No Place in the Workplace: Managing On-the-Job Anger

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No Place in the Workplace: Managing On-the-Job Anger

Most employees do a “work persona” that ensures they remain professional, courteous and respectful on the job. Even in the face of setbacks and mishaps that can occur in the workplace, employers and employees alike generally maintain an even keel and take things in stride. Even when personalities and work styles clash, a level of decorum usually rules the day.

But what about those times when things aren’t going smoothly? What about when frustrations with coworkers, management, systems or procedures drive normally cool-headed professionals to the brink of civility? Circumstances like this could easily lead to feelings of anger among employees. Dictionary.com defines anger as, a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire.” While no one wants to be angry at work, it’s sometimes inevitable that anger will rear its ugly head. When tempers flare and situations get heated and negative, you’ve got an uncomfortable and unproductive situation on your hands. Anger in the workplace erodes company morale by creating a contentious atmosphere. Over the long haul, an angry company culture can lead to employee burnout and and overall toxic work environment for all concerned.

Avoiding anger in the workplace

It falls upon the boss’ shoulders to do all you can to avoid such emotional escalations - and ameliorate them when they do. When in a position of authority, it helps to have some insight and people skills to help you mediate situations that may - or already have - caused angry feelings. Here are five tips that may help keep an angry environment from descending upon your company:

1. First and foremost, don’t be the cause of the anger yourself. As a leader, a certain degree of self-awareness and open-mindedness is critical. Assess your leadership style to determine if the attitudes, behaviors and comportment you display encourage content employees. If your employees treat you with respect and feel respected by you, you’re not the problem. If they strive to cooperate and are enthusiastic to carry out your game plan, you’re not the problem. If, however, they frequently complain that they feel their hands are tied or they’re unmotivated or confused by your leadership, you need only look in the mirror to see the reason your employees are feeling angry.

2. Keep an eye and ear out for friction among employees. Hopefully, your employees feel comfortable enough to come to you at an early stage of discontent, before full-blown anger has developed. But don’t think that employee reporting is the only way to become aware of workplace anger. It’s important to always be aware of the mood of your workplace. Be on the lookout for interpersonal conflict, complaining, dissatisfied murmurs… these can tip you off that there’s a storm brewing. Early detection (before your employees actually experience anger) could help you nip a potential angry situation in the bud.

3. When conflict is reported, take it seriously and believe it to be true. One thing that can make an angry employee even angrier? Not having their feelings validated. Never downplay their honest emotions by questioning their validity or telling them that they’re overreacting. They are coming to you for your help as their superior, not for your judgement. Likewise, the most inflammatory words you can say to an angry employee? “Calm down.” To do so is to belittle their anger, shaming them for experiencing an honest emotion. It’s a vulnerable place for an employee to be, so it’s up to you to be a supportive advocate.

4. Provide employees a pre-planned procedure for dealing with on the job conflict and/or anger that includes:

  1. basic standards of interpersonal respect that can be expected among employees
  2. acceptable means of expressing/reporting anger-inducing situations
  3. a promise of no reprisal for expressing frustration/anger or reporting conflict
  4. an explanation of the chain of command so in the event they don’t get satisfaction where they initially report, they can continue to seek resolution at a higher level

5. Strive to resolve the root cause of the conflict that’s causing the anger to arise. Avoid the urge to slap a bandage on the problem, hoping it will go away on its own. Dig to discover the real underlying problem causing your employees to be on edge and do what it takes to fix - or at least lessen the negative effects upon them.

Leaders get angry too

Employers certainly have their share of anger-inducing scenarios. As are your employees, you, too, are entitled to your angry emotions. It’s important for a leader experiencing anger, however, to avoid taking it out on the team. Whereas it is your place to hear your employees’ anger, it is not their place to hear yours. An angry leader is ineffectual and will be perceived as weak and incompetent by subordinates. You must find an outlet and sounding board for your own anger, perhaps in the upper echelons of your business or in a professional development setting. Dealing with your own anger will provide insight as to your employees’ experience of expressing/reporting the causes of their workplace anger.

Anger has no place in the workplace. These five tips will help you manage workplace conflict before it escalates to anger. Here’s to a healthier, more content workforce!

How do you deal with workplace anger?


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