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Is losing your temper losing your professionalism?

Things will have to come to a pretty pass for me to fly off the handle. But fly off the handle I did, not very long ago, in the course of a three-way conversation with a supervisor and a coachee.

The conversation in question was meant to establish the learning goals of my coachee. The supervisor, a professor who I shall call Rick for the purposes of this column, sent me an email the night before to say he didn’t think it would be relevant for him to attend. After explaining to him, his input as a supervisor would be helpful, Rick decided to come after all.

When I enter the room the next morning Rick doesn’t seem to know who I am. A lightbulb moment doesn’t occur, even when I tell him we have talked extensively on an earlier occasion, and no idle chitchat either but a deeply personal talk lasting two hours. It’s surprising, not only because of the nature of the talk but because I stand 6 ft 2 in my stocking feet, which usually makes an impression. But my memory fails me sometimes, so I let it pass.

After this icebreaker something else extraordinary happens. Rick has no idea about the purpose of the meeting. I wonder if I talked to Rick’s alter ego the other night. My attempt at an explanation meets with a request to skip the introduction and to get to the point. Oh dear, it’s the usual game of who’s boss. There are days that I roll up my sleeves and go for it but today is not that day.

My client starts to reel off his stuff, prompting Rick to question his every word and make feeble jokes. After an hour we are very much were we started. I remind Rick of his earlier request to get to the point. I then surprise myself by running out of patience. I gather up my things, hiss that I have other important things to do and that if the gentlemen have come to some sort of an agreement about the learning goals, to let me know.

Outside the sun is shining and my anger turns to doubt. Was this a professional thing to do? Many people will think it wasn’t. We tend to believe that losing it at work is not done.

In the evening Rick sends me an email. He says he didn’t mean to be obstructive and that he certainly didn’t want to give the impression his staff member’s coaching wasn’t important. I believe him. Talking about personal matters is difficult for this professor and this makes him feel uncomfortable. By showing my personal boundaries he had to come up with his unease. Losing your temper can be professional after all.

Aletta Wubben

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