Anger Management & Handling the “Are You An Idiot?” Problem

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In response to my post, Don’t Worry…Get Angry, Jay (his website is Addled: Grappling with Adult ADD) tells us that while his medications help him deal with frustrating situations — he doesn’t blow up — it does nothing to reduce the anger. He feels paralyzed, stewing in his juices, unable to get passed the anger. He writes:

I’ll find out someone else on my team designed some software in a remarkably idiotic way and I’ll stew on it for hours, getting little done. I may express this anger to another colleague, but the venting doesn’t get me over the hump. It is in my power/influence to do *something* that may help correct the problem, but I can’t get passed “pissed off”. (Jay’s full comment is here)

I’m very sympathetic with this issue. I’ve been a software developer (now web developer) for quite a few years and have been in just this type of situation many times. As Jay and others in technical and professional fields already know, different people may do things in somewhat different ways. However, in many fields there are often some general standards and a “logic” that must be followed: if you are building a home, the basement should be built before the first floor. [note 1] Those with more experience, like Jay, can find themselves in a situation where less experienced co-workers or, those who simply don’t think through the implications of what they are doing, do things in a “remarkably idiotic way.” How should you respond when this happens? Here’s my suggestion.

First, take a thirty minute walk to help left off steam. Second, discuss the issue with a colleague. (Jay has already tried these suggestions.) Third, turn it into a teaching moment for the errant co-worker. Write down the reasons why that person’s solution was less than desirable (this helps you get a clear picture of the issue at hand) and then work with that person so that he understands why a different solution would have been better. It’s of utmost importance that this be a real dialogue and NOT a lecture. Listen to his reasons for doing what he did. Use questions to help him see, for himself, the potential pitfalls of his solution. Change will not take place unless he can see what you see, but you need to play the role of the Socratic midwife, helping to bring out the responses without simply providing them. Here’s an example of how it might be done.

Let’s assume this person was assigned the task of designing a wheel. He designs a perfectly usable wheel. However, you believe that a square-shaped wheel may not be the optimal design. Will it work? It may work. However, it will cause a lot of problems for the vehicle it is attached to. Instead of listing these problems, work through the design issues with a series of questions. You can ask, “What changes would be needed to the wheel well if we use your design on vehicles?”, “What effect would your design have on the vehicle’s suspension system?”, “What other parts of the vehicle would have to be re-engineered in order to accommodate your design?” As should be obvious, these questions should lead him to think about how the newly designed object as part of a system and the impact it will have within that larger system. In order for this to work you also need to keep an open mind and be able to listen carefully to what he is saying. It is possible that he had a great idea but he wasn’t sure how to implement it, hence the less-than-optimal solution.

For me, this process helps me to get passed “paralysis” and get rid of some of that anger that is not dissipated by a thirty minute walk or a discussion with a colleague. Further, it also means that you are creating the possibility that this frustrating situation will not occur again. After a few discussions like this, he should be able to get to the point where he can ask himself these questions and be able to figure out if Design A is preferable to Design B. Finally, if nothing changes after a few of these Socratic-like sessions, then shoot the son-of-a-bitch. You’ll feel much better while doing jail time for murder. ;)

  1. It *is* possible to add a basement after the fact but that, too, must follow particular standards and a discernible “logic.”
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  • Jay

    Thanks, Jeff. I’ve been thinking of something intelligent to say, but you’ve pretty much nailed it.

    In the particular situation that sparked my comment, I think I was also overwhelmed (another ADD-related trait! Surprise!) since the specific design issue was one of many. I know that my brain spun around trying to decide which of the many poor design practices I should tackle first further paralyzing me.

    In the days since my self-contained freak out, things have started to work out with this particular individual and team. That is usually the case – I need to remember that.


    • Jeffs ADD Mind

      “things have started to work out with this particular individual and team. That is usually the case – I need to remember that.” – This is the key lesson to learn. The more of these positive experiences…where things work out…the more likely that you will be much less frustrated the next time something similar occurs. Essentially…this is a positive event that helps to cancel out the memory(ies) of some negative events.

      “you’ve pretty much nailed it.” – Thank you!

  • Relationships

    Did you have help from Dr. G on this one?

    • Jeffs ADD Mind

      Absolutely! That’s why, if all else fails, just whack the guy. ;)

  • Augie Weiss

    I was reading this post and noticed steam coming out of my ears. I’m thinking who wrote this new age BS? How much of this idiot would I be able to take or more likely how many idiots have I had to do this with only difference they could smell the bile coming off my breath. But then I read the last line and all was better. :)


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