"Before you give somebody
a piece of your mind, be sure you can get by with what you have left!"
-Savage: Life Lessons
How many times have we flipped
through the radio channels on our commute home only to discover through a late
breaking news bulletin that yet another individual's anger has turn to rage
and they are shooting employees and supervisors at their prior place of employment?
No company is immune to the previous or current employee who has decided to
act on their anger in an unhealthy manner. We live in a high stress fast paced
world with constant demands places on us at work, in our home and in our cars.
When any one of these or a combination of this is out of kilter, it may not
take much to push an individual from a state of anger to rage.
All of us have experienced
times of despair. It is only natural that we understand the stress and strain
that can push a normally sane person to the edge. Examples outside of work include
divorce, the death of a family member, the life threatening illness of a loved
one or excessive financial challenges. Failure to pass probation on a new promotion,
the consolidation of a company with numerous layoffs, a new boss, a conflict
with a co-worker or one to many irate customers can push others to their limits
on the job.
At one time, I had a three
freeway 40 mile commute. It took at least an hour or more to make in heavy traffic.
I often found my temper flaring when I had been stuck behind a stalled car,
cut off one to many times, or received the middle finger salute for following
the speed limit on a rainy day by some crazed motorist. If I was on my way to
work in the morning, it could begin my entire day on a sour note until I put
my attitude in check and realized that my job was not the cause of my frustration.
Often we fail to recognize
the anger warning signals a coworker or staff member gives. The signs of hidden
anger are many and can be displayed in a variety of ways. Does anyone you know
at work display any of the following behavior?
- Habitual lateness.
- Procrastination in the
completion of assigned or imposed tasks.
- Frequent sighing.
- Over reactions or excessive
irritability over trifles.
- Sarcasm, cynicism or
flippant comments in conversation.
- Being drowsy at inappropriate
Although there are many
more symptoms such as chronic depression, slow movements, and a stiff neck,
the previous behaviors and reactions are easier to observe and note in the work
People who have high levels
of stress and conflict in their lives with a minimal amount of coping skills
can have the most devastating effect on the work environment and their coworkers.
Fortunately, conflict resolution skills can be learned and mastered by all.
Here are a few techniques that can help you deal with employees or co-workers
whose conflict may escalates into anger.
- Act immediately.
Waiting allows anger to boil into a potentially explosive situation. When
you do not act immediately, employees tend to believe you really don't care.
The only reason for a delay is if the individual needs time to simmer down
before you come together to resolve the challenge or when you believe that
a professional's assistance may be needed.
- Respect the individual.
We all know when someone is shining us on or patronizing us. If you truly
want to dissipate the anger, then show respect for the other person's opinion,
feelings and where they are emotionally. Be patient and remain calm to help
establish that level of respect.
- Meet in private.
Allow the angry person to vent in private without interruption. This will
allow the discuss that follows to be more productive and result oriented.
If the individual does make threatening or violent statements, do cut in.
Establish if you need to remove yourself from the situation immediately. It
is important that you know when there is a need for an intervention with a
- Be silent.
People behave with anger because it works. Either they get a defensive and
angry response from you or you become so intimidated, that you back off. Either
helps the person to avoid a resolution to the situation causing the problem.
So be silent until the individual has have expressed all of their feelings.
When you do not respond or rebut their comments immediately and appear to
be contemplating their comments, they usually run out of steam and stop their
verbal tirade sooner.
- Listen. Listen. Listen
want to know their opinion and feelings count. If you constantly interrupt
the individual or discount the information the person relays to you, then
they will only become angrier. Repeat their complaint and feelings in your
words. A statement like you're feeling frustrated because Tom ignored your
suggestion, indicates you really have heard their complaint and have help
identify their feelings.
- Give brief responses.
Lengthy explanations can be a killer. Respond to their accusations or angry
reactions with honest, brief responses that show respect. For example if someone
protests with well, you hate me and always have; a simple response would be
that's not true. Do not debate the issue or begin to justify your actions.
If you do, you are giving credence to the angry individual and will find yourself
sucked into the emotions of the moment. Potentially, an argument may erupt.
- Ban faultfinding.
Blame rarely helps any situation. It only invites the angry individual to
become defensive and counterattack. Establish what went wrong and how it can
be corrected, not who is wrong and why they made the mistake.
- Discover the real
It is difficult to seek a solution to a problem when you do not have all the
information or know the real problem. Often the last situation may just be
the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. Ask open-ended questions
that require thought for answers. Avoid close-ended questions that only require
a yes or a no answer. Questions such as what happened when you didn't receive
the order will provide more information to help you understand the situation.
Probing questions like can you give me a specific example, will help to further
clarify the problem.
- Seek solutions.
Look for a solution in all situations. Solutions capitalize on teamwork. When
everyone is working toward one goal, one solution, there is little time for
blame. Solutions also encourage people to be creative, to think out of the
box. People tend to be more creative when they know they will not be criticized
or blamed for making mistakes.
- Find common ground.
In your pursuit for a resolution to the anger, progress from points you can
agree on. Even if initially you can only agree that there is a problem. Building
a foundation for resolution on common ground will create a more solid relationship
and remove barriers sooner.
- Encourage discussion.
may be reluctant to express their feelings and frustrations. Try simple non-threatening
questions such as can I help you? You seem upset and frustrated? And is everything
all right? You seem out of sorts today. If the individual chooses not to respond,
do not push it. Give the individual time to think the situation and their
feelings through. Expressing their feelings may have been cause for fear in
To defuse anger in the workplace
requires learning simple conflict resolutions techniques that virtually anyone
can learn. There is no one clear way to prevent and defuse anger in the work
place. Each situation and individual is different. It is important that you
know your own limits and when it is necessary to refer the problem to a qualified
professional for assistance. Knowledge of a person normal job performance and
habits will help you recognize when an employee may be preoccupied with a personal
challenge that could create undue stress that will come out as anger. Make respect
for the individual and their point of view your top priority as you begin the
process of defusing a potentially volatile situation. When you use those two
priorities as your guide, coupled with honesty and a willingness to listen,
you will success in your efforts to discover the real problem and create a positive
solution that will satisfy all parties involved.
For permission to print
How to Gain Control of Anger in the Workplace in your company newsletter
or professional journal contact Eileen.
© 1999 Eileen O. Brownell. All Rights Reserved.