Angry Colleague? Here’s How to Respond.

by Susan Shearouse

We’re grateful to be joined by Susan Shearouse, conflict resolution expert and author of Conflict 101: A Manager’s Guide to Solving Problems. In this post she examines a new angle on managing anger in the workplace — when it originates in someone else. -HC

You might not know what started it. Maybe it was something you said.  Or something someone else said.  Or something you didn’t say – and should have.  It might have been a conversation that went from bad to worse.  Maybe it’s been building up for a long time, and you are the last to know.   Whatever it might be, it’s your problem now.

This person is suddenly in your face, angry at you and quite vocal about it. Everybody up and down the corridor knows that you are getting the full dose of their fury.

Or – and sometimes this is even harder to face – they won’t speak to you at all.  They won’t return your calls any more.  If you pass in the hall, they look the other way, even if the other way is nothing but a blank wall.

What can you do?  How do you keep your cool?  You can turn a potential argument into a discussion if you can hold on to your own sense of calm and keep a strong determination not to be sucked into their negative energy.

  • First, know and understand your own responses to anger, your defensiveness, hot buttons. This is the first step in developing empathy for others.  It also helps you to be aware of, and less likely to be caught by, your own triggers.  If you can avoid responding in kind, you have gone a long way in changing direction. Read more

How to Get Angry at Work

Our first guest post! The publishing arm of the American Management Association recently asked if we’d consider featuring their book Conflict 101, we said yes, and thus received a free copy of the management guide. It’s an emotionally-grounded look at how to fight fairly from 9 to 5, including how to reveal your anger productively. We asked if author Susan Shearouse would be up for writing an article for WN. We’re so pleased; here it is. -HC

When you get down to it, there are LOTS of ways to get angry at work:

  • The guy in the next cubicle keeps asking you the same questions over and over again.  When are you supposed to get your own work done?
  • Your boss comes in half an hour before quitting time with another assignment, plops it on your desk and walks away.  Seems like he pulls this every week.
  • The co-worker claims credit for the report when she turned it in.  Say WHAT???  There would be no report if you hadn’t spent hours feeding the information to her, then editing her work so that it made any sense at all.

We can work up a good mad-on just thinking about these things.  But then we hit the bigger problem: What to do with our anger once it has gotten to a rolling boil?

Blowing up can feel so satisfying in the moment.  Just telling them what you think will surely clear the air and then you can get back to work.  But it usually creates a bigger mess that is difficult to clean up. People’s feelings get bruised and a wall of distrust starts to go up.

Stuffing it doesn’t often work any better.  The problem isn’t resolved, sometimes it just gets bigger. Even though you try to forget about it, the resentment lingers, lying in wait for the next offense.

There must be another way…

Here are some things you can do the next time you feel yourself beginning to simmer with anger: Read more

The Best Way to Work With an Angry Colleague

Yay research! A study conducted at Temple University concluded that instead of punishing employees who exhibit extreme anger, supportive responses by managers and co-workers can promote positive change.

Published in the journal Human Relations, the authors of “The trouble with sanctions: Organizational responses to deviant anger displays at work” state:

when companies choose to sanction organizational members expressing deviant anger, these actions may divert attention and resources from correcting the initial, anger-provoking event that triggered the employee’s emotional outburst.

So rather than engage with your colleagues in a superficial manner, it helps to relate with them more deeply. Listen to the emotional tenor of your conversations, and you may hear a whole spectrum of feelings — anger, sorrow, defeat, uncertainty, excitement, hope, we could go on.

And when you do, you may be in a position to help your coworkers cope with their difficulties. You’re also better equipped to manage your own workload because:

1) you glean useful information about the organization’s projects by being so attuned, and
2) you build closer relationships, which will serve you when you’re the one looking for help.

What about your own anger? We’ve been asked by a reader to explore concrete ways to channel anger more productively.

Start by acknowledging your irate feelings, then identify the specific source or target of your fury. Once you’re able to understand what has ticked you off, and why, we can then apply these researchers’ findings to your experience. Have compassion for your self, which will likely bring about compassion for your colleagues, in turn. This emotional intelligence becomes the basis on which to resolve the situation and your related bad feelings.

We’ll revisit the topic of managing anger at work; there’s so much to discuss when it comes to leveraging at work everything you have inside you.

Under what circumstances have you worked with an angry colleague? How did you manage?

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The Secret Motivator to Keep You Employed Past 2020

Remember the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this past summer? It’s hard to forget, and yet it can be hard to remember with so much to distract us from ourselves.  While the well was hemorrhaging into the Gulf, some said President Obama was not angry enough about the situation. Concurrently, Americans were angry that the economic climate was less than robust and the unemployment rate was still relatively high.

Ultimately President Obama demonstrated leadership in making space for Americans to feel their own frustration about the spill.

What can we do with our anger about what’s going on in the world? And more pressingly, how do we

  • help the Gulf of Mexico recover
  • exploit sustainable sources of energy, and
  • increase our rates of employment?

Get this: anger isn’t always bad. It can motivate us to solve the problems that make us angry, such as the British Petroleum oil spill. Which is hard, because our inclination is to suppress this uncomfortable feeling. Instead of fighting it, let’s think about what we could accomplish — professionally — if we could

  • access our anger
  • understand its origins, and
  • address the origins in a way that makes us feel better.

Sounds pretty good, no? In this scenario we would be employed (yay!), and we’d be solving big problems.

Enter the Post Carbon Institute, which produced the video above.  Founded in 2003, it’s striving to determine how we can prevent the depletion of natural resources and still thrive in the world, a puzzle that will take years of strategizing and implementation.  This means potential work for many, many people through 2020 and beyond.

Was it born out of someone’s anger? If the founders examined the emotional experience that prompted the creation of the organization, we would expect to find at least a little anger in there, along with hope. The two can exist together, side by side.

Maybe a little anger motivated the production of “300 Years of Fossil-Fueled Addiction in 5 Minutes,” given the current world-wide policies on petroleum consumption? Why not?

Has anger informed your work? How?