Anger Management in the Workplace
It is imperative for anybody in an organisation, whether at a leadership level or employee level, to manage their responses to tense situations. There are times when an individual will feel annoyed, frustrated and stressed. Each of us will express that differently. The challenge for us as adults is to recognise our triggers – things that make us angry, frustrated and stressed. Finding effective approaches to handling those triggers will depend on the individual and the context in which they find themselves.
Here are 3 simple steps you can take to better manage your anger in the workplace.
1 Pause and walk away
Pause for a moment before responding in any situation. Very often we respond immediately but once the words are out we can’t retrieve them and we regret the words we said. So taking a moment to pause before responding is a critical skill. It’s difficult to do in the heat of the moment when employees are engaged in a task that’s causing problems, but the more you practice this response the better you get at it.
Pausing can be as simple as suggesting to the team that you take a break for an hour and return to the issue again with clearer heads. This gives everyone a chance to calm down and gather their thoughts. Or pausing could simply mean excusing yourself to use the bathroom. This gives all of you a few minutes to step away from the situation and break the negative cycle that was happening.
2 Acknowledge that emotion is affecting the situation
When we get stressed we often find ourselves in a cycle where we are responding by getting caught up more and more in the issues and becoming more and more stressed about it. The more stressed and frustrated and angry we get, the more we talk from the heart rather than the head.
If an individual is talking logically to me, talking from the head but I’m frustrated and angry, I’m going to respond by speaking from the heart. This often leads to difficulties in communication as these two approaches don’t speak well to each other. A simple acknowledgement of the person’s frustration or anger or irritation and a request to discuss how to address that emotion can lead to a more productive discssuion.
3 Return to the issue with a clear logical approach
Once the individuals involved have managed to lower the emotional intensity they you can have a more logically, structured and thoughtful conversation. When the person is thinking logically they are more open to hearing constructive ways to address the issue. This means that the person is now focusing on results. We have moved beyond expressing frustration and anger.
Does the same logic apply to email communication?
Definitely. You should never use email to express anger or frustration or any emotion because it’s hard for the person receiving the email to understand all the emotion behind it. It can end up as a table tennis match with both sides responding emotionally and comments are very easily misinterpreted which can escalate the situation.
If there are issues that have the potential to be emotionally charged they need to be addressed face to face or at least over the phone but certainly not by email.
So if your natural response is to get angry at something in an email then as a rule of anger management, a manager needs to pause and acknowledge their own anger and ask themselves, ‘why am I angry about this?’ At least when you acknowledge that the situation has triggered something in you, and you recognise what it is, then you can ask yourself ‘what can I do now to progress and resolve this?’
You can try to put forward some constructive solutions. Sometimes you will be able to do this quickly, other times you will need to walk away and take some time to think about it.
What should a manager do when two employees just cannot resolve their issues with each other?
Well of course a decision has to be made with regard to their suitability within the team and in their particular roles. You cannot have an atmosphere where two people don’t get along and hold the whole team back. Or if it’s a case that the manager and a team member cannot resolve their differences, then the business owner, or some other third party, may have to step in and figure out how to resolve the issue.
You cannot afford to ignore a situation where two people in the same team clearly don’t get on. If the issue persists it may even involve some kind of disciplinary action being taken to resolve matters. So in volatile situations remember the anger management steps to take:
1. Pause and walk away from the immediate situation
2. Acknowledge that your heart is speaking not the head – emotional not logical
3. Give yourself sufficient time to calm down. Postpone meetings till another day if necessary. Return to the issue again with a logical mind and offer practical solutions.
There are other small practical steps that individuals can take to manage anger
• Take physical exercise to reduce stress. It’s harder to be angry when you feel physically good
• Meditation can help control stress levels and promote clearer thinking
• Yoga helps to keep you mentally and psychically fit which aids clear logical thinking
• Eat a healthy diet and reduce sugar and caffeine intake
• Get adequate sleep
All these actions can help the individual manage themselves and their anger more effectively.
We had a situation between two individuals in a company where one was involved in operations and the other was in purchasing. They had reached the unfortunate point of no longer talking to each other. Now clearly you could not run an organisation with these two key individuals not working together effectively. Everyone was impacted by the tension and expressions of frustration.
So LEAP worked with the larger team and in the process also worked with the two individuals. We used a psychometric testing tool to help them both understand each other and appreciate their differing perspectives. The insight they gained from using this tool allowed them to recognise that not everyone is the same and people need to work differently. They recognised that the way the other person was operating wasn’t deliberately negative or unhelpful it was simply that they viewed issues from a different perspective and worked differently to their colleague.
That freed the two individuals up to understand themselves better, each other better and find a way to resolve their differences. They eventually figured it out and continued working together and did so quite effectively. They wouldn’t necessarily be best friends, they wouldn’t socialise together but they did prove they could work effectively together and that was a good outcome for them and the company.
So often we see companies resolving these types of scenarios by separating the two people involved and placing them in different departments. But that’s only because nobody has invested any time in trying to understand the issues that are at the heart of the matter. Transferring people isn’t always the right option and sometimes it’s not an option at all. Helping people understand how to respond with the head as opposed to the heart can often be a better solution.
Anger management is something that has to be practiced. With time and experience managers can learn to respond positively to all kinds of difficult situations. The more the individual practices it, the better they become at responding with their heads and not with their hearts. Pausing and walking away from stressful situations can give people the necessary time and space to calm down and think logically as opposed to emotionally. Return to the issue with a clear and logical mind. The same method applies to email communication. Give yourself time before responding and never use email to express anger.
Try reading First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham. Subtitled ‘what the world’s greatest managers do differently.’ It’s worth reading for advice on management practices and disciplines that lead to better overall employee and manager satisfaction.
Interview by Des Kirby
Tricia Cunningham, senior partner at LEAP. Learn about our management development programme