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Managing Anger in the Workplace

Book Description

Relationships at work tend to be interdependent, competitive, hierarchical, overexposed, and compulsory. Keeping the interests of yourself, your boss, your peers, your subordinates, your vendors, and your customers in alignment all the time is impossible. Meanwhile, you must also contend with competitors and unpredictable markets. Thus, for most people, work involves a constant juggling of-and wrestling with-competing interests. Whether the stakes are pecuniary, psychological, or both, they are always on the line in every interaction at work. While the workplace is an environment more likely to provoke feelings of anger, the consequences of poorly managed anger in the workplace may be much greater than in other contexts. At the same time, if managed effectively, anger can be a positive and productive emotion producing valuable data, as well as considerable motivation. Managing Anger in the Workplace will help you understand the costs and benefits of anger in the workplace; diagnose anger and common anger syndromes; use the underlying causes of anger as data to continually improve relationships, systems, practices, and policies; and manager anger in yourself, in others, and in your team.

Table of Contents

  1. Title
  2. Copyright
  3. Dedication
  4. Table of Contents
  5. Acknowledgments
  6. Introduction
  7. 1. Anger in the Workplace
    1. 1. Complex Relationships
    2. 2. People Under Pressure
    3. 3. High Stakes
    4. 4. Lack of Control
  8. 2. The Costs of Anger in the Workplace
  9. 3. The Benefits of Anger in the Workplace
  10. 4. Diagnosing Anger
    1. 1. Cascading Anger
    2. 2. The Angry Star
    3. 3. The Culture of Undue Politeness
  11. 5. Focus on the Source
    1. 1.   Anger at the SystemToday many factors beyond our control create a broad context more likely to produce anger. In our highly interdependent and interconnected global economy, events halfway around the world can come knocking on our door and make us feel threatened and insecure.
    2. 2.   Perceived InequityAs individuals, we have a strong tendency to compare ourselves to others. If we find that by some measure we are doing better than they are (perhaps we make more money or have a better job), we usually feel good; if we find that we are not doing as well, we usually feel bad. But this kind of personal difference is not the same thing as inequity. Inequity is a lack of fairness and justice. When we become aware of differences that seem unfair or unjust—especially when they have to do with issues we find important—we can experience strong feelings of resentment and anger.
    3. 3.   Blocked GoalsAll purposeful action involves the pursuit of goals. Our most basic human goals have to do with survival: protecting ourselves and our territory. But goals range in scope from great to small, whether the goal is mastering a technical skill or walking from your kitchen table to the living-room couch. We go about living by accomplishing one goal after another, from the most basic to the most extravagant. That’s why most people become extremely frustrated when the pursuit of their goals is blocked in some way. The most common source of blocked goals is another person or group in pursuit of different goals.
    4. 4.   Divergent ValuesWhen others behave in ways that we find abhorrent, we usually become angry—such behavior seems an affront to our values. In general, people vary in what they regard as abhorrent. But in the workplace, most people value competence, hard work, and integrity, and so are likely to get angry when they perceive a disregard or violation of these values.
    5. 5.   Unequal Power RelationsOrganizations are structured on hierarchical relationships, and such relationships, by their very nature, generate fear and anger—the less powerful fearing the more powerful, with anger flowing in both directions. Typically, the less powerful figure is angry that the more powerful figure holds the key to his or her fear. And the more powerful figure is angered whenever that power is questioned or threatened because it confers a feeling of control and security in the relationship.
  12. 6. Dealing With Your Own Anger
    1. 1.   Avoid AngerWhen thinking about this important step, keep in mind the wide range of things likely to cause anger; for example, big-picture (systemic) causes, blocked goals, perceived inequity, divergent values, and unequal power relationships.
    2. Consider Your Environment and LifestyleStart by compiling a list of the things that make you angry; then see whether you can avoid any of them or at least make helpful adjustments. The worksheet on the next page will help you.
    3. Examine Your Outlook on LifeHow do you feel about the world around you? How do you feel about yourself? What possible adjustments would make you feel better about the world and yourself?
    4. Start Taking Better Care of YourselfMake sure you’re getting enough sleep and exercise. Eat well, selecting healthy foods, but don’t eat too much. Drink lots of water and less coffee and liquor. If you smoke or do drugs, stop. The better you feel physically, the less susceptible you will be to anger. Lack of sleep, health problems, alcohol consumption, and drug use all increase the likelihood that even small annoyances will provoke your anger. In the long run, feeling good physically will contribute to a healthier approach to anger and make harmful anger less likely.
    5. 2.   Calm Yourself PhysicallyNo matter how diligently you try to avoid anger, you will still get angry on occasion. Pay attention to the people and circumstances that tend to make you angry, and learn to recognize the early warning signs of anger:
    6. 3.   Think LogicallyIt’s critical to realize that what makes us angry is not just a certain stimulus but also our interpretation of that stimulus. For this reason, once you’ve begun to calm yourself physically, it’s time to start thinking—to review your situation before you speak or act.
    7. 4.   Express Your Feelings Appropriately and EffectivelyIf you want to express your feelings appropriately and effectively, you first have to know how you feel, what you think, and what you need or want. This is why it’s so important to think logically before you speak or act on your anger. Angry people often jump to conclusions and react in the heat of emotion. Whether you repress anger or vent it, this approach is ineffective.
