Have you ever been in a meeting at work that included more yelling than calm discussion? Or have you witnessed a co-worker throw an object across the room out of frustration? Maybe you’ve had to hire a criminal defense attorney to fight a case against a boss who was out of line. Anger in the workplace is so common that managers and HR departments are often trained to identify anger issues in employees. (The number of workplace-related shootings over the past decade has been evidence enough of the need to be proactive.) On the flip side, supervisors can also be the problem, taking their frustrations out on their employees and creating a hostile work environment. Either way, workplace anger is costly. In a five-year workplace study out of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, more than half of those surveyed said they were distracted by rude behavior at work and got less done while fuming or worrying about it. This scenario equals reduced productivity, increased use of sick days and leaves, and employee departures.
How Anger Rears Its Ugly Head
Anger at work is evident in a number of ways, although the reason behind the frustration is more nebulous. Situations may include:
Workplace bullying by a supervisor or co-worker Shouting, yelling, and insults among employees Property destruction High anxiety among the workplace team Lashing out (walking out of meetings, slamming doors, etc).
When these events occur, you must take steps to abate the frustration before a problem escalates to the point of needing a defense lawyer. Whether you are facing outbursts from others or experiencing anger yourself, here are some tips for handling anger at work.
Managing Anger Directed At You
If you are the victim of someone’s fury, you need to protect yourself. “It’s a terrible thing for employees to have to deal with anger and inappropriate emotions at work, but it is a significant and real problem for many people,” says Paula Agee of Integrity HR. Agee has written the following advice for clients:
1. Document accurately. Write down issues that are affecting you and your ability to meet your goals in the workplace. Present them in a diplomatic, practical way. While it is unfortunate if your boss or other associates are jerks, it’s not necessarily illegal unless their particular behaviors become unlawful or harassing. You need to be able to show that the manager’s behavior is negatively impacting the performance of the workplace.
2. Remain objective and professional. Don’t get emotional when preparing your argument, and don’t get angry. You need to remain professional throughout the exercise and show that while you are looking out to be certain you are getting the respect you deserve, you are also looking out for the betterment of the company as a whole.
3. Talk to the boss or colleague. He or she may not be aware of the behavior that is causing him or her to be disagreeable. Be courageous – many people are afraid to confront another employee, and justifiably so. Ask for a meeting so that you will have time to discuss without interruptions, and have an agenda with notes prepared so that you won’t get flustered when it comes time to talk.
4. Watch for signs that are cause for alarm. If at any time you feel that another associate’s anger has escalated to the point that you or anyone else in the organization is in danger, seek help right away from HR or upper management, Agee said. Do not try to handle the situation on your own or wait to see how things play out.
Controlling Your Own Anger
If you find your temper flaring at work, evaluate your thought processes. Try the following:
1. Ask questions to discover whether your perceptions are accurate. The authors of Resolving Conflicts at Work say that, “without making judgments or fixing blame, ask questions to find out more about what happened, so you can get to the bottom of what triggered your anger.”
2. Voice your opinion, but be OK with the result. Agee believes it’s a good idea to share your frustrations about a decision or outcome, but you must also acknowledge that the end result may not change. “Be prepared to make your points about why this decision upsets or concerns you, but be sure that these points are valid and that you can defend them,” Agee said. “Then you must be willing to listen to why the decision was made. You must also be willing to accept that the decision stands, and you must be on board with it and support it.”
3. Practice forgiveness. Experts at the Mayo Clinic say that when you fail to forgive, you can be “swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice. But if you can forgive someone who angered you, you might both learn from the situation.” Learn to let go and move on.
One final tip: breathe deep, refocus your emotions, think positive, listen to your favorite music, and separate yourself from frustrating situations. Perhaps today’s popular T-shirt slogan, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” couldn’t be more appropriate when it comes to this topic! Thank you to Paula Agee, SPHR, for providing her expertise on workplace conflicts. Paula is the HR Services Manager – Outsourcing for Integrity HR, Inc.