s … Every time that I get angry at my kids, or many times, I’ll pick up on that like, “Ah, you’re really helpless. That’s all it is,” and just telling myself, “Ah, you’re really helpless right now. That’s why you’re getting angry at them,” that alone shifts my emotion instantly because I’m like, “All right. If I’m helpless, how can I help myself? How can I change what I’m doing right now?”
Hiten: Yeah. I don’t ever need to feel helpless, you know?
Hiten: It’s not necessary.
Steli: Yeah. I’m like that’s not useful, right?
Steli: And me going, “Oh, they’re doing this thing again, and they’re not listening to me,” … That’s a different mind frame that like, “Wow. I’m really inflexible right now, and I feel really helpless. How do I change that?” It just instantly changes the way I think about resolving the conflict. The other thing, I do believe that in many startup situations people probably get angry because they feel threatened or they’re afraid of something. But I know in our case that’s never the case. I don’t ever feel threatened … Six years of doing this with two co-founders and now 30 people in our startup, I never feel threatened, right, because we don’t allow people in our lives that are that type of person, right? We don’t have people in our lives that we don’t trust. We don’t allow people in our lives that are not great human beings. So, I want to acknowledge that that’s something many startup founders experience because they work with people that they don’t trust, or they work with people that are not trustworthy. But it’s not something that we experience, but I do experience anger in my company, but it’s usually coming out of helplessness. Either somebody wanting to leave that I don’t want to leave, or somebody not doing as well as I thought they should do and I can’t help them get there and I’m getting angry at them, but it’s really, again, helplessness. Like, “Why can’t I make this work? Why can’t I help this person to change?” Or, “Shit. Why’s this person not wanting to work with me on this or stay with my company on my team?” It’s usually helplessness within the startup context. For me, it doesn’t translate anymore into like screaming and being angry at them or being really loudly angry. It’s more of an inner-dialogue. It doesn’t come out in … I’m not really passive aggressive, I think. That’s not one of the channels that I use. I think what I do is I get really resentful in my mind. I start really criticizing them over and over and over and over again and being really automatic and habitual and repetitive with it, and people will pick up on that. In my mind, just in the terms of like … My energy is so clear with people. When I enjoy being around people it’s so obvious to them that when I start resenting them, when I start thinking critically with them, I’ve learned not to be criticizing to people, not to be aggressive with people, but they can just feel that my energy around them is not good anymore, or not excited or not positive or that I’m not comfortable around them. So, people pick up on that and they start feeling bad. They start sensing that I’m angry at them or that I’m resentful, that I think negatively of them, and then it kind of deteriorates. So, that’s something I’m trying to get better at, is like not starting to just internally deal with that anger because people still can feel it and it still comes out, but being more realizing I feel helpless in this situation, and now either accepting the situation, right? Just like you said, like acceptance. Well, if they go, they go, and I’ll wish them the best and we’ll move on with life. Or, to me, it’s like being in articulating my helplessness with people. “Help me out here. We’ve talked about this three times. I’ve tried to help you accomplish this. We’re still not there. I feel really helplessness right now. What do I need to do? How do we solve this? ‘Cause if it doesn’t work out, eventually it’s gonna be really bad for both of us, and I want our relationship to stay good.” Just being honest about it, I think, and honesty’s probably also part of acceptance, is a way of dealing with it. That’s something I’m trying to get better at because I’ve gotten away from being aggressive at people and being angry at them and screaming and being kind of more outwardsly projecting with my anger … I’ve gotten a lot better with that. It never gets to ten. I never explode or anything like that, but I do get resentful, and people pick up on it instantly. It just poisons the relationship, which is something I don’t want to do.
Hiten: Yeah, resentment’s a tough one. I think if I feel a certain way about somebody, what I usually do is I turn that resentment into conversation, right? I find a productive way to have that conversation. It’s been one of my most valuable kind of things, ’cause like I said I don’t get angry. I learned growing up that that’s not an emotion that’s constructive, and so I think one way I deal with it is … As we’ve been talking about, right, this helplessness leads to anger. I think resentment obviously leads to anger, especially when you harbor it, hold it, you know?
Steli: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Hiten: So, if I have that inkling about somebody especially, usually it’s somebody important in my life, I tend to just think about it and find a way to have a conversation with that person directly, like literally directly. Usually it isn’t what you would think. It isn’t like, “Hey. I’m mad at you,” or, “Hey. I resent you.” It’s actually more like a very constructive like, “Hey. Can we talk about what happened at this time? I have some thoughts on it, and I need to just talk to you about it.” And those conversations go really well, I got to tell you, Steli. Like, if I just think about it and say, “Hey. I just want to talk about it,” and I think about what I want to say or what I’m feeling and where it’s coming from, like what event or what thing caused it, it’s amazingly … it helps me as a human personally not get angry, or more importantly not feel that harboring of any kind of negativity around somebody else, especially somebody who I have to interact with regularly.