    8. 5.   Seek Solutions to the Underlying Causes of Your AngerRemember that anger has a wide range of causes and influencing factors. Some issues can be addressed easily; others are more difficult. For example, if you’re ticked off that you didn’t get a free donut at work on Friday, you can come to work earlier next Friday, in plenty of time to get a donut. Or you can go buy yourself one. Or you can congratulate yourself on saving the calories. That’s an easy one. More challenging would be if you were angry that you didn’t get a promotion or a significant raise this year. But you can take action: build new skills, tackle important projects, do great work, and impress important decision-makers.
    9. 6.   Let It GoYou must be able to let go of your anger eventually, whether the underlying cause is (a) immediately resolved, (b) resolved over a long time, (c) impossible to resolve, or (d) simply not worth the time and energy needed to resolve it. Let go of the anger, and move on.
  13. 7. Dealing With the Angry Individual
    1. 1.   Start With YourselfBe aware of your own feelings of anger and how those feelings may affect your interactions and relationships at work. A common response when dealing with angry people is to become angry in return because of the discomfort and disruption caused by their anger. It’s very helpful simply to remind yourself that you may be angry too, and to manage your own anger first.
    2. 2.   Gather InformationTry to find out what’s going on from at least two independent sources. If you cannot find the answers from independent sources, you will have to rely on the people directly involved. Bear in mind that they may have very distorted versions of the information. Don’t play judge. By placing yourself in the role of “information gatherer,” you will diminish the potential defensive responses of the angry individual and give yourself greater credibility to ultimately resolve the situation. Remember, when you are gathering information, you are trying to identify the underlying source of the anger.
    3. 3.   Schedule a Meeting SoonMeet with the person on the day of the incident, but not “right this moment.” Let a few hours pass in between, so both of you have time to prepare for a potentially difficult conversation. Anger is exaggerated when people are distracted, stressed, or not feeling their best. Therefore, select a time when both of you can freely discuss the situation with as little distraction as possible. But don’t put off the meeting to another day—that will only leave time for the anger to fester.
    4. 4.   Engage the PersonWhen you meet with the angry individual, remember that your primary task is to listen. Let the angry person express the anger in his or her own words. Listen carefully and actively, but don’t interrupt. Guide the discussion only when necessary, and use neutral but probing questions such as “How?,” “Why?,” and “Can you be more specific?” Try to gather more data from the anger. Throughout the meeting, exhibit respect, sensitivity, open-mindedness, flexibility, and tolerance.
    5. 5.   Evaluate and Take ActionIf there is a clear source of the anger, that source must be addressed. By now you’ve already taken an important step by listening to the angry individual. After listening, you must evaluate the situation:
  14. 8. Dealing With Anger in Your Organization or Team
    1. 1.   Clear the AirHave each person take a turn speaking for three minutes. This process continues for three rounds:
    2. 2.   Clarify Mission, Roles, and GoalsWhat work needs to be done by each team member? What projects, tasks, and responsibilities are involved? What deadlines and guidelines must be observed? Communicate the clear mission, goals, deadlines, and guidelines, indicating which guidelines are negotiable and which are not. Once you convey that information, see who will continue as a team member and who will not.
    3. 3.   Establish Ground Rules for Conduct and for Keeping Communication Lines OpenLet people know that it’s acceptable to express anger appropriately and effectively—at the right time and place to the right people in a productive, task-oriented manner. Share with people the approach to dealing with anger in yourself (see Chapter 6) and offer coaching to those who need it. Plan a follow-up meeting with the team to gauge improvements. Then get back to work.
    4. 1.   Establish Clear Expectations for Workplace BehaviorManagers should make clear their expectations of how people will conduct themselves in the workplace. Angry expressions that demean others should be strictly forbidden. Some companies, including Polaroid, Nordstrom, General Electric, and Quaker Oats, list among their core values specific forms of interpersonal conduct among employees. For example, they explicitly state that intimidation and hostile or offensive behavior will not be condoned (see Pearson, Andersson, and Porath, 2000). When expectations are established and well known, the clear inappropriateness of behavior that violates these expectations sets the ground for corrective action.
    5. 2.   Require Leaders and Managers to Model Appropriate BehaviorAs discussed earlier, anger in hierarchies tends to move downward. When leaders demonstrate their anger by yelling and screaming, these behaviors are repeated down to the lowest levels, creating a reinforcing cycle of anger on the part of superiors and fear on the part of subordinates. Moreover, those who use their anger inappropriately tend to use their power to silence those who are below them and who might raise questions.
    6. 3.   Do Not Select or Promote People Who Fail to Manage Their Own AngerSome people are actually known for their bad tempers —they leave a trail of casualties behind them wherever they work. Yet they get hired and promoted again and again. Why is that? Often organizations hire and promote people on the sole basis of financial or technical performance. Although such performance is certainly valuable, this value is outweighed by the damage inflicted on individuals, teams, and organizations when these people, especially those in positions of authority, express their anger aggressively and repeatedly.
    7. 4.   Provide Resources for Anger Management and Confront Dangerous Anger Early OnEveryone in the workplace feels anger sometimes and must deal with it. Provide self-study materials that help individuals learn how to manage their own anger.
  15. In Conclusion …
  16. References