Anger at work
Believe it or not, many of the same principles hold for workplace and relationship issues. Anger is a big topic in both areas.
What is anger?
It’s a feeling that can cover annoyance, frustration, hostility, opposition and rage. It might be superficial or it can run deep. And it may have good and bad effects on an individual; it can promote feelings of strength, power and confidence, or weakness, helplessness and fear.
What causes anger?
People vary a lot in their likelihood to experience or show anger. But, everyone has some anger.
A person may have experienced anger in the past and not fully resolved the issues. As a result, he/she may still carry a little or a lot of anger over them, which can surface spontaneously or in response to a stressor.
Anger can also develop anew in response to slights, insults, conflicts and problems.
At work, many factors can produce an angry response: too much stress, too little control over the amount of work coming in, too much scrutiny on the quality or quantity of your work, co-workers using fair means or foul to get promoted, supervisors who don’t operate fairly or constructively. The list goes on and on.
When is anger a problem in general?
It can be a sign of trouble if someone never, ever gets angry for any reason. This person is probably either unbelievably mellow, or turns his/her anger inward. In other words, prohibits him/herself from being visibly angry and/or believes it’s not right to be angry at anyone or anything except him/herself. It’s possible that he/she will just burst or fall apart one day.
An individual who has a lot of hidden or semi-hidden anger may struggle to contain it. This can make him/her vulnerable to experience or show too much anger at times. Let’s say a situation warrants 25% of an angry response. This person may add another 25% from his/her unresolved issues. Now the situation is loaded with anger that it doesn’t warrant.
Rage is a particularly intense form of anger which can be violent and/or uncontrollable. That’s not to say it’s abnormal to ever experience rage or even act on it. It may be useful or appropriate in a life-threatening situation. But, in regular, daily life rage is not generally called-for and it’s usually problematic.
Sustained or intense anger may be very hard on a person’s health and well-being. Plus, it can ruin his/her enjoyment of life, hurt his/her relationships and even make it difficult to work.
Is anger appropriate in the workplace?
Showing problem anger is usually not OK at work. That includes: bursting or falling apart due to an overload of anger someone has held back, adding an individual’s residual anger to an already infuriating situation, showing any form of rage and having a hard time working due to visible anger.
Anger that motivates, empowers, emboldens and strengthens people to an extent might be OK in the workplace. But, you really need to make sure that your workplace is accepting of forward-pushing, very assertive behavior. It’s entirely possible that key decision-makers or VIP’s prefer a less in your face approach.
Firstly, what should you do with your emotions if you’re angry at work?
Maintain professional behavior: In the initial instance, try to remove yourself from the situation and don’t talk about whatever is upsetting you. That may involve you having to make excuses to go off by yourself until you can calm down. You might want to count backwards from 100, breathe slowly, go for a walk, ask yourself if this issue really matters in the sum total of your life, and tell yourself that everything is going to be OK. Ask yourself how you would feel if you just swallowed a pill that removed all your anger.
If possible, rout out the source of the anger: As time goes on if you remain angry, you need to figure out what’s fueling it. Determine if what happened at work reminds you of something else that’s happened to you, or if a co-worker pushes your buttons because he/she is like someone else. Analyse the way you’re thinking about the situation to see if you’re actually making yourself angrier than you need to be. Try to look at the issue from different angles to see if re-interpreting it reduces the stress of it. Lighten up, look for humor in whatever has happened and see if you can let it go. Talk to a trusted friend and see if he/she has any insights or comments that might help you understand your anger.
Deal with unremitting anger: If you have to recognize that anger is a real issue for you and work is contributing to it, you’ll need to take strong action to handle the problem. Figure out exactly which people, actions and statements trigger an angry response in you. Try to avoid these as much as possible. If you develop feelings that indicate you’re getting angry, remove yourself from the situation or think about something else. Whenever possible, do not speak or act while you’re angry. Pay attention to how your colleagues respond to the same stressors and see if you can copy their coping methods. Speak to someone you trust outside of work and ask for suggestions to handle these difficult spots. Learn problem-solving and stress management techniques, like constructive thinking, mindfulness meditation and the like. There are some very helpful workbooks on how to manage anger. If none of this helps and you find yourself in a state of stress and anger about work more often than not, you might be well-advised to speak with your healthcare professional and/or someone in your employee assistance program. Or, if at any time your anger is so severe that you think you want to kill somebody or blow the place up, do not go to work and get yourself to the hospital as soon as possible. There’s something going on with you physically or emotionally that can be treated.
And what process can you use to communicate effectively when you’re having to manage the fact that you’re angry at work?
Look at your work situation as an opportunity to problem-solve. Is there one issue or are there multiple issues? See if you really understand the problem(s); you might need to gather information. Try to get different perspectives on it.
Figure out where you stand on the issue and what help may be available. It might be important to do this quietly and carefully. You may need to consult with your supervisor, human resources professional, your union, a trusted mentor an employment lawyer, or someone versed in human rights. Consult your policy manual, union-management agreement and/or ethical standards of behavior.
Put yourself in the shoes of your opponent.Try to understand what’s in it for him/her to be right. Carefully consider how he/she is going to interpret your actions and whether or not that is good for you in the short-term or the long-run.
Find neutral, non-judgmental ways to talk about what’s going on.
Try to pin down the point of disagreement. Make sure you put it in non-inflammatory terms and be respectful of the other person’s right to have a different opinion than yours.
Figure out what is your best approach to the problem:
- It might be that you do nothing and say nothing. Sometimes an issue can just blow over and evaporate.
- You could decide to be understanding and accommodating. Maybe you dislike conflict, feel as though you’re in a losing spot or politically it’s best if you concede.
- Perhaps you try to establish agreement with the other person that you should collaborate. That means incorporate your differences and find a way to make the situation functional for both of you.
- Consider the possibility of compromising.
- Openly bring others into the process for different perspectives and advice if that is a socially and politically correct option at your workplace.
- Make sure your course of action is warranted by the facts of your situation and is reasonable under the circumstances.
Handling anger at work requires a multi-pronged approach. Deal with the immediate situation by taking time to work down your anger. Over time, try to determine what’s happened at work that triggered your anger and find ways to cope with it. That could involve seeing a healthcare professional. If at any time, you seem enraged or so angry that you’re contemplating dangerous actions, seek help immediately.
Use strategies that are socially and politically correct to deal with your work situation. Try to be careful and use a measured approach that is sensible.
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