Steli: Yeah. I don’t remember the exact quote, but I think there’s a quote out there from Nelson Mandela that’s something around like if you’re angry at others, or if you’re resent … Resentment is like taking small sips of poison, right? When you’re resentful or angry at other people, it’s like you’re poisoning your own mind and body with those thoughts, and that’s always something that I’m thinking of. Whenever I pick up that negativity inside of me, I’m like, “I’m literally right now poising myself. That’s not gonna help anybody.” I want to bring up two quick … One quick thought and one quick tip because I think that both of us are probably … As we said, we’re not getting angry in the typical sense that most people would experience anger, and we’re probably a lot more in control of our own emotions or in touch with it, but I do think that there’s people out there, especially in the work environment, a stressful work environment, they get really aggressively angry either themselves or have to deal with somebody that is like that, so I want to give some tips on that as well. But one thing that I recognize about anger as an emotion is that it is an emotion with high energy, and what I’ve tried to start doing is … I always say that the difference between fear and excitement, the feeling of nervousness and excitement is just the way you think about it, just context. I’ve given this advice to lots of people about public speaking. We get that internal pumped up emotions all over the place — that could be excitement if you just think about it as excitement versus thinking about it as nervousness. I think that with anger as well, I think about … It’s a negative emotion, but the good thing about it is that it’s a high energy emotion. High energy … I always ask myself, “How do I use high energy?” I’d much rather be angry than depressed, right … Because anger is high energy, and high energy, if you know how to channel your emotions, you might be able to use that emotion, that energy, and channel it in a productive way. A lot of people have changed their life after they got into a point where they go, “No fucking more.” They hit rock bottom, and they’re not depressed, they get angry and pissed and they go, “Fuck this. No more,” and they completely change their life, right? They have that moment of high intensity where they’re like, “I’m done with this shit. I’m not taking this anymore. I’m gonna change everything around.” So, I think that anger can be a really productive emotion if you know how to use the energy and channel it in a productive way versus using that energy and channeling it down a negative path. The other thing that I want to say is that with people out there … One thing that is a very kind of universal advice that I still think is so valuable and people don’t follow is that if and when you get really, really pissed and angry with somebody, please don’t write to them, right? Don’t send them an email. Don’t send them a text message. Don’t send them a Facebook message. Don’t write to people that you’re angry at. Usually my advice would be if you’re really, really pissed, if you’re like at the level ten with somebody and you had it and you’re about to write a really angry, pissed email back to their shitty email to you, call a friend or somebody you trust and talk it out and let your anger out and tell them the email you’re about to write and have somebody console you and consult you. I have this with my co-founder Anthony. Whenever he gets really angry at somebody, he pings me and goes, “I’m about to write this email.” He copies and pastes the email to me. “I’m about to write this email to this person. Please help me not do it,” and then I’ll call and then I’ll laugh. I’ll be like, “I love your email. I get it. You’re really pissed. This sucks, but obviously don’t fucking send this email,” right? And then we’ll talk about it. I’ll do the same thing. In the rare occasions when I get pissed at somebody and want to write them something mean, I ping my co-founder and go, “Please stop me from doing this. It’s probably not a good idea.” So, that’s a … Just please don’t write to people when you’re angry, and maybe find an anger management buddy.
Hiten: I love the buddy angle. I actually recommend to people to write an angry draft without putting the person’s email in it, and just write it. I love the build that you have which is go find an angry buddy, or a partner in crime on the anger that’ll talk you down and be like, “All right. Yeah, don’t send that. Here’s a better way to say it or whatever.” That’s great.
Steli: Awesome. All right. I think that will wrap this episode up with this, although we could talk for hours about it. Thank you for suggesting the topic, Hiten. This, I think, is a killer topic because I do think that anger has probably caused a lot of unrepairable damage in startups, right?
Hiten: Oh, yeah.
Steli: Founders getting angry at each other. Founders getting angry at team members. Team members getting angry at each other, and then saying things or acting in ways that is so hurtful and so destructive that you can’t really repair that anymore and that kind of creates the beginning of the end. So, I love that we had a chance to chat a little bit about anger within life, but also within the context of like you’re working with other people — how do you deal with that.
Hiten: Yep. I totally agree.
Steli: That’s it from us for this episode. We’ll hear you guys very soon.
Hiten: Okay. See ya. Don’t be-