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How to manage anger in the workplace 05/05/2011

Tiffany Kay examines anger in the workplace and offers advice on what to do when an employee starts losing their cool.

How to manage anger in the workplace

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  1. Anger. A natural emotion
  2. Recognising anger patterns
  3. Diffusing and resolving anger
  4. Accountability and responsibility
  5. Useful links

Anger. A natural emotion

Some would like to think that the workplace is an emotion-free zone, particularly for so-called 'negative' emotions. The truth is that in a changing and demanding world, more people are angry than ever before.

Anger in the workplace isn’t new, but it often only becomes apparent and acknowledged when an employee hits breaking point. It's worth noting that anger is a perfectly natural emotional response to certain challenging situations. 'E-motion' is energy in motion, and anger is the motivating force behind many good changes that have happened in business. The problem with anger is not in experiencing it, but rather when it is expressed in a non-constructive way.

Recognising anger patterns

Anger at work leads to problems for the individual including damaging career progression and creating health issues such as high blood pressure, heart and lung disease. It also undermines the organisation in areas such as team rapport, working relationships and decision-making. Inappropriate anger at work comes in two main guises. The first can be referred to as the slow boil. This tends to affect employees who unnaturally bottle up their feelings. Like a pan with a lid on that over-boils, all seems to be well on the surface until a sudden and shocking outburst. The other form of anger is a more chronic pattern of regular and consistent attacks that seem to be inherent in the employee’s personality. So how are these outbursts best handled when they are occurring in the workplace?

Diffusing and resolving anger

When faced with an angry outburst, the most immediate priority is to diffuse the emotion to prevent the situation from escalating. When an employee is losing their cool, one of the most natural instincts is to advise the person to calm down. Anyone who has ever attempted this approach knows that it is doomed to failure. If the employee was resourceful enough to listen to the suggestion, the likelihood is that they would also be able to manage their own emotions. So at best the suggestion falls on deaf ears, at worst, it is the equivalent of pouring a gallon of petrol on a fire in an attempt to put it out.

A more effective solution is to meet the anger with communication that matches the intensity of the outburst (tone, volume, body posture, etc.) but without the emotion, and then gradually lower these to a more appropriate level. When you meet someone where they are emotional, you have an opportunity to lead them to a more resourceful state. You may say: “I can hear you are experiencing real frustration and I want to listen to you so I can understand. Let’s go into my office where we can sit down and discuss it.” If the outburst has been completely inappropriate or has been regular, it may well be that this has become a behavioural issue, and a coaching intervention may be the best solution.

Coaching as an anger management tool is extremely effective. Rather than trying to handle the issue when the damage has been done, coaching supports an employee in developing new patterns of behaviour. A coach can help an employee to recognise the early warning signs. For example, a person who is suppressing angry emotions will usually experience changes in their breathing, body temperature and thought patterns before they reach the outburst stage. Techniques such as NLP and hypnotherapy are excellent for identifying 'triggers' in the environment, and can actually re-wire the trigger to a different emotional response automatically, without the person needing to consciously think about behaving differently.

Accountability and responsibility

Business leaders, managers and HR have a duty to tackle anger issues in the workplace. That responsibility is two-fold. Staff have the right to do their jobs in a safe and secure environment without experiencing stress or fear of outbursts. An employee who has anger problems must be made aware and accountable for their behaviour. But leaders also have a duty of care to ensure that employees aren’t put in circumstances that foster undue stress or overwhelm. Spotting the early warning signs and intervening is essential, not just for the wellbeing of the employee but also the organisation as a whole.

To find a coach for yourself or an employee, visit www.associationforcoaching.com or contact Tiffany Kay directly.

Useful links

  • http://www.associationforcoaching.com; www.tiffanykay.com
Tiffany Kay, Association for Coaching

Tiffany Kay, Association for Coaching

Tiffany Kay is a transformation coach. She specialises in helping individuals and organisations to tap into their inspiration, creating outstanding results in an effortless, enjoyable and sustainable way.