Q. A co-worker of mine has been engaging in extremely exasperating behavior. I'm normally even-tempered but I've had to use a great deal...

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Q. A co-worker of mine has been engaging in extremely exasperating behavior. I’m normally even-tempered but I’ve had to use a great deal of willpower not to start shouting at her. How can I keep from losing it when she provokes me in the future?

A. My even-tempered clients soon learn they have to learn to be mad at the earliest possible moment. When we smile, nod and put up with behavior we can’t stand, we’re setting ourselves up to act much worse than our annoying co-worker.

Even-tempered people may pride themselves on their forbearance, patience and calm demeanor.

However, pretending you’re fine when you have a problem isn’t strength. Your co-worker doesn’t know what you want and you can even end up in a competition to see how much you can take before you blow.

Getting mad at the earliest moment isn’t about walking around the office showing fangs. In fact, people who act scary invite other bullies to fight with them and everyone else to get quietly even.

Getting mad at work also doesn’t involve sharing your intense feelings with anyone other than yourself.

Your irritation, however, can be an excellent motivator to figure out what you want. The earlier you make your request, the less likely you are to just insult your co-worker.

Check out these examples of how a statement can deteriorate if you don’t quickly state your needs.

Immediate: Could you make more coffee?

Later: You’re the most selfish pig I’ve ever worked with!

Immediate: I need you in the meeting at 9 a.m.

Later: You blew that new account — irresponsible jerk!

Immediate: Could you send me an e-mail?

Later: You do everything behind my back — snake!

Notice that if we speak up immediately, we have the patience to ask for what we want. If we wait, we will have only one consuming goal — to make our co-worker feel pain the way we’ve been feeling pain.

When we wait until we are provoked and make a bad decision, nobody in our office will look at the exasperating behavior of our co-worker. Everyone will focus instead on our dramatic tantrum.

In the future, when your co-worker provokes you, don’t confuse strength with pretending nobody can disturb your serenity. You don’t need to wait until you start screaming to say what you want.

The last word(s)

Q. I’m having horrible headaches because of workplace stress. Should I see a counselor?

A. I believe in the mind-body connection, but before you see a counselor, rule out the possibility it really is all in your head. Get thee to a doctor and make sure you’re OK.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., is an executive coach, trainer, therapist, speaker and author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). She can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube