“I Wasn’t Really Going to Strangle Him!”

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, January 2021

Evan was looking forward to his 6-month performance review. He enjoyed his job and believed that he had met or exceeded all of his supervisor’s expectations. It was a complete shock to learn that his overall performance rating was “needs improvement.” As his supervisor began to give details about what needed to change, Evan’s heart started pounding.

“And then I lost it,” he said. “The criticisms were inaccurate and unfair! I was furious and told my boss that I wanted to strangle him. I was fired on the spot. I know it was wrong to get so angry,” he continued, “but my boss had to have known that I wasn’t really going to hurt him!”

Evan was not aware that the threat of violence is serious, and completely unacceptable in the workplace. Most organizations have a zero tolerance policy for any threat of harm to a person or company property. I’ve had clients lose jobs for threatening to smash a co-worker’s computer, throwing a stapler, and screaming obscenities.

Evan worked with a psychotherapist on anger management and with me on communication skills. He saw that he misinterpreted the performance feedback as a personal attack. In reality, he was receiving guidance on how to be successful. He learned techniques for disagreeing in a respectful manner, and for clarifying performance expectations.

Still, his boss’ reaction confused Evan. “I wasn’t really going to strangle him.”

You knew you wouldn’t harm him,” I explained, “but your boss had a completely different perspective.”

We considered the supervisor’s point of view. Evan’s facial expression and the tone and volume of his voice indicated that he was extremely angry. His boss may not have feared that Evan’s hands would literally be around his neck. However he knew that enraged people can be violent. Evan’s explosive reaction to performance feedback was uncalled for, and could cause the boss to question his mental stability.

“Your supervisor understandably took your threat seriously. It doesn’t matter that you knew you wouldn’t follow through.”

Evan had not previously considered that his actions impacted other people. He often presumed that others saw a situation as he did, or would forgive his angry outbursts once he explained that he hadn’t intended to lose control. He was surprised to learn that there were basic expectations for behavior that employees were assumed to understand.

Emotional control is fundamental in the workplace. In addition to job loss, threatening words and behavior can have legal ramifications in certain situations. Evan made it a priority to manage his anger and learn how act professionally. He eventually left the high technology industry to work in a less pressured industry, which greatly reduced his stress.

Copyright 2021, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching