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Ten Ways to Manage Anger at Work

What makes you angry at work? Is being treated disrespectfully a trigger for you? Does it make you angry when someone goes through the files on your desk to find a report rather than waiting until you return to ask you for it? Do you get angry when you sense that you and co-workers are being used for another's purposes? Or does the micro-managing boss "push your buttons"?

We are all different, and each of us is different from one situation to another. You might have a short fuse one day and be easygoing and tolerant the next day. Knowing what triggers your anger is the place to start. Next, recognize when a trigger is presenting itself and decide how you want to respond.

First, pay attention to what makes you angry at work for two weeks. Start today to make a list that is just for you. Include answers to these questions:
  • "What was the situation?"
  • "What disturbed me, put me off, or made me genuinely angry?" (This could be an action, way of behaving, a word, etc.)
  • "What did I think and feel when this occurred?"
Be faithful to this task for two weeks. When reviewing your list, look for patterns. "Triggers" always will be with us — at work and in life — but we can change how we respond so that the more toxic forms of conflict are minimized or avoided entirely. Career success depends on successful management of anger and conflict in the workplace.

Ken Cloke and Joan Goldsmith, authors of Resolving Conflicts at Work: A Complete Guide for Everyone on the Job (2000), say managing anger is an important life skill. Managing your anger can minimize self-destructive effects of it and move your conflicts toward resolution. Cloke and Goldsmith recommend these techniques to manage anger:
  1. Own it. Don't blame anyone else for your anger. Be responsible for your own intense feelings and for openly and constructively expressing them.

  2. Discover the underlying reasons for it. Ask yourself why you are angry, what triggered your emotion, and what deeper emotions or prior experiences are connected to it.

  3. Share your feelings and perceptions non-judgmentally. Drop all self-justifications, defenses, and judgments you are using to support your anger. Consider avoiding statements such as "you are wrong" and clearly indicate what was done that made you mad. Use "I" statements, report your feelings, say where you think they come from in you, and identify what triggered your emotion.

  4. Ask questions to discover whether your perceptions are accurate. 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. Ask if the other person meant to treat you disrespectfully, and if so, why.

  5. Focus on solving the problem rather than blaming others for it. Define the problem as an "it" rather than a "you." Brainstorm possible solutions with your opponent. Take a problem-solving approach to the underlying reasons for your emotional response to the conflict.

  6. Avoid responding defensively. Do not fall into the trap of defending your behavior. Consider the possibility that you may have been wrong, or that you and your opponent may both be right. Explore these possibilities openly. At the very least, if the other person doesn't understand, recognize that you did not communicate your feelings skillfully.

  7. Ask clarifying questions. Ask the other person — keeping your own tone non-defensive and avoiding hostility — to clarify what was meant. Ask if your assumptions about what they are saying or doing are correct, and allow them to explain. Listen more carefully if you were not correct the first time.

  8. Clarify your expectations. ay exactly, specifically, and in detail what you expect. If the other person cannot meet your expectations, you can always negotiate more realistic expectations, so they will be clearer about what you really want.

  9. Ask for help. Ask a third person to mediate or facilitate your communication. People are often more polite when company comes to dinner.

  10. Apologize and start over. An apology is a declaration of ownership of what is not working, and a request for improvement. Your apology is an acknowledgment that your relationship with the other person is more important than being right.
The choice is yours. The next time something triggers your anger at work you can respond directly in an angry manner. Or you can manage your anger and discover the reason for it, which you may be able to do something about. If you can resolve the immediate issue and prevent future issues from escalating, both you and your organization will benefit.

Conflict can be defined in many different ways. It can be as simple as people not communicating well with each other. It can be a clash of emotions around a disagreement. It can manifest itself in ceasing communication around a difference of opinion, a disrespectful comment, personality style, or different perspective on personal space. Managing conflict and moving through these difficult situations are critical to individual's job satisfaction and career success and to the organization's productivity and effectiveness.

If you would like to read more, you can find Resolving Conflicts at Work and other books by Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith in local bookstores and online at www.josseybass.com.

For help managing anger in your workplace, contact Working Dynamics.

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