Managing Anger in the Workplace
Jack is a top salesman. Out on the road he is all charm and smiles. Back at the office, he lashes out in anger. For example, Jack is angry at Nancy for not typing his sales reports fast enough. He wants them “now!” He doesn’t see why she shouldn’t do what he wants, when he wants it.
To Jack, his request for instant service is reasonable and rational. The rest of us see that his anger is out of proportion with the circumstance. The more Steve, his director, tries to make Jack “understand the inappropriateness of his behavior,” the angrier Jack gets. Jack doesn’t want to understand, he wants his report and, as far as he can see, Steve is doing nothing to speed up the process. He is angry at Steve for letting Nancy “slack off.”
Steve is learning that the issue here is not Nancy’s typing speed, or her work schedule. The real problem is Jack’s anger when he doesn’t get what he wants, when he wants it.
In counseling, Steve learned:
Not to defend Nancy, (Nancy isn’t doing anything wrong, she does not require defending).
Not to defend himself. He didn’t say, “You can’t talk to me that way,” because Jack’s articulation and diction are not the issue. It is a distraction from the real issue. It would have poured kerosene on Jack’s fire.
Not to take Jack’s demands as a reflection on his competence as a manager.
Not to take Jack’s negative, unpleasant behavior personally, as if it were a reflection on his worth as a person.
Not to overreact to Jack’s provocation.
Stop trying to make Jack understand.
Steve was able to sort out his feelings. Jack was making Steve feel powerless and out of control. That feeling told him that he was in a power struggle with Jack over who could make Nancy do what and how fast. This insight gave Steve a new choice to make: he could pull back in a tug of war, or he could drop the rope and end the power struggle on his terms. He chose to drop the rope. He let it go.
In counseling, Steve learned how to disengage himself emotionally, not physically removing himself from Jack’s presence , but from his unacceptable, provocative behavior.
He did not take Jack’s behavior personally, as if his accusations were a realistic inditement that needed defending. He did not take Jacks words literally, as if he really meant what he said. Jack is only “firing for effect,” trying to use Steve’s own vulnerabilities against him. Steve reminded himself that “I am a good manager in spite of Jack’s negative comments.” This technique is called ‘self talk.’ It keeps him on an even keel.
Steve was able to deal effectively with Jack’s pain just as he would the physical pain of a cut finger. Steve cut to the chase and chose to address the issue of Jack’s anger. Steve chose to say, “It makes you angry when Nancy takes so long, doesn’t it.” In making this choice, Steve was using an anger management technique called validation. This is where we validate the feeling, rather then argue the facts. In calling Jack’s anger by its rightful name, Steve was giving Jack “permission” to have this unpleasant, disruptive emotion. He did not “fight the feeling.” He validated the anger, “I don’t blame you for feeling that way.”
There are two sides to this anger coin: Jack is one and Nancy is the other. Nancy needs to know what to do with Jack’s anger when it hits. Steve prepared Nancy to cope with Jack’s anger. He broke the problem down so she could see what she was up against. Steve offered the following suggestions:
Do not take it personally. It is not a reflection on you.
Do not defend – you are not guilty of a crime and you require no defense.
Do not try to make Jack “understand” the realities of the situation. He is not interested.
When Jack came by to voice his complaint about the “service,” Nancy was able to reminded herself that it’s only Jack sounding off again. His accusations did not require defending. She didn’t get sidetracked pleading her innocence. She chose not to take his words literal, personal or serious. She choose to validate Jack’s anger and say, “I’m sorry you are so angry, but I’ll have it done by 4:30 today.”
As Jack went on and on, Nancy rode it out. She didn’t prolong the process with explanations of the situation that Jack didn’t care about anyway. She saved her breath. Nancy noticed that the storm blew over in half the time. Jack walked away talking to himself, but he settled down much sooner than he used to when people got in his way and made his anger worse.
Nancy was still angry at Jack’s abusive behavior and went to Steve. Instead of ignoring Nancy’s painful resentment, he validated it; “You must be very angry at Jack for dumping on you like that. If you keep it in, it will make you sick. One way to drain it out of your system is to write him an anger letter. It’s not for him, it’s for you.” Nancy wrote her anger out in a letter to Jack and then tore it up. Nancy was able to use an unpleasant anger situation as an opportunity to grow.
Even Jack benefitted from Nancy’s new way of managing her anger. He expected to be met with scorn, invalidation, criticism, excuses, denials and defensiveness. Instead, he felt that Nancy had listened to his complaint without demeaning him. She had not compounded his anger as people usually did. He didn’t feel “good” about the conversation, but he was aware that he felt “less worse.” Jack’s anger outbursts came farther and farther apart, and they ended sooner each time. He remained a productive, valued employee of the firm.
Man yelling at woman image available from Shutterstock.
Karmin, A. (2013). Managing Anger in the Workplace. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 28, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/anger/2013/10/managing-anger-in-the-workplace/