Dealing with anger problems at work? Count to 10

15 October 2019 -

Volcano eruptionAnger management is difficult to manage – especially at work. Whether dealing with your own anger issues or those of colleagues, we’ve got some tips to help you overcome them

Ian Wylie

Perhaps your manager has unfairly criticised your work, you’ve been blamed for something you didn’t do, or your colleague has taken credit for your efforts. Anger can arise at unexpected moments while you’re working, and can take you as well as your colleagues by surprise.

You may just be discovering that you’re quick to anger, or are learning how to overcome your anger problem in a new environment. No matter if you’re in your first job or your last, controlling your reactions and language is imperative not only to your career, but the safety of your colleagues.

Anger is a tough emotion to handle in any context, but it’s particularly challenging in the workplace. At work we’re constantly juggling tasks and wrestling with the competing interests of our bosses, peers, clients and customers. Circumstances and demands can shift suddenly, often because of factors beyond our control. Unfortunately, when people express their feelings of frustration or anger in unhealthy, destructive ways, everyone in the workplace suffers. So, here are 10 tips for managing your outbursts and helping colleagues express their frustrations more constructively.

1. Sit down

If you’re in the throes of an angry outburst, you can help to de-escalate the situation by avoiding non-verbal behaviours that could be misinterpreted as a threat, such as pointing fingers or clenched fists. Instead of talking and expressing your anger, turn your chair to the wall and sit calmly until you’ve refocused your energy positively.

2. Don’t take it out on individuals

Anger issues usually stem from deep-seated personality traits and past experiences, so although your instinct is to cause hurt by directing personal insults, you should try and remember that in every workplace each individual should be treated with respect.

3. Don’t get angry in response

If someone is taking their anger out on you, it may trigger an angry response – but don’t sink to the occasion. Try to focus on something external – such as evening out your breaths or watching a ticking clock – to focus on something other than the anger in the room.

4. Be empathetic

If a colleague is taking out their frustration on you, try to find the root of the anger by asking simple and direct questions, be patient and listen, and take responsibility for any mistakes you’ve made. That said, you should also approach your manager or HR representative, talk over the outburst and let them decide whether or not to give the angry person honest feedback about their behaviour.

5. Address the behaviour

Talking to your manager about how to make positive behavioural changes is important to show that you have a desire to change and that you are acknowledging the problem. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away – it will just make it worse. Agree a time and place, preferably on neutral ground, when you can talk through the core issues with your manager. Meet somewhere both of you can freely discuss the situation with as few distractions as possible. Together you can decide the next steps, and decide whether any apologies should be given or warnings issued.

6. Ask for an action plan

If you’re in your first role or in a different working environment than you’re used to, you may be experiencing these angry outbursts for the first time. Agree specific steps for behaviour modification or system change. Lashing out against your co-workers is not acceptable, so you need to learn other ways of expressing your anger. For changes to systems or procedures, make a plan with clear timelines for implementation. Using CMI’s SMART objectives guide, you can create actionable goals together.

7. Seek support

This is a personal problem that is overlapping into the professional sphere, so it’s unlikely that one meeting at work will fix everything. Research how to find professional help when the time is right for you. That might be the HR department, external mediators or anger management counsellors. Ask for advice, or if you decide to schedule regular check-ins with your manager for support, ask them to look at your learnings and help to implement any changes to your working environment.

8. Provide training

Everyone on your team ought to know how to respond in confrontational situations. Ask your manager to find training that can show you and colleagues how to respond calmly and de-escalate angry episodes. Many companies will provide in-house training on this topic, or Udemy offers a free online course.

9. Make changes

If anger is a significant problem for you at work, you must take steps to address it. There is no place for aggression or inappropriate and threatening behaviour at work. Ask for changes to your workload, permission to use headphones at work to gather yourself, or time in a separate room during difficult days so that your colleagues aren’t on the receiving end of your anger. Speak to your manager about your work schedule, tasks, responsibilities and development opportunities.

10. Be honest

If someone in your team has unpredictable anger issues and you don’t feel safe or comfortable at work, bottling it up won’t solve the issue. Talk to the other people in your team to see if you’re the only one feeling this way, and suggest collectively going to your line manager or department head to talk over the issues you’ve identified. In an open and honest conversation, explain to them all the ways it’s impacting your ability to work and the motivation of the team in general; they can then make the call on action plans to tackle the problem.

To make sure you’re communicating calmly and effectively at work, read our tips from a professional mediator on how to de-escalate conflict

Image: Jens Johnsson Unsplash

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