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Handling Workplace Anger

Dan Bobinski
January 17, 2005 -- By Dan Bobinski 

We often see people getting mad at work, and the ripple-effects are never very good. Anger as a reaction to bad news is a common scene, and anger as an intimidator is often used to get results. Since coworkers lose a lot of respect for those who vent on a regular basis, what can be done about it?
 
First we need to find out what causes people to get mad.
 
Anger most often occurs when what we want to happen is not happening.  It manifests itself in various forms, from mild frustration to all out rage.  Essentially, we choose anger because we don’t know what else to do to get the results we want, and anger often manipulates others into doing what we want.
 
Sadly, this view is rather short-sighted. 

Additionally, and contrary to popular belief, no one ever “makes” someone else angry. Anger is always a choice one makes. 

Whether you are the aggressor or are on the receiving end of outbursts, one of the best ways to combat workplace anger is to have alternative choices. 

If you’re one of those who tends to vent, think about when you’ve gotten angry. Don’t blame others, look seriously within. What was it that you didn’t do that you could have done? What didn’t you plan for? Or, were you trying to control something beyond your control? If you’re truly honest with yourself, you may be surprised at your answers, and realize that other, better choices were at your disposal.
 
“Better choices” usually means asking better questions.  One way is to ask yourself how you could have planned better to prevent a problem from occurring.  Another way is to ask forward-thinking, solutions-oriented questions to find a resolution to a problem.   These normally start with the words “what” or “how” and incorporate “I” or “we,” not “you.”  Examples include “what can we do from here?” or “how can I solve this problem?” 
 
Questions asking “why” or using the word “you” are dangerous because they put people on the defensive and usually try to assign blame. An example could be, “why didn’t you think of this ahead of time?” 
 
Beyond asking better questions, a person who tends toward anger can also choose better actions.  Instead of slamming a fist on a desk and raising one’s voice, it’s better to sit back in the chair, breathe deeply, and focus on the next step for resolution.  The purpose? A move toward resolution leads to a better sense of control. 
 
Essentially, there is no excuse for relying on anger or intimidation as a way to get things done.
 
For anyone who must deal with those who choose anger, remember that anger is simply a tactic for trying to gain or regain control. Anyone who works with angry people should memorize this fact.
 
Therefore, one of the worst things you can say to an angry person is “calm down.”  Think about it. An angry person already feels out of control. If they’re being told to calm down, it is telling them to acquiesce to someone else’s command, taking them further out of a feeling of control.  This is why many angry people get even madder when told to calm down!
 
My best recommendation is simply acknowledging why the angry person is upset.  One of the best ways to do this is by paraphrasing. A standard line might be “You sound pretty upset about ‘x’”.  By acknowledging the reason for a person’s anger, you validate their concern. This gives them a sense of control, and once people feel in control again, their anger starts to subside.
 
Might I add that it’s usually not a good idea to match a person’s anger.  Such action only escalates the other person’s anger, because they continue to feel out of control.  If a person refuses to calm down, simply state that you’d be happy to continue the conversation when emotions have subsided, and then respectfully but quietly disengage.  It may even require walking away.
 
Anymore, continued threats and yelling constitute a hostile work environment, and life is too short to be putting up with such nonsense.
 
Obviously there are more situations about workplace anger than can be listed here, but this is a start. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that people with anger habits need to find alternative ways to stay in control, and those who endure antagonistic behavior can set healthy boundaries so they don’t have to put up with it anymore. 


 
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© 2005 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development, Inc. You may freely forward this information on condition that you send the text as an integral whole along with complete information about its author, date, and source.
 
Dan Bobinski is a certified behavioral analyst, the President and CEO of Leadership Development, Inc., and the co-author of Living Toad Free: Overcoming Resistance to Motivation. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.com
               
